As Tunisia’s Democrat Experiment unravels, scenes of economic collapse

TUNIS – The last time Tunisia fell into political crisis – infant democracy unravels amid political stalemate, assassinations and mass unrest – it’s up to the country’s traditional defenders to find a way forward.

A heavyweight coalition of unions, lawyers and human rights activists joined preserve the constitutional systemsearch for them 2015 Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee credited the National Dialogue Quartet, as the groups are known, with protect interests of the 2011 Jasmine Revolution, which brought down the country’s longtime dictator and sparked Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East.

For a decade, Tunisia was the success story much of the world wanted. While other Arab uprisings have died down During civil wars, coups or repression, democracy in Tunisia – a group of 12 million people heading to Italy from the Mediterranean coast of North Africa – survived the political crisis of 2013-2014 and continue to develop.

But a new constitution and some free and fair elections delivery failure bread, jobs and dignity that the Tunisians celebrated, and the country is now hide from disasterIts economy suffered due to mismanagement, pandemic and war in Ukraine.

On July 25, Chairman, Kais Saiedfired his prime minister and Parliament suspends, and he has since reinforced the one-man rule. He set aside the Constitution, the legislature and the independence of Tunisia’s judicial and electoral systems. However, the groups that have led the country out of the last major political crisis have done little more than a few cautions.

In July, “many Tunisians said, ‘A dictatorship cannot happen here. Monica Marks, a professor of Middle Eastern politics at New York University in Abu Dhabi, who specializes in Tunisia, says civil society is too vibrant. “But it happened so quickly,” she added.

“It is not that Tunisia’s democracy is at stake. Tunisia’s democracy has been shot in the head,” she said. “So why don’t they do anything now?”

Part of the answer lies in the toxic reputation the country’s nascent democracy has earned among many Tunisians – not just those who judge them. life is not better than before revolutionaries, but also activists, journalists and other members of civil society who thrived after the uprising.

Members of Parliament and political parties who offer few answers to Tunisia’s problems are seen as corrupt and inefficient, none more so than Ennahda, the Islamist party that has dominated the body legislation in the post-revolutionary period. The judges, though supposedly independent, showed respect for the politicians who nominated them.

The media, although free, is mainly owned by businessmen associated with the regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the dictator who was ousted in 2011. While a few financiers The oligarchs continued to control much of the economy, and corruption and bureaucracy hampered the livelihoods of other Tunisians.

Thameur Mekki, editor of Nawaat, an online hub for dissidents under the old regime evolved into a critically acclaimed independent media after 2011.

After Mr. Saied took power on July 25, spontaneous celebrations lit up the capital Tunis in affluent suburbs as well as poor neighborhoods.

Tunisians from many backgrounds saw a potential savior.

Human rights activists have sought to work with the president for reform. Lawyers see him as a leader with the guts to take the reins of the judiciary. The business world calculates that he has the political capital to restructure the economy.

But by September 22nd, when Saied began to issue a verdict by decree, those hopes were quickly dashed.

“No one wants to go back to July 24,” Mr. Mekki said, “and no one wants to go back to July 26, after everything Kais Saied has done.”

In his campaign to rebuild Tunisia’s political system, Saied dismantled the country’s most important post-revolutionary institutions. After the Elected Parliament denied his actions during a fake virtual session last month, he simply dissolved it.

Ahead of a referendum scheduled for July, when Mr. Saied will try to gain approval to rewrite the 2014 Constitution and strengthen the presidency, he announced last month that he will replace most members of the independent electoral body with their own appointees.

This week, he threatened to disband political parties entirely, drawing some of the harshest criticism from civilian watchdogs and the opposition.

Amid this political turmoil, the government is increasingly unable to pay the public. Negotiations on an International Monetary Fund bailout, which were nothing more than a backstop, have stalled. The lack of staples like flouraggravated by the war in Ukraine – the country that supplies Tunisia its much wheat – is pushing prices beyond what many people can afford.

At bakeries, prices are soaring, baguettes are shorter and long lines form daily. The government recently announced that it will raise fuel prices for the third time this year.

“People are sick because the country is collapsing. Now we are eating half the bread,” said Naziha Krir, 44, a housecleaner late last month that she had just paid twice as much as she used to for three loaves of bread at a bakery in Tunis.

“The country is getting worse and worse,” she added.

Polls show the president bleeding in support, although he remains by far Tunisia’s most trusted leader. This winter is the first winter in years that mass protests have not shaken the country.

The people of Tunisia are wavering between what they see as two evils.

“Who can we blame?” Nawres Zoghbu Douzi, 25, a rights activist said. “There is no real government, no parliament. Who can you go to now? ”

Tunisians often cite a single benefit from the revolution: freedom of speech. But that is also at stake.

The country still has a long way to go from the years of dictatorship, when people were afraid to talk politics even with friends and when government offices dictated the stories of journalists. But opposing voices have almost disappeared from state television. And Tunisian journalists are self-censoring when Mr. Saied attacks the media during speeches, said Fahem Boukadous, executive director of the journalists’ union.

According to analysis by Ms. Douzi’s organization, the government has increasingly turned to military courts to prosecute lawmakers and others for criticizing the president, causing the number of such prosecutions to more than double since then. from July 25 compared with the entire previous decade.

“In reality, there is no freedom of speech,” said Mohamed Ali Bouchiba, 45, a lawyer who defends those tried in military courts.

Judges are also falling under the presidency as Mr. Saied replaces members of the formerly independent judicial watchdog with his own appointees.

Many Tunisians say they wish the deadlock would be broken by the UGTT, the general labor union that helped Tunisia gain independence from France in 1956 and spearheaded the Nobel Prize-winning dialogue that preserves the system constitutional system during the 2013-2014 political crisis.

With more than a million members, unions can single-handedly paralyze the country with strikes.

But analysts and activists say public opinion has prevented the UGTT and other leading civil society groups from turning against Mr. Saied more forcefully.

Reluctant to confront a popular president, the union initially hoped to influence his negotiations with the IMF, which would likely require Tunisia to freeze public wages and take other measures. hurt union members.

Although the UGTT has been tougher on the president, it maintains what Sami Aouadi, its chief economist, calls “an important pro-opposition”.

Mr. Aouadi said the UGTT was determined to push Mr. Saied towards negotiations to resolve the political crisis. But the dialogue it has in mind appears to be a far cry from discussions that included 2013: Aouadi Ennahda should be excluded, echoing a common refrain that the Muslim party is primarily responsible for economic devastation caused by corruption and mismanagement.

Other opposition leaders say that ignoring the country’s largest political party would strip Tunisia’s key Muslim constituency from power.

Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, a secular opposition leader, is looking to build an anti-Saied coalition.

“I’m trying to find common ground with Ennahda because we should be looking forward, not backward,” he said.

Ultimately, he said, the Tunisians would probably have to accept Ennahda’s participation in any kind of political resolution.

If economic disaster strikes, he predicts, “People won’t have many options.”

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