Tunisia: Kais Saied apparently has critics arrested – and begins to form a new government

Tunisian security forces have apparently arrested a critic of President Kais Saied. The house of parliamentarian Yassine Ayari was searched on Friday, after which Ayari was taken away, reported the Reuters news agency. Reuters cites Ayari’s wife, Cyrine Fitouri. Twenty men introduced themselves as members of the president’s security unit, she said, and then forcibly arrested her husband.

The Tunisian security or judicial authorities have not yet been reachable by Reuters. Ayari sat in parliament for a small Tunisian party and has long been considered a critic of the president.

President Kais Saied removed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi from office last Sunday. He has suspended parliament for 30 days, lifted the immunity of all MPs and usurped the leadership of the executive himself. He also took over judicial power himself. Many Tunisians celebrate him as a bearer of hope who finally declares war on rampant corruption. Others speak of a coup. Observers worry about the democracy that Tunisians fought for ten years ago in the Arab Spring (read a detailed report here).

Saied appoints new interior minister

Saied began forming a new government on Thursday. He appointed former National Security Advisor Ridha Gharsallaoui as Minister of the Interior. According to Tunisian media reports, Gharsallaoui had held top positions in the police in the past.

His appointment was preceded by a massive wave of layoffs in state institutions. Saied has not yet named a candidate for the office of Prime Minister. Saied also did not present a timetable for further political steps called for by several influential non-governmental organizations.

Most of the mainstream parties opposed Saied. Parliamentary President Rached al-Ghannouchi, who is also chairman of the largest ruling party, Ennahdha, called on the Tunisians to protest “by all peaceful means” against Saied’s actions. If the latter does not agree to a return of parliament and the formation of a government, Ennahdha will “call on the people to defend their democracy.”

It is a shame for Tunisia’s image when a tank blocks the door of parliament, Ghannouchi had previously said in an interview with SPIEGEL. “It’s a sad, ugly scene.”

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A power struggle had been raging in Tunisia for months between Saied on the one hand and Ghannouchi and Mechichi on the other. In January Saied prevented a government reshuffle aimed at by Mechichi, citing possible conflicts of interest and allegations of corruption against candidate ministers. This week, the Tunis public prosecutor’s office announced an investigation into the Ennahdha party on suspicion of illegal party funding. Shortly afterwards, Saied announced a large-scale anti-corruption offensive.

Blinken calls for the reinstatement of parliament

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for the reinstatement of parliament on Thursday. Saied had expressed his intention to “put Tunisia back on the democratic path and to act in a way that is compatible with the constitution,” Blinken told Al Jazeera. “But of course we have to look at the measures that the President and Tunisia are taking.”

Tunisia has long been considered the only success story of the Arab Spring. However, ten years after the democratic change, the country has not found political stability. From the point of view of many Tunisians, all nine democratically elected governments have failed to tackle the country’s major problems. Many complain that their situation is worse today than it was during the authoritarian rule of long-term ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was overthrown in 2011.

Even the election of Saied, a strict law lecturer, was seen by observers as an expression of the far-reaching dissatisfaction of the Tunisian population with the political elite.

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