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Tunisia: a coup does not solve a crisis, it worsens it

“This is not a coup, but an act of redress. The law was being flouted, institutions were paralyzed …” Ben Ali after his coup d'État, decades before Kais Saied made his

In a “democracy”, what post-revolution Tunisia has aspired to become, corruption is not combated by concentrating the three powers (executive, legislative and judicial) in the hands of a single man but by an independent justice which investigates , trials and condemns. Nor is it faught by raiding the headquarters of news outlets.

As for this man who claims to play his “historic role”, I recall that he categorically refused the creation of a constitutional court which would have been the guarantor of the new Constitution. This court would have prevented anyone from interpreting the constitution (and its article 80*) as it sees fit to justify the concentration of powers in its hands, in other words, a coup d’etat. And when this man says that he should have done it several months ago, it is well that the premeditated act. He himself admitted to having been advised by foreign powers to do so.

Article 80 of the Tunisian 2014 (post revolution) Consitution

The corruption of Tunisian political parties, the incompetence of ministers and the return of the Ben Alists no longer need to be proven. But if out of sheer detestation of political adversaries, we justify that one man reverses the democratization process even with the help of foreign powers, it means that basically, we are more in favor of a party, an ideology or a man, than really in favor of democracy and for the revolution to fulfill its goals. Canceling your political opponents is not a viable project for a country.

“A coup in the fullest sense of the word.” Yadh Beh Achour, Prominent Tunisian legal scholar, Presdient of the Higher Political Reform Commission of Tunisia, member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

It is therefore not a coincidence that Yadh Ben Achour, a prominent Tunisian legal scholar, called out Kais Said”s move as a “Coup” and that the conditions used to justify it were far from sufficient.

He further warned that “Kais Said is now the sole head of the Executive despite (Tunisia having adopted) a bicephal executive shared by the President and the Head of the Government, he is also head of the Legislative authority and will be able to rule by decree, and what is even worse, he is also head of the Judiciary in charge of prosecution, something unseen in the history of constitutional law”. In other words, there are no legal recourses left to challenge his authority.

Justifying such an abrupt ending of the democratization process because it serves one’s partisan interests with complete disregard to the bigger picture, the potential defeat of the revolution, is exactly what feeds the most racist tropes according to which African, Arab, Muslim majority countries, are not worthy of living under a democracy.

Let’s remember what then French President Jacques Chirac said to tunisians in a speech as he was visiting the country while the dictator Ben Ali was in in power in 2003. Asked on the violations of human rights by the tunisian dictator, the French president answered: the first human rights is to be able to “eat” instead of worrying about human rights.

Left: tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Right: French President Jacques Chirac in Tunisia

I also recall that the two countries which helped Kaïs Saïed, Egypt and the Emirates, are at war against all the peoples who have chosen to overthrow their dictators during the “Arab spring”; in Egypt too we saw scenes of jubilation to greet the overthrowing of the first elected president in Egypt. We all know how things quickly worsened with the Al Sissi dictatorship.

Many Tunisians have justified this coup by the economic and Covid crisis which are indeed real and grave. But to them and to those with short/selective memory or who are simply unaware that any coup begins with beautiful promises, I leave this interview of Ben Ali when he overthrew Bourguiba and decided to become president for life until he fled the countrye during the 2014 revolution: “This is not a coup, but an act of redress. The law was being flouted, institutions were paralyzed …”

** “The first of human rights is to eat, to receive medical care, to receive an education and to have a place to live. From this point of view, it must be acknowledged that Tunisia is far ahead of many countries “… But we each have our own criteria of appreciation.” Jacques Chirac, Tunis 12/05/2003

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