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Tunisia grapples with its biggest political crisis in a decade

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By Anelise Borges  & Euronews  with AFP
Tunisian soldiers cordon-off the Parliament in the capital Tunis, following a move by the president to suspend the country's parliament and dismiss the Prime Minister.
Tunisian soldiers cordon-off the Parliament in the capital Tunis, following a move by the president to suspend the country's parliament and dismiss the Prime Minister.   -   Copyright  FETHI BELAID / AFP

Two weeks after President Kais Saied ousted the government and froze the activities of parliament, Tunisia is still facing its biggest crisis in a decade of democracy.

Opponents called the move a coup, but others believe the president was placing a bet on the country's future.

“Things are better. Kais Saied is very good, he’s rounding up all the thieves,” Abdelhamid Riahi, a market vendor, told Euronews.

The "thieves” Abdelhamid refers to are members of Tunisia’s political elite, whose image is now tarnished by years of inaction and mismanagement.

Tunisians have witnessed a lot of changes in the past ten years: the dinar, the country's currency, losing 50% of its value, life becoming incredibly hard, and finally the impact of the coronavirus pandemic pushing people over the edge.

The night Tunisia’s former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country in 2011, lawyer Abden Naceur Aouini was the first to defy the military-imposed curfew and celebrate.

Abden became one of the symbols of Tunisia’s Jasmine revolution, which sparked a popular movement that changed the face of much of the Arab World.

“I remember everything. I remember all the details and the feeling of victory. I was arrested twice. I was beaten up by the Ben Ali police. But I never gave up. I insisted. From when I was 18 until Ben Ali escaped, I never gave up the resistance and the fight,” he said.

Tunisians had asked for a drastic change, but many challenges still remain. The country now has to prove to itself it can learn from the past and rebuild stronger.

"President Kais Saied says he doesn’t have dictatorial aspirations. And he insists he will respect the freedoms and rights and work to ensure the people’s well being. But this must translate into public policy and that’s where we have a problem because public policy depends on institutions notably to address the financial, public health, economic and social urgencies. They demand a strong government which we don’t have yet," Tahar Abdessalem, an expert on Tunisian politics, told Euronews.

Calls for President Saied to return to the path of democracy

The US and other partners are calling on President Kais Saied to return to the path of democracy after months of political deadlock that sparked concern about the state of democracy in Tunisia.

President Saied named a new interior minister but has not yet appointed a prime minister.

Tunisia's Ambassador to the EU Nabil Ammar says he doesn't agree with the use of the word "concern", claiming that the reality in Tunisia "is not difficult to understand" but that it is still very important for international leaders to measure the stakes.

"Tunisia has all the means to continue to be this country which establishes a democracy. But a democracy cannot be consolidated overnight. Neither in a year nor in two years. On other continents it has taken decades and decades. We must help Tunisia, which is knocking on the door of mature democracies. Established democracies, real democracies," Nabil Ammar told Euronews.

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