CAIRO, Egypt — President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fired the prime minister, suspended Parliament and seized control of the country late on Sunday, following widespread and violent anti-government protests across a country grappling with deepening health and economic crises at the time.
The president’s actions were viewed as a threat to the only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring protests a decade ago, according to international observers. Ennahda, a leading political party in Tunisia, denounced the move as “a coup against Tunisian democracy and its constitution” and “a betrayal of every Tunisian,” and called on Mr. Saied to reverse his decisions as soon as possible.
The Ennahda party said in a statement that Tunisia was the only Arab Spring success storey so far, and that the storey would not end there. “We call on every international supporter of democracy to band together and speak out against this injustice as soon as possible, as well as for the immediate restoration of our Parliament.”
In recent months, the North African nation has been thrown into political chaos as Mr. Saied has engaged in a power struggle with Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and Speaker of Parliament Riad Gannouchi. The country has suffered for years from high unemployment, poverty, and economic paralysis, which has led many to question the revolution’s accomplishments. In addition, the coronavirus pandemic has recently overwhelmed the health-care system, with Tunisians dying from Covid-19 at the highest rate in the Middle East and Africa, according to the World Health Organization.
The military was given control of Tunisia’s coronavirus response last week, sparking outrage among opponents who claimed Mr. Saied was overstepping his authority. The move came amid chaos in the country’s vaccination rollout efforts and in hospitals.
In a statement broadcast on state television and posted to Facebook, the president announced that he would dismiss Mr. Mechichi, assume executive power with the “assistance” of a new government appointed by him, “freeze” Parliament for 30 days, and strip lawmakers of their immunity from prosecution and prosecution. He stated that he was taking this action in order to maintain the country’s “security and independence, as well as to protect the normal operation of state institutions.”
Following large protests across the country on Sunday, in which Tunisians called for the dissolution of Parliament, Mr. Saied’s actions came as a result of Mr. Saied’s actions. Videos posted on social media showed crowds erupting in applause, honking, ululating, and waving Tunisian flags after President Ben Ali announced Mr. Mechichi’s dismissal late on Sunday night, the dark night illuminated by red flares in the sky above Tunis.
Various other videos depicted Mr. Saied making his way through a dense crowd of adoring supporters along Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the main thoroughfare in Tunis, where revolutionaries gathered during the 2011 protests that brought the country’s then dictator, Zin el-Abidine Ben Ali, to power.
Tunisia’s next move is still up in the air.
“A decree will be issued in the coming hours regulating these exceptional measures that the circumstances have necessitated,” Mr. Saied stated in cryptic tones, adding that the measures would be lifted if the circumstances changed.
Many Tunisians hoped that Mr. Saied, an outsider to politics, would be able to turn things around when he was elected president in 2019 in what was only the second free presidential election in the country’s history. In the eyes of many in the country, he continues to enjoy widespread popularity and a sterling reputation for integrity.
Nevertheless, after appointing Mr. Mechichi as prime minister last year, Mr. Saied subsequently refused to swear in 11 ministers who were associated with the new leader of the government, prompting accusations that he was acting outside of his constitutional authority.
Ennahda, the Islamist political party founded by Mr. Gannouchi, backed Mr. Mechichi in the election. While Ennahda has consistently gained support in parliamentary elections, the party’s strength has caused divisions among its supporters because of its Islamist roots.
Executive power in Tunisia is divided between the president, the prime minister, and the speaker of the National Assembly, according to the country’s 2014 Constitution.
President Saied, on the other hand, cited Article 80 of the Constitution, which he claimed grants the president extraordinary powers, and claimed that he had sought the approval of the Senate and the House of Representatives, as well as convened an emergency meeting with other officials, before taking action.
Article 80, on the other hand, grants the president such authority only in the event of an imminent threat. Mr. Gannouchi, in a statement posted on Ennahda’s Facebook page on Sunday, claimed that he had not been consulted.
Mr. Gannouchi also denounced what he described as a “coup” and the suspension of Parliament as “unconstitutional, illegal, and invalid,” respectively.
He went on to say that the assembly “remains in place and will carry out its responsibilities.”