The World Today for October 21, 2021


Revolution Redux


Tunisian Najla Bouden Ramadhane recently became the Arab world’s first female prime minister. That’s a historic feat in the region and the greater Arab world, National Public Radio noted.

But the path Ramadhane, a professor and ministry of higher education official, took to power is shrouded in controversy. Her character is not being questioned. Rather, it’s how Tunisian President Kais Saied appointed her that is the issue.

As the National explained, Saied appointed Hichem Mechichi as prime minister after the previous occupant of the office resigned amid a corruption scandal. Saied and Mechichi’s relationship “soured,” however, and Saied ignited a constitutional crisis when he refused to recognize Mechichi’s cabinet nominees. Saied then suspended parliament and fired Mechichi in late July. Afterward, he chose Ramadhane.

“Tunisia: president appoints new government 11 weeks after power grab,” was the headline in the Agence France-Presse.

Saied insists his moves were necessary because of “imminent peril” citing both Tunisia’s health and economic emergencies. Now, however, as the pandemic has receded, parliament remains suspended and he is running the country without any checks, critics say.

Basically, Saied’s critics charge him with orchestrating a coup. Recently, the Tunisian president declared that he would bypass the North African country’s constitution and rule by decree, reported the New York Times. His actions have led many to question the future of the only country that became a democracy as a result of the Arab Spring, which ignited there in late 2010.

The president, for example, withdrew former president Moncef Marzouki’s diplomatic passport after Marzouki called on France to cease supporting Saied administration, Reuters wrote. Saied requested investigators to open a probe into allegations that Marzouki “conspired against state security.”

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who has also been criticized for consolidating power and riding roughshod over the rule of law after deposing the country’s elected president following its revolution, is also supporting Saied, according to Al-Monitor. Saied will bring stability to Tunisia, said el-Sissi.

The problem is Saeid’s version of stability. Rather than using his seized powers to enact reforms to the economy and judiciary, he’s fostered corruption. “We have a crony-led economy, fueled by a complicit government that shuts out young entrepreneurs,” opined Tunisian journalist and human rights activist Sihem Bensedrine in the Washington Post. “The majority of corruption cases end up in the financial courts, where mafia networks have influence and suspects walk free.”

Meanwhile, thousands have taken to the streets to protest the president’s power grab, countering demonstrations in support of Saeid, Al Jazeera reported. The anti-Saeid demonstrators yelled, “the revolution is not dead.”

Give people a taste of freedom and it becomes hard to go back to autocracy.

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