Stifled Spring

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Tunisian President Kais Saied recently extended his North African country’s state of emergency through the end of the year. The emergency order has been in effect since 2015 following a terrorist attack that resulted in the deaths of several presidential guards. As Turkey’s Anadolu Agency reported, the order allows the president to ban public and private assemblies, impose curfews, and suppress the media.

The extension was one of many controversial measures that Saied has pursued in recent years.

A Tunisian military court recently sentenced lawmaker Yassine Ayari to prison for 10 months in absentia on charges of insulting the president and military after he said on Facebook that Saied’s decision to dismiss the prime minister and freeze parliament in July was the equivalent of a coup. Authorities arrested Ayari in the summer after Saied abolished parliamentary immunity. He was detained but released three months later and fled to France.

“It’s ridiculous…yesterday Saied said in Brussels that he is not a dictator, and today a military court issues a prison sentence (violating) freedom of expression for a lawmaker,” Ayari told Reuters, referring to a summit that Saied attended in the European capital.

Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin lamented the state of affairs in the country. The Arab Spring began in Tunisia in late 2010. The movement to bring democracy, respect for human rights and other reforms to the region sputtered everywhere but Tunisia. Now, Rogin said, it seemed as if the gains that activists and protesters won were being lost there, too.

A court put former President Moncef Marzouki in prison for four years, also in absentia because he lives in Paris, wrote France 24. Judges are similarly throwing opposition figures, political activists and journalists in jail. The country’s anti-corruption agency was shut down.

In February, Saied issued a decree that created a new temporary Supreme Judiciary Council that he would control, reported Al Jazeera. Protests erupted in the streets. Critics said the president was consolidating his power. He controls the executive branch, has shut down the legislative branch and is now cementing his control over the courts. Last week, members of the council were sworn in, Africanews reported.

Still, many Tunisians welcomed these moves, which Saied said were designed to cleanse the government, because they were “tired of political parties seen as corrupt and self-serving,” reported Agence France-Presse.

The president might not have a chance to prove himself. As the political controversies swirl, Tunisia is going bankrupt, noted Foreign Policy magazine. He’s now negotiating a rescue package with the International Monetary Fund that his alleged human rights violations are undoubtedly complicating.

Saied’s preoccupation with authoritarianism might just cost him his authority.

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