Tunisian unions call for roadmap after president sacked PM, froze parliament

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Influential civil society groups, including the powerful labor union, on Tuesday called on President Kais Saied to lay out “a participatory roadmap” out of the crisis after he sacked the prime minister, and froze parliament on Sunday.

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There was no sign of tension in the capital where supporters and opponents of Saied’s moves had scuffled on Monday. The streets were calm, with no significant protests or heightened security presence.

Saied’s actions followed months of deadlock and disputes pitting him against Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi - also a political independent - and a fragmented parliament as Tunisia suffered an economic crisis exacerbated by one of Africa’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks.

Many Tunisians, tired of political paralysis and a moribund economy, took to the streets in a show of support for Saied on Sunday. “We have been silent for 10 years and we live in distress for 10 years and now people are sick and don’t know how to treat themselves,” said Halma Talbi, a woman in Tunis.

But the Islamist Ennahda movement, the biggest party in parliament, and the next three largest parties have all denounced the moves as a coup.

Reversing a call on its supporters on Monday to take to the streets against Saied, Ennahda urged dialog and efforts to avoid civil strife.

“The movement ... calls on all Tunisians to increase solidarity, synergy and unity and to confront all calls for sedition and civil strife,” it said in a statement.

Calm outside parliament following confrontations

The area outside the parliament building, the site on Monday of confrontations between hundreds of supporters of Ennahda and Saied, was empty on Tuesday morning. Ennahda’s supporters left on Monday evening and have not returned.

Saied said his move was in line with a constitutional clause allowing extraordinary measures during an emergency.

He said his move aimed to save Tunisia, saying public institutions were falling apart and warning of plans to ignite civil strife. He did not say who was behind the plans.

The White House said on Monday it had not yet determined whether Saied’s actions constituted a coup.

The Tunisian civil society groups declared “the necessity of protecting all the gains of the Tunisian revolution, which were expressed as a revolution of freedom and dignity.”

The signatories included the labor union which, with one million members, is one of Tunisia’s most powerful forces.

A Tunisian political source said neighboring Algeria had pushed both Saied and his opponents to step back from any confrontation to avoid further destabilization or the intervention of any external forces.

Though it has failed to deliver prosperity or good governance, Tunisia’s democratic experiment since 2011 has stood in stark contrast to the fate of other countries where Arab Spring revolts ended in bloody crackdowns and civil war.

What's next

Saied has yet to announce an interim prime minister and has said he will replace the defense and justice ministers. He has not said whether the other cabinet ministers will remain in place.

He has not spelt out how he will handle the 30-day period during which he said parliament will be frozen. The assembly remains legally in session but not able to meet according to Saied’s decree, with soldiers surrounding the building, government office and the television station.

Read more:

Explainer: What caused Tunisia’s President to sack PM, suspend Parliament?

Timeline: Tunisia’s journey from revolution to democracy

Tunisian judiciary investigating Ennahda, two other parties: Judicial source

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