Tunisia’s president Saied announces ‘national dialogue,’ while keeping out opposition

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Tunisian President Kais Saied has announced the launch of “national dialogue” to help resolve a political crisis following his controversial power grab, but excluding critical opposition groups.

Saied, a former law professor elected in 2019 amid public anger against the political class in the North African nation, sacked the government on July 25 last year, later moving to rule by decree in moves opponents dubbed a “coup.”

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In a speech late Sunday, Saied said a commission would manage “the national dialogue,” a measure demanded repeatedly by the G7 nations and European Union.

Saied’s proposed talks will include four groups which, together as the “National Dialogue Quartet,” jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 for its work in building what was, at the time, the only democracy that emerged from the 2011 Arab Spring.

The four groups are the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), the Tunisian Human Rights League and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers.

On Sunday, UGTT leader Noureddine Taboubi appealed to Saied to launch the national dialogue, saying it was “probably the last chance” to bring the country together and avoid “a dismantling of the state and a financial and economic collapse.”

But Saied ruled out participation in the talks of those “who sabotaged, starved, and mistreated the people,” suggesting it would not include parties and civil society organizations which have denounced his seizure of power.

That would cover his arch rivals, the Ennahdha party.

Ennahdha, which has played a central role in Tunisian politics since the revolution that overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, is part of the National Salvation Front coalition, forged last month between five political parties and five civil society groups.

Saied also said that a committee preparing constitutional reforms for “a New Republic” will be completed soon, with a referendum on the proposals slated for July 25, followed by legislative elections on December 17.

Tunisia is also gripped by a dire social and economic crisis, and has been seeking a loan package from the International Monetary Fund.

Washington, the largest stakeholder in the IMF, has said Tunis must address concerns on democracy if it wants badly needed international economic support.

Read more: Tunisian opposition announces alliance against President Saied

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