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Who is Kais Saied? Tunisia’s president that sacked PM, suspended parliament

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Kais Saied, the president of Tunisia who sacked the country’s Prime Minister and suspended parliament on Sunday night, has always kept his political stance to himself, showing no affiliation to any party.

Saied, a 63-year-old law professor, rose to power in 2019 on a wave of popular support as the Tunisian people expressed their disapproval of the country’s political elite.

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But where did he come from and how did he make it up the ranks of society to eventually become the seventh president of Tunisia?

Born in Beni Khiar of Tunisia’s Nabeul Province, on February 22, 1958, Saeid is married and has three children, with wife Ichraf Chebil.

‘Expert’ on the constitution

Before entering politics, he was a lawyer, specializing in constitutional law. He was the secretary-general of the Tunisian Association of Constitutional Law between 1990 and 1995. Prior to this, he was among a group of experts of the General Secretariat of the Arab League between 1989 and 1990.

Tunisian President Kais Saied attends a talk on constitutional law during a state visit to Qatar at an event hosted by Lusail University, on November 16, 2020. (File photo: AFP)
Tunisian President Kais Saied attends a talk on constitutional law during a state visit to Qatar at an event hosted by Lusail University, on November 16, 2020. (File photo: AFP)

Saied was heavily involved in the drafting of the country’s 2014 constitution, which he referenced extensively throughout his recent move to suspend parliament.

He was also the director of the University of Sousse’s public law department from 1994 to 1999 and then at the University of Carthage’s Faculty of Juridical, Political and Social Sciences of Tunis from 1999 to 2018.

Transition to power

He was one of the first to declare his candidacy for the country’s 2019 elections, running without any political party affiliation, a move which attracted the country’s youth who were already disillusioned with the ruling elite.

Invoking the constitution to back his July 25 reforms

The President invoked Article 80 of the constitution late on Sunday.

Article 80 of the Tunisian constitution states that “The President of the Republic, in a state of imminent danger threatening the integrity of the country and the country’s security and independence, is entitled to take the measures necessitated by this exceptional situation, after consulting the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the Cabinet.”

Tunisian President Kais Saied addresses the nation in this screengrab taken from Tunisian President's office footage, Tunisia July 25, 2021. (Reuters)
Tunisian President Kais Saied addresses the nation in this screengrab taken from Tunisian President's office footage, Tunisia July 25, 2021. (Reuters)

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

Saied said, in a speech broadcast after calling on military and security officers for an emergency meeting at Carthage Palace on Sunday, that he planned to take over the executive authority with the help of a new prime minister to replace the now-deposed Mechichi.

“We took these decisions so that social peace returns to Tunisia and that we save the country,” Saied said.

The article does not explicitly give the president the power to dissolve the country’s Parliament, but instead allows for emergency measures to remain in place for 30 days.

It stipulates that measures imposed based on the article should be aimed at restoring stability and normalcy within the country, ensuring that it functions normally, safely, and properly as quickly as possible.

Saied also stripped parliament members of their immunity from prosecution and put himself in charge of supervising the Office of Public Prosecution. He has since said that he plans on putting some lawmakers on trial for corruption.

The president’s move came after months of disagreements with Mechichi and political paralysis while Tunisia continues to suffer an economic crisis that has been exacerbated by one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Africa.

On Sunday, Tunisians took the street to support Saied’s move, with videos showing hundreds of people on foot and in vehicles chanting “Tahya Tounes” or “Viva Tunisia.”

Civil unrest had reached boiling point before the president announced he would freeze parliament, with thousands clashing with security forces earlier on Sunday in violent protests against the government and the Islamist-led Ennahda parliament in anger over their handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the country’s deteriorating economic situation.

Read more:

Tunisia’s Kais Saied responds to coup claims: ‘Revise your constitutional lessons’

What is Article 80 and how did Tunisia’s president use it to back his decisions?

Timeline: Tunisia’s journey from revolution to democracy