تونس: مكافحة الإفلات من العقاب، واستعادة الأمن
تونس: مكافحة الإفلات من العقاب، واستعادة الأمن
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Tunisia’s Leap into the Unknown
Tunisia’s Leap into the Unknown

تونس: مكافحة الإفلات من العقاب، واستعادة الأمن

الملخص التنفيذي

في عالم عربي طغت عليه العمليات الانتقالية المطوّلة والدموية، تبرز تونس كاستثناء على هذه الحالة. منذ يناير 2011، لم تشهد البلاد فقط تخلي الزعيم السابق الرئيس زين العابدين بن علي عنالسلطة، بل شهدت تغييراً كاملاً للنظام، الذي تم بشكل سلمي نسبياً حظي بإجماع واسع. رغم ذلك، فإن البلاد تواجه تحديات جدّية من شأنها أن تهدد هذا التقدم. من بين هذه التحديات، ثمة تحديان مترابطان بشكل وثيق يتمثلان في استعادة الأمن وفي نفس الوقت مكافحة الإفلات من العقاب. في حكومة الوحدة الوطنية الثلاثية التي يُشار إليها بالترويكا والتي يقودها حزب النهضة الإسلامي، فإن العامل الجوهري في النجاح يتمثل في الحوار التشاركي الموسع لتيسير إصلاح قوات الأمن دون أن يثير ذلك رد فعل يزعزع استقرار البلاد؛ وضمان المُساءلة عن جرائم النظام الدكتاتوري دون أن يتسبب ذلك في إطلاق عملية محمومة من حيث تصيد الأشخاص؛ وضمان تحقيق العدالة بكفاءة مع الأخذ بالاعتبار أوجه قصور النظام القضائي القائم.

ثمة مؤشرات على تحقيق تقدم حقيقي. في أكتوبر 2011، أجرت البلاد انتخابات ناجحة للجمعية الوطنية التأسيسية. ما يلفت النظر هو أن رئيس الوزراء، حمادي جبالي، هو سجين سياسي سابق، والرئيس، منصف المرزوقي، عاش سنوات طويلة في المنفى. المعارضة السابقة تجلس الآن على مقاعد الجمعية وتقف في قاعات وممرات السلطة. لم تعد حرية التعبير مجرد حلم. وهناك مجتمع مدني حقيقي يظهر إلى الوجود. وسائل الإعلام، ومنظمات المجتمع المدني، ونقابات

العمال، والأحزاب السياسية تشارك في العملية الديمقراطية، وتمضي إلى حد انتقاد سياسات الترويكا.

إلا أن ثمة علامات مقلقة ما تزال تطرح نفسها؛ فالأمن ما يزال هشاً، ويشك كثيرون في أن أفراد قوات الأمن لا يزالون موالين للنظام السابق. تُتهم النهضة من قبل خصومها بغض النظر عن بعض أعمال العنف ذات الصبغة الدينية. ويُظهر ضحايا الدكتاتورية علامات على نفاد الصبر المتنامي، ويطالبون بالعدالة ويحتجون ضد الإفلات من العقاب. النظام القضائي غير قادر على الاستجابة للمطالب المتزايدة. وتتعرض أعمال الجمعية الوطنية التأسيسية الجديدة، التي أُسست في أعقاب أول انتخابات شفافة وتعددية في تونس، للإعاقة بسبب استمرار حالة عدم الاستقرار.

من الناحية الأمنية، تحسنت الأوضاع إلى حدٍ ما في المراكز الحضرية الكبيرة بعد الفترة الصعبة التي أعقبت الثورة. لكن هناك تباينات جغرافية كبيرة. في مناطق المرتفعات الوسطى، مهد انتفاضتي ديسمبر 2010 يناير 2011، وكذلك في الجنوب – خصوصاً في ولاية قفصة، التي تشكل حوضاً هاماً للمعادن،والتي شهدت عمليات القمع الدموية عام 2008 ضد تمرد عمالي – فإن الشرطة كانت غائبة بشكل عام، تاركة الجيش ليضمن سلامة المواطنين. تعاني البلاد بشكل منتظم من أحداث عنف ذات طبيعة اقتصادية، أو مجتمعية أو إجرامية، و في بعض الأحيان، تتعلق بأشكال جديدة للتطرف الديني. ولا شك أن كل هذا يشوه صورة العملية الانتقالية التي كانت غالباً سلمية.

إن عملية استعادة الأمن تتطلب استعادة الشرطة لثقة السكان، ولكي يحدث ذلك ينبغي على وزارة الداخلية تنفيذ إصلاحات داخلية. قد يكون ذلك أمراً صعباً ومعقداً؛ حيث أن شرائح واسعة من السكان ما تزال تحمل مشاعر عميقة من عدم الثقة بالشرطة، وهو إرث عقود من الدكتاتورية والقمع. ويصح ذلك بشكل خاص في المناطق الوسطى، حيث يُنظر إلى قوات الأمن إجمالاً على أنها قوات عنيفة ينبغي معارضتها، وعدم الثقة بها. للإنصاف، فإن وزارة الداخلية بدأت باتخاذ إجراءات ضرورية، حيث طردت مسؤولين مرتبطين بشكل وثيق بالنظام السابق أو مسؤولين يشك بأنهم ارتكبوا انتهاكات. إلا أن هذه التغييرات غير كافية. الشرطة، التي تعاني من الانقسامات الداخلية، تبدو في بعض الأحيان وكأنها تركز على الدفاع عن مصالحها المؤسساتية الضيقة في حين يبقى بعض أفرادها معادين لفكرة خدمة أولئك الذين كانوا يضعونهمفي السجون قبل فترة ليست بالطويلة.

والنتيجة هي حلقة مفرغة. الشرطة –المُدانة من قبل جمهور متعطش للمُساءلة –تمتنع عن تسيير دوريات في الشوارع؛ وبالتالي فإن الأمن يتزعزع؛ وبالمقابل، فإن الشرطة تتعرض لانتقادات أقسى، مما يعزز إصرارها على البقاء على الحياد. في حالات أخرى، فإن شعور الشرطة بالغربة عن محيطها يمكن أن يدفع قوات الأمن لارتكاب تجاوزات عنيفة، مما يجعل الأوضاع أسوأ.

النقطة المحورية في هذا المأزق تتمثل في القضايا الشائكة المتعلقة بإقامة جهاز قضائي انتقالي والإرث الطويل من الإفلات من العقاب. لقد دعت الحكومات المتعاقبة، بما فيها الحكومة الحالية، إلى مقاربة تدريجية وحذرة حيال بقايا النظام الدكتاتوري. رغم أن مسؤولين في النظام السابق تمت محاكمتهم وأطلقت لجان مستقلة عمليات تحقيق في حالات الفساد، والعنف والانتهاكات في الماضي، فإن السلطات سعت جاهدة لتحاشي المضي في عملية تصيّد قد تؤدي إلى زعزعة الاستقرار. وهذا نجاح أكيد، وقد يكون نتيجة الطبيعة السلمية بشكل عام للعملية الانتقالية.

لكن هناك وجه آخر لكل هذا. لقد ترك الإيقاع الحذر للعملية الانتقالية مطالب قوية بتحقيق العدالة والمُساءلة دون استجابة، خصوصاً في المنطقة الوسطى من تونس، حيث أصبح النضال ضد الإفلات من العقاب صرخة تحشد الكثيرين حولها. تُصر عائلات أولئك الذين قتلوا أو جرحوا خلال الأيام التي سبقت هروب بن علي إلى السعودية على الحصول على تعويضات مادية ومعنوية. لقد شاركوا في مظاهرات تدعو إلى محاكمة مسؤولين سابقين كبار في النظام، خصوصاً في الأجهزة الأمنية. إنهم يخشون طغيان الإفلات من العقاب تحت قناع المصالحة الوطنية غير الحقيقية. يتحد الصحفيون، ونشطاء المجتمع المدني، وقادة النقابات ونشطاء حقوق الإنسان في تشاطرهم لهذه المخاوف التي يغذيها التاريخ غير البعيد لوزارة الداخلية والجهاز القضائي بوصفهما دعامتين رئيسيتين للنظام السلطوي. وفي هذا الصدد، فإن بن علي لم يخترع شيئاً؛ بل انه ورث نظاماً قضائياً قمعياً ونظام قمعي لفرض القانون أسسهما الرئيس السابق الحبيببورقيبه. كان النظام القضائي يمتثل للأوامر في حين أن وزارة الداخلية أنشأت نظاماً شاملاً للمراقبة.

النظام القضائي الانتقالي موضوع يطبخ على نارٍ هادئة؛ حيث أن الإصلاحات القضائية بالكاد بدأت، وثمة افتقار للموارد التقنية والمالية للتصدي للتحديات الراهنة. يبدو النظام غير منظم، ومكوّن من متاهة من المؤسسات المنفصلة وغير المنسقة تتمثل في لجان مستقلة لمكافحة الفساد والانتهاكات، ولجان لحقوق الإنسان ووزارة للجهاز القضائي الانتقالي، وهيئات للقضائين المدني والعسكري، إضافة إلى مبادرات مجتمع مدني مبعثرة. يتمثل العنصر المفقود في رؤية متماسكة ومشتركة لجهاز قضائي انتقالي قادر على معالجة حقوق الضحايا والتغلب على مرارة الماضي. بدلاً من ذلك، فإن استياء ضحايا قمع الدولة مصحوباً بالركود الاقتصادي الذي أصاب بشدة المناطق التي يتحدرون منها، يخاطر بتعزيز شعورهم بالتهميش، وتعميق مظالمهم ضد الدولة المركزية ويمنع العودة إلى مستويات من الاستقرار والأمنتعتبر ضرورية لترسيخ جذور المكاسب الديمقراطية.

لقد بدأت تونس مرحلتها الانتقالية بانسجام نسبي، مع ظهور إجماع على قواعد ديمقراطية معينة للعمل، على عكس تجارب بلدان عربية أخرى، أو على الأقل بسرعة أكبر مما جرى في تلك البلدان. لكن ليس من السهل التخلص من الماضي. إن غياب التواصل بين المناطق الوسطى والمناطق البعيدة، وبين القوى الإسلامية والعلمانية، وبين ورثة النظام القديم ومؤيدي النظام الجديد يبقى ماثلاً أبداً. وستكون المهمة الأساسية لهذه الحكومة والحكومات المستقبلية هي تسوية الخلافات التي تبدو حتى الآن غير قابلة للحل من خلال الحوار والتسويات.

تونس/بروكسل، 9 مايو 2012

Executive Summary

In an Arab world marred by stalled and bloody transitions, Tunisia still stands out as an exception. Since January 2011, not only has the former leader, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, fallen from power, but an entire system has been overwhelmed, if not overhauled, relatively peacefully and with the support of a fairly broad consensus. That said, the country faces serious challenges that could threaten this progress. Of these, two in particular are closely intertwined: restoring security while combatting impunity. For the new tripartite unity government referred to as the Troïka and led by the Islamist An-Nahda party, the key to success remains broad participatory dialogue to facilitate reforming the security forces without provoking a destabilising backlash; ensuring accountability for the dictatorship’s crimes without triggering a witch hunt; and ensuring justice is done efficiently while taking into account the limits of the existing judicial system.

There are indicators of real progress. In October 2011, the country held successful elections for the National Constituent Assembly. Remarkably, the prime minister, Hamadi Jebali, is a former political prisoner and the president, Moncef Marzouki, lived long years in exile. The former opposition now sits on the benches of the assembly and stands in the halls of power. Freedom of expression no longer is a pipe dream. A genuine civil society is emerging. Media, civil society organisations, trade unions, and political parties participate in the democratic process, even going so far as to lambast the Troïka’s policies.

Yet disturbing signs remain. Security is fragile. Many suspect that members of the security forces still are loyal to the former regime. An-Nahda is accused by its adversaries of turning a blind eye to certain acts of violence with religious connotations. Victims of the dictatorship are growing impatient, demanding justice and protesting impunity. And the judicial system is unable to cope with mounting demands. The new National Constituent Assembly established in the wake of Tunisia’s first transparent and pluralist election has been hampered by continuing instability.

Security-wise, the situation has improved to some degree in the larger urban agglomerations after a difficult post-revolutionary period. But there are important geographic discrepancies. In the central highlands, cradle of the December 2011 and January 2011 uprisings, as well as in the south – most notably the Gafsa governorate, a mining basin and scene of a bloody 2008 crackdown against a labour insurrection – the police have been largely absent, leaving it to the army to ensure safety. The country regularly experiences episodes of violent strife of an economic, communal or criminal nature or, at times, related to newly emerging forms of religious extremism. All of which inevitably tarnish the image of a mostly peaceful transition.

Restoring security requires that the police regain the confidence of the population and, for that, the interior ministry needs to implement internal reforms. That could be a tall order: much of the public still harbours deep-seated distrust of the police, a legacy of decades of dictatorship and repression. This is particularly true in the central regions, where security forces tend to be perceived as a violent power to be opposed, not trusted. In fairness, the interior ministry has begun to take necessary steps, dismissing officials closely linked to the former regime or suspected of abuse. But these changes are insufficient. Undermined by internal divisions, the police at times seem focused on defending its narrow institutional interests while some of its members remain hostile to the idea of serving those they were putting in jail not long ago.

The end result is a vicious circle. Police – denounced by a public eager for accountability – are reluctant to patrol the streets; security suffers; in turn, the police are subject to harsher criticism, which only strengthens their resolve to stay on the sidelines. In other instances, the feeling of alienation from the public can lead security forces to violent excesses, which only make things worse.

At the heart of this dilemma are the thorny issues of transitional justice and the legacy of impunity. Successive governments, including the current one, have advocated a gradual, restrained approach towards remnants of the dictatorship. Although former regime officials have been put on trial and independent commissions have launched investigations into corruption, violence and past abuses, the authorities have been at pains to avoid a potentially destabilising witch hunt. This is an undeniable success, a likely outcome of the transition’s largely peaceful nature.

But there is a flip-side. The deliberate pace of the transitional process has left unanswered powerful demands for justice and accountability; notably in central Tunisia, the struggle against impunity has become a rallying cry. The families of those killed or injured during the days leading up to Ben Ali’s flight to Saudi Arabia insist on moral and material compensation. They have participated in demonstrations calling for senior former regime officials, particularly in the security sector, to be put on trial. They fear a reign of impunity under the guise of ineffectual national reconciliation. Journalists, civil society, union leaders and human rights activists are united in sharing these concerns, fuelled by the interior ministry’s and judiciary’s recent history as key pillars of the authoritarian system. In this respect, Ben Ali invented nothing; rather, he inherited the repressive legal and law enforcement systems established under former President Habib Bourguiba. The judiciary followed orders while the interior ministry set up an all-encompassing system of surveillance.

Genuine transitional justice is on a slow track. Judicial reforms have barely begun, and there is a lack of technical and financial resources to address current challenges. The system appears disorganised, a maze of separate, uncoordinated institutions: independent commissions against corruption and abuse, the human rights and transitional justice ministry, civil justice and military justice bodies, as well as scattered civil society initiatives. What is missing is a shared, coherent vision of transitional justice that is capable of both addressing victims’ rights and overcoming the bitterness of the past. Instead, dissatisfaction on the part of victims of state repression combined with an economic downturn that has hit hardest in the regions from which they tend to hail, risks reinforcing their sense of marginalisation, deepening their grievances against the central state and preventing a return to levels of stability and security that are essential for democratic gains to take root.

In one sense, the hardest part is over. Unlike the experiences of other Arab countries – or at least more swiftly than them – Tunisia has begun its transition in relative harmony, with an emerging consensus on certain democratic rules of the road. But it is not so easy to get rid of the past. The disconnects between central and peripheral regions, between Islamist and secular forces, and between heirs to the old regime and supporters of the new order remains ever present. The critical task of this and future governments will be to resolve differences that for now appear irreconcilable through dialogue and compromise.

Tunis/Brussels, 9 May 2012

Supporters of Kais Saied seut up the Tunisian flag on the roof of a store in front of the riot police, during a demonstration held in front of the building of the Tunisian parliament in Bardo, in the capital Tunis, Tunisia, on July 26, 2021. Chedly Ben Ibrahim / NurPhoto via AFP

Tunisia’s Leap into the Unknown

On 25 July, Tunisia’s President Kaïs Saïed invoked the constitution to seize emergency powers after months of crisis. In this Q&A, Crisis Group expert Riccardo Fabiani says compromise between Saïed and his parliamentary opponents remains possible, but so does grave violence.

What has happened in Tunisia?

Late on 25 July, following a day of rowdy demonstrations that included reports of looting, President Kaïs Saïed invoked the constitution’s Article 80, which grants the president augmented powers in emergency situations, citing as his justification the collapse of many public services and destruction of government property. Saïed also “froze” parliament for 30 days, revoked legislators’ parliamentary immunity and seized control of the public prosecutor’s office. The next day, he cited the same article to dismiss by presidential decree Hichem Mechichi, the prime minister and interim interior minister whose nearly one-year tenure had become marked by increasing paralysis as the country grew more polarised, as well as the defence, justice and civil service ministers.

These actions have triggered the worst political crisis in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution that brought down its autocratic leader, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, in the first of the Arab uprisings. An angry rejection of President Saïed’s move came immediately from his main political opponent, Rached Ghannouchi, the speaker of parliament and head of the Islamist Ennahda Party, Tunisia’s largest, who called the move a “coup against the revolution”. Other parties allied with Ennahda and representing a majority of seats in parliament also cried foul, arguing that Saïed’s seizure of emergency powers was unconstitutional on two grounds: first, they claimed that he had not fulfilled the requirement to inform the parliament speaker and prime minister prior to invoking Article 80; and secondly, they said he exceeded his constitutional powers in freezing parliament (which Article 80 foresees operating in permanent session alongside the president in emergencies) and stripping deputies of immunity, as well as in taking control of the public prosecutor’s office.

Now there is a serious risk of further confrontation. The direction of events is uncertain, and the president’s action feels like a leap into the unknown.

Popular participation in events in the first 24 hours went through three phases. The first was a wave of rioting in several cities that preceded Saïed’s announcement on 25 July. The rioters were not clearly associated with any single political party, and their ranks included soccer hooligans and other unruly elements. These rallies took on a markedly anti-Islamist flavour, with crowds raising chants blaming Ennahda for the 2013 assassination (allegedly by Salafi jihadists) of two leading Tunisian left-wing secularists, Chokri Belaïd and Mohamed Brahmi. The mobs targeted the Ennahda offices in Monastir, Sousse, Sfax, El Kef and Tozeur, reportedly engaging in looting.

In the second phase, which began later that day, after Saïed announced his power grab, the character of demonstrations changed to one of celebration among more middle-class Tunisians, especially in the capital Tunis, with people dancing, singing the national anthem and shouting: “Long live the president!”

The third phase came the next morning, on 26 July, when the mood turned tense as Ennahda supporters trying to gain access to parliament were stopped by security forces. Demonstrators threw stones and bottles, and a few people were wounded by gas canisters and projectiles.

While clashes between supporters of the two camps have so far been limited, the risk of an escalation of violence over the coming days cannot be ruled out

While clashes between supporters of the two camps have so far been limited, the risk of an escalation of violence over the coming days cannot be ruled out. The president’s next decisions (were he to use corruption arrests against parts of the political and business class, as his takeover of the public prosecution office and his apparent policy priorities might indicate, or order the security forces to arrest key opposition figures, for example) and the opposing side’s reactions (potentially mobilising their own networks against Saïed on the streets) will be crucial.

Was what happened a coup?

While President Saïed’s opponents say his manoeuvres were extra-constitutional and thus amount to a coup, or a “constitutional coup”, Saïed pointed to the constitution itself, lecturing his detractors to educate themselves by taking some law classes. (He was a constitutional law professor before being elected president.)

But whether or not Tunisians and foreign governments deem Saïed’s 25 July action a coup, it was clearly an orchestrated power grab. His close circles had spoken months ago about his desire to invoke Article 80 of the constitution. The demonstrations that framed his actions themselves looked provocative and may well have been pre-planned, even if nurtured by the frustrations of impoverished citizens. A recent controversy surrounding a transitional justice financial compensation of Ennahda activists who suffered during Ben Ali's era had recently stoked further popular anger.

The military has been involved, but only up to a point. Once Saïed invoked emergency powers under the constitution, the army moved quickly to seal off parliament and took control of the headquarters of the state radio-television broadcaster. So far, however, that is the extent of the military’s muscle flexing. There has as of yet been no wave of arrests of opponents, though there are rumours of thousands of politicians and senior officials being prevented from leaving the country, which could indicate future arrests.

What is the main cause of Tunisia’s political polarisation, and will Saïed’s actions resolve or exacerbate it?

Saïed soared to power in 2019 with 73 per cent of the vote, buoyed by his promises to fight corruption and rebuild state sovereignty, which Ennahda supported at the time. But despite this large popular mandate, he argued that he was unable to govern properly due to other parties’ control of parliament and Tunisia’s political system, which empowers both president and parliament. Mechichi, the prime minister whom Saïed himself had put forward in September 2020, increasingly distanced himself from the president, to the point that in January 2021 he dropped the president’s nominee for the all-powerful interior minister position. Even worse polarisation and paralysis ensued, as Saïed refused to allow the swearing-in of the new government.

Saïed claims to be strengthening his hold on power so as to break the country’s political impasse

This deadlock has exacerbated popular anger at a series of pre-existing and more recent problems, which gave Saïed a pretext for his 25 July announcement. These include the public’s ever-increasing loss of confidence in legislators and political parties; rising living costs; the socio-economic consequences of repeated border closures with Algeria and Libya; a series of lockdowns and curfews aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19, which have failed to reduce the number of new cases and deaths; and a general sense that institutions are dysfunctional. Saïed claims to be strengthening his hold on power so as to break the country’s political impasse, and to be addressing the socio-economic crisis. But the cost may be very high – potentially even the end of Tunisia’s post-2011 experiment with parliamentary democracy.

It is not impossible that Saïed succeeds in establishing a new status quo. In what undoubtedly will be a stiff battle of messaging at home and abroad, Ennahda and its parliamentary allies will hold up the banner for parliamentary politics and democratic process, while Saïed will stress his promises to end corruption and make the state strong and effective. His enduring popularity among some parts of Tunisian society suggests that at least some citizens want power in the hands of a strongman who they believe can make the state work better. By supporting an anti-corruption campaign against officials and businessmen tied to Ennahda, for example, he could permanently weaken some of his strongest political rivals.

Still, there are plenty of other scenarios that are at least as plausible, given the potential opposition to Saïed. It remains unclear whether the public administration, business circles, professionals, political parties and civil society groups will collaborate with or resist the president’s next moves. A second important factor will be the profiles of the people he chooses to advise him and to fill the state’s key positions, as they will help define his policy priorities and their execution. Third will be the reaction of international financial institutions, rating agencies and creditors, which could widen or narrow Saïed’s room for economic manoeuvre.

The economy is in dire shape, with a contraction of 8.8 per cent and a fiscal deficit of 11.4 per cent of GDP. The pandemic has exacerbated these problems, with hundreds of deaths per day and severe restrictions on movement. The country desperately needs international loans to balance its budget, and it is not clear where the money will come from. Saïed will inevitably be forced to adopt austerity measures, which will likely prove unpopular. This reinforces the likelihood that the 25 July events signal a turn toward more authoritarian rule.

What are the regional dimensions of the crisis?

Tunisia is a small country of 11 million people, much weakened by economic disruptions since the Arab uprisings, the latest political stalemate, mismanagement of the COVID-19 response and the decline of tourism. It is thus unusually dependent on the policies and support of its larger, often richer North African neighbours – notably Algeria, Egypt and Libya – as well as the Gulf Arab states and the former colonial power France just across the Mediterranean. All these countries pursue their own agendas vis-à-vis Tunisia.

Many in Tunisia accuse outsiders of having a hand in recent events. Ennahda officials, for example, tend to blame the first wave of anti-Ennahda demonstrations on 25 July on the United Arab Emirates (UAE), noting that the Emirati satellite television network Al Arabiyya broadcast images of demonstrators live and at length, making it look like there were large masses blaming the party for a decade of mismanagement and assassinations of secularist and leftist politicians. Meanwhile, the widely watched Al Jazeera network called upon Tunisians to rally to the defence of “revolution and democracy”. Al Jazeera is based in Qatar, a Gulf Arab rival to the UAE that has long supported the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement that inspired Ennahda’s founders. Shortly after Al Jazeera broadcast its call, police stormed its offices in Tunis and closed them down. Some Tunisians also noted that in April, Saïed visited Egypt, where he voiced support for the policies of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who crushed the Muslim Brotherhood after taking power in 2013 and is often seen as part of a regional anti-Islamist axis and close to the UAE. For them, Egypt is a clear supporter of Saïed’s move.

The current crisis owes more to deteriorating living conditions and political deadlock than to the role of outside players

In reality, though, domestic factors offer a better explanation for the recent developments than regional politics. While in the past external actors have interfered with and aggravated pre-existing tensions, the current crisis owes more to deteriorating living conditions and political deadlock than to the role of outside players.

Is there anything the world can do to promote a peaceful resolution of the situation in Tunisia?

Everything is in flux. Tunisia’s main social and economic actors, including lawyers’, judges’ and journalists’ professional associations, are calling for respect of the constitution’s fundamental tenets. The General Union of Tunisian Workers (known by its French acronym, UGTT), the powerful and broadly representative federation of trade unions, has demanded that the president specify the goals and duration of the exceptional measures.

Most countries are aware of the nuances of Tunisia’s predicament and are unwilling to rush in to act or even comment. While Turkish officials have condemned the president’s move, others, including France, the European Union (EU), the African Union and the U.S. – all of which are influential in Tunisia – have avoided taking a clear stance on these events, instead preferring to encourage all parties to stick to the constitution, without passing judgment on whether Saïed’s power grab was constitutional, and avoid violence.  

Outside powers should put as much pressure as possible on those interlocutors who listen to them to avoid polarising things further and risking violence. In particular, France, the U.S., the EU and Germany should take a tougher line, even if behind the scenes. They should push the president to publicly commit to a roadmap detailing what he intends to do during this period and to re-establishing normal democratic processes, including parliament’s constitutionally defined role, no later than October, when parliament returns from recess. The U.S. and EU have already made statements to this effect. They should urge him to regularly consult the country’s main political, social and economic groups, including opening talks with his rivals, during this emergency period and to operate within the constitution’s limits. They should send clear signals that crackdowns against opponents or the misuse of corruption trials would run against serious foreign opposition.

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