Tunisia’s Teetering Democracy: EU Needs to Support Tunisia’s Democrats Lest It Risks Losing Political Influence

Written by | Friday, September 3rd, 2021

EU and European nations should provide more support for Tunisia’s democrats as the north African country faces up to months of government by presidential decree, said Ahmed Gaaloul, an Ennahdha party official. Ennahdha, the moderate Islamist party and the largest caucus in Tunisia’s parliament, was blindsided by President Kais Saied’s announcement in July that he was sacking Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, suspending parliament and governing by decree. Last week, President Saied announced he was extending the suspension another month, a move described by Ennahdha and many other political parties as unconstitutional and a coup.
“Tunisia is a model of democracy in the region;” Gaaloul, who is also a former youth and sports minister, said in an interview, adding that defending the North African country “is in the interest of the EU and the whole region. Europe and the EU has a duty to defend human rights and democracy”. The EU institutions have been largely silent on the political situation in Tunisia. “We need a strong and firmer attitude from those who defend democracy to support our cause. Then we will feel that we are not alone. We don’t want the plane of democracy to leave our country,” the Ennahdha official added. European leaders have limited themselves to general statements regarding the deterioration in democracy in Tunisia. For example, former European Commission President Romano Prodi has warned that “the consequences of turning towards autocracy will exceed Tunisia’s borders. We, the Europeans, are losing political influence on the southern bank of the Mediterranean.”
Also the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell stated that the “commitment to democracy, and respect for the rule of law, for the Constitution and for the legislative framework must be maintained,” while calling for “parliamentary activity to resume, for fundamental rights to be respected and for all forms of violence to be avoided.” But President Saied has rejected the claim that he has instigated a coup, pointing to the reference in Article 80 of the post-revolution constitution to an ‘imminent danger’ under which he is able to rule by decree. Saied contends that the existing government institutions pose “a persistent threat to the State, and the Parliament itself is a threat to the State,” and that he will govern according to the will of the people. And, indeed, for the moment, Saied appears to be riding a wave of public support and has seen a sharp spike to his personal popularity ratings. Perhaps this is also why the president has rejected any calls for a roadmap out of the crisis, or for dialogue with domestic politicians or the international community. “It seems that the country is going towards a total closure”, Gaaloul warns.

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