Tunisian President Kaïs Saied has issued new rules that will boost his near-total control of power in the country.
On July 25, Saied fired Tunisia’s prime minister, calling it a national emergency. But his critics called the move a coup.
And last month, he went on to suspend parliament — assuming executive authority.
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Since then, Saied has extended the extraordinary powers he had gvien himself indefinitely.
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Now, Saied has declared that he will rule by presidential decree, effectively ignoring parts of the constitution.
The decrees issued on Wednesday include the continuing suspension of parliament’s powers and the suspension of all lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution, but go further to now freeze lawmakers’ salaries.
Intissar Fakir, a senior fellow and director of the Middle East Institute's North Africa and Sahel program, joined The World's host Marco Werman from Washington to break down what the new decrees mean for the country.
Marco Werman: Intissar, what is your reaction to these latest moves by President Saied?
Intissar Fakir: So, I say he's effectively trying to change Tunisia's political system from a parliamentary one to a presidential one. And he's amassing power and is trying to make the change with no regard to what other political actors are saying or what they want. And basically, with no political due process.
Until this summer, for the most part, Tunisia was kind of a bright spot following the 2011 uprisings across the Arab world. How are Tunisians reacting to these latest moves? Is anyone protesting?
Yeah, I mean, we saw a protest, one of the first protests that was against what Kaïs Saied is doing. It was on Nov. 18, and we heard protesters chanting, "Shut down the coup" and "We want to return to legitimacy." But there is also a lot of support for him still on the street. We've heard a counterprotest with people demanding, "We want to dissolve the parliament." So, there's still a lot of support for what he is trying to do.
Who are President Saied's supporters?
At the moment, I think the major supporter is the military, which has given him quite a bit of protection. There are still people on the street who, for them, really, the worry is not whether Tunisia has a parliamentary system or a presidential system, the important thing is whether the Tunisian government and the Tunisian system is able to provide basic needs for Tunisians. And we saw that basically break down over the summer. And I think that's why there was a lot of popular support on the street, as well.
How worried are Tunisia's pro-democracy activists right now? Do they see a window closing on their free expression if President Saied is taking these moves?
Yeah, I mean, I think this is an extremely worrisome situation. And the challenge for pro-democracy actors, really for all other political and civil society actors, is that there is no effective mechanism through which they can push back on what Kaïs Saied is doing. There are no constitutional courts that can challenge him, there is no way to remove him from power and we've noticed that even some of the actors that had supported him in the aftermath of July 25, gradually moved away from him.
Right. July 25, that's the date that President Saied fired the prime minister. Can you talk about the president's motives here? I mean, Kaïs Saied was democratically elected, so why did he feel the need to further control the country's political system?
He is someone who has never really been happy with the way the post-2011 political process has happened. And so, there were calls for him to act, but, you know, what he's doing, this is really an extraordinarily, dangerously simplistic view. What he is saying, basically, is that if he can rule alone, then he can fix everything. And we have seen that in other parts of the world and it almost never works. So, his problem, even in the event that he is able to effectively change the system into a presidential system, it's still really difficult to see how he's going to be able to fix all of the country's problems.
Tunisia's constitution, does it provide for any emergency measures like the one Saied is taking or is he completely ignoring it?
So, in terms of the constitution, there was a lot of debate after July 25 of whether what he did fits within the country's constitutional framework. Those of his supporters that he has maintained, they're finding it harder to maintain that what he's doing is still constitutional. He is basically ruling by decree. And I think this is not really a surprise, given how he dragged the situation over the course of the past months.
How much of what happens in Tunisia impacts the surrounding region?
I think that we have seen almost in every single one of the countries in the region already some kind of return to more autocratic iterations. In Algeria, we saw the Hirak movement that began in 2019 gradually die off, the presidential system in Tunisia and in Morocco, you've got the monarchy that's very powerfully in control and the recent elections of Sept. 8 sort of cementing their control. So, I would say that the trend may have started before Tunisia, and I think maybe Tunisia follows more in line with what's happening in other countries, unfortunately.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. AP contributed to this report.