by H. Haverstock, The Chicago Times

July 25, 2021

TUNIS — On Sunday, Tunisia’s president fired the cabinet and declared a state of emergency, drawing large crowds to major towns in support of a decision that substantially intensified the country’s political turmoil, but which his critics dubbed a coup.

President Kais Saied announced that he will acquire administrative control with the help of a new prime minister, posing the most serious challenge yet to Tunisia’s democratic system, which was established following a 2011 revolution.

Crowds rushed into the capital and other cities, cheering and blasting vehicle horns in scenes reminiscent of the revolution that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings that shook the region.  However, the level of public support for Saied’s actions against a fragile administration and a divided parliament was unclear, and he warned against retaliation with violence.

“I warn any who think of resorting to weapons… and whoever shoots a bullet, the armed forces will respond with bullets,” he added in a television statement.  Military trucks surrounded the parliament building hours after the statement, two witnesses said, while people outside celebrated and chanted the national hymn.

Before the COVID-19 epidemic wreaked havoc on the economy last year and coronavirus infection rates spiked this summer, years of corruption, diminishing state services, and rising unemployment had soured many Tunisians on their democratic system.

On Sunday, social media activists organized protests that were not sponsored by any of the major political parties, with much of the anger directed at the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which is the largest in parliament.  Since 2011, Ennahda, which had been banned prior to the revolution, has been the most consistently successful party and a member of successive coalition governments

Former President Moncef Marzouki and the leader of another party, Karama, also supported Ennahda in branding Saied’s move a coup.