Tunisia: the worrying authoritarian drift of Kaïs Saïed – Capcov

Last summer, the head of state’s institutional coup was hailed by a large majority of Tunisians. After less than five months, his irrepressible desire to decide everything alone, in defiance of intermediary bodies, makes people fear the worst.

In August 2021, immediately after the constitutional offensive of July 25 during which he had assumed all the powers, Kaïs Saïed was acclaimed by a large majority of Tunisians, 94.9% of them declaring to trust him. Four months later, they are only 66% to support the president and 35% to approve the head of government, Najla Bouden, who has just started her mandate. But this beginning of disenchantment does not seem to disturb the man of Carthage. Without saying it, Kaïs Saïed settled into an idea of ​​duration. Nothing else is possible and to do this, he crosses out all the intermediate bodies that could remind him of the principles of alternation in matters of power.

Populist approach

But this is only valid in democracy, a word that Kaïs Saïed never utters: he prefers the “will of the people”, an indefinite mass of which he considers translating the wishes. The president, who turned into a wrongdoer on July 25, did not however grant the wishes of the citizens – whom he retracted – while they gave way to the people. This seems to escape analysts and citizens themselves, so happy with the announced sidelining of Ennahdha. The president, without consulting the people, whom he nevertheless considers his referent, ultimately decides alone and thus commits the future of the country. He is also counting on a remote consultation, which he assimilates to a referendum, to define the priorities for Tunisians and establish a little more legitimacy that he already self-granted in July.

The revolution for Kaïs Saïed is not the one around which the majority agrees. Without consulting anyone, he considers that, for the people, the immolation on December 17, 2010 of Mohamed Bouazizi symbolizes the revolution. A populist approach which erases the emergence and the primordial role of unions, the media and civil society in the insurrectionary movement which brought down the Ben Ali regime on January 14, 2011. A dangerous rewriting of history which establishes, on the sly, the new order as conceived by “the people” of Kaïs Saïed. But who are these people he evokes at all costs? Certainly not that of Agareb (Center East) who refuses the reopening of a landfill and whose president says he ignores everything when he had raised this problem in situ during the electoral campaign.

Little by little, a fatalistic “what’s the point” and the prospect of possible “trouble” take over and lead to silence.

A background of gloom, an economic crisis that never ends, a paralyzed country and a lack of visibility on the stages to come discourage any reflection and make less attentive to the exits of the road. Little by little, a fatalistic “what’s the point” and the prospect of possible “trouble” take over and lead to silence.

Arbitrariness in the name of order and law

The Minister of Cultural Affairs, Hayet Guermazi thus banned on November 16 titles presented at the Tunis International Book Fair, some of which were wrong to quote Rached Ghannouchi, president of Ennahdha. Unheard of, even in Ben Ali’s time. This example – without counting the pressures on social networks and the inconvenience experienced by the media – is enough to rekindle the worst fears: those of a return to arbitrariness as a preamble to an authoritarian regime which would not speak its name and which would settle in the name of law and order. Obviously, the interpretation of what constitutes disorder would fall exclusively to Kaïs Saïed, especially when it is generated by his exuberant rival, freedom.

Tunisians are again minors placed under the tutelage of a president who decides for 12 million subjects who thought they were citizens.

By wanting to impose his own reading of the world, his agenda, his priorities and his certainties with an insistent conspiratorial tone, Kaïs Saïed imagines himself responding to popular demands, in reality far from the real and more pragmatic demands of work and development. . In this context, the internal gendarme that Ben Ali had rooted in the conscience of every citizen is reborn from its ashes and reinstalls a self-censorship more implacable than the explicit prohibition of the laws.

Tunisians are again minors placed under the tutelage of a president who decides for 12 million subjects who thought they were citizens. Under the slogan “The people want” takes root a terrible misunderstanding. In the aftermath of July 25, some, in the very minority, feared losing the fragile gains of freedom. The facts are proving them right.

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