Tunisia's President Sparks Concern for Democracy

Parliament is dissolved, prime minister and other top officials are fired
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 26, 2021 4:39 PM CDT
Tunisia's President Sparks Concern for Democracy
Tunisian soldiers guard at an entrance to parliament in Tunis on Monday.   (AP Photo/Hedi Azouz)

Troops surrounded Tunisia's parliament and blocked its speaker from entering Monday after the president suspended the legislature and fired the prime minister and other top members of government, sparking concerns for the North African country's young democracy. In the face of nationwide protests over Tunisia's economic troubles and the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis, President Kais Saied decided late Sunday to dismiss the officials, including the justice and defense ministers. Some demonstrators cheered the firings, shouting with joy and waving Tunisian flags, but others accused the president of a power grab, and the country's overseas allies expressed concern that it might be descending again into autocracy. In a move sure to fuel those worries, the AP reports, police raided the offices of broadcaster Al Jazeera and ordered it to shut down.

Tunisia, which ignited the Arab Spring in 2011 when protests led to the overthrow of its autocratic leader, is often regarded as the only success story of those uprisings. But democracy did not bring prosperity: Tunisia's economy was already flailing before the pandemic, with 18% unemployment, and young people demanding jobs and an end to police brutality protested in large numbers earlier this year. The government recently announced cuts to food and fuel subsidies, fueling anger in impoverished regions. Thousands defied COVID restrictions Sunday in Tunis and other cities to demand the dissolution of parliament. The president said he had to take the actions because of concern over public violence. He said he acted according to the law—but parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi, who heads the Islamist party that dominates the legislature, said the president didn't consult him or the prime minister as required.

(Read more Tunisia stories.)

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