Tunisia facing the autocratic drift of its president, Kaïs Saïed

By Frédéric Bobin

Posted at 5:45 p.m. yesterday, updated at 8:09 p.m.

There is a word that often comes up about Kaïs Saïed: enigma. The man who was propelled in 2019 to the supreme magistracy of Tunisia, and embarks the country since his “coup de force” of the summer on the perilous paths of personal power, has not only broken the codes of political action. It now escapes typologies, agreed grids. This president arrogating himself, on July 25, from his palace in Carthage, the full powers to save the nation from a “Imminent danger”, and thus relaunch a revolution betrayed in his eyes for ten years, rout, disconcert. On Wednesday September 22, he signed a presidential decree concentrating most of the constitutional powers in the hands of the Head of State while awaiting a “Political reform” that it will submit to a referendum. It is a strange, new, atypical political object, placed anxiously in the “enigma” box, for lack of an appropriate concept.

If it is so important to shed light on this “Saïed phenomenon”, it is because the stake is none other than the future of the Tunisian democratic transition, a model in danger after having been celebrated as a success in the Arab world. Muslim. The Tunisian liberals no longer hide their concern in front of an autocratic drift – in the name of the “people” – every day more pronounced. “Kaïs Saïed is reinstalling the dictatorship”, deplores the jurist Yadh Ben Achour, former dean of the faculty of legal, political and social sciences of Tunis.

Read also In Tunisia, voices worry about an exceptional regime “without any safeguards”

“Enigmatic” would therefore be this former university assistant under the presidency of Ben Ali (1987-2011), virgin of any daring protest, suddenly awakening to the revolution after the fall of the autocrat on January 14, 2011. “Enigmatic” would be this stakes, austere and borrowed, follower of a chastened literary Arabic (preferred to the vernacular language of derja Tunisian), bewitching with its monotonous phrasing the amphitheatres of students then crowds of supporters. “Enigmatic” would be this stingy and lonely candidate for the 2019 presidential election, triumphing over the wealthy electoral machines of his rivals. “Enigmatic” would be this specialist in constitutional law sending, on July 25, during the proclamation of the state of emergency, an army tank to close, in Tunis, the Parliament of which he decrees the work. “Suspended”.

Apparent paradoxes

“Enigmatic” would be this democrat who hates political parties. “Enigmatic” would be this debunker of Ennahda, showcase of political Islam in Tunisia and who lost his position of power with the suspension of Parliament, constantly referring to God and the Koran. “Enigmatic” would be this heir to the “Tunisian spring” flirting with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, these godfathers of the Arab counter-revolution.

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