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Tunisia: A Presidential Coup in the Making? – 1.

July 28, 2021
Tunisian filmmaker Ferid Boughedir at home in La Marsa, Tunisia, a friend since 1964

Tunisia faces a multi-layered crisis. Given the depth of Tunisia’s socio-economic crisis, the increasingly unmanageable foreign debt, well known unprecedented levels of corruption the gridlock in the Tunisian Parliament where the Ennahdha Party held a decisive position and now a fast moving version of the Covid-19 Delta Variant – it is no surprise that the overall crisis came to a head. In fact, I am surprised it didn’t happen sooner.

Over the weekend, Tunisian President Kais Saied declared what is essentially a state of emergency. In short order he fired the country’s prime minister, Hichem Mechichi, dismissed his Minister of Defense,Minister Ibrahim Bartaji and Hasna Ben Slimane, the acting Justice Minister accused of disloyalty. He closed down the Tunisian parliament for a month and imposed a one-month curfew from 7 pm to 6 am. The military forcibly closed down the Tunis offices of Qatar-based Al Jazeeri. A number of regional governors have also been given the boot. Employees of the effected ministries – including the prime miniuster – are prohibited to leave the country for a year, many of whom face corruption charges. A day later President Saied announced that the Tunisian military will run the country for a period up to five years and will be charged, among other things, with reworking the Tunisian constituion.

Saudi Arabia has already announced it supports to coup., no surprise as it has a history of opposing Moslem Brotherhood formations like Tunisia’s Ennahda Party. The U.S. has not come out to condemn President Saied’s power grab and seems to support it; the U.S. media which has touted Tunisia as a model for MENA democracy has responded with unusual restrait to the developments as well, at least to date.

What follows here is a ten minute segment of KGNU Hemisphere’s Middle East Dialogues done last night (July 27, 2021). An hour program which dealt mostly with the failures of U.S. Middle East policy in Afghanistan, Iran, we took a little time at the outset to discuss the Tunisian events. A longer, more in depth analysis will follow in the next week or ten days as we (Kazerooni and Prince) have followed and commented upon the Tunisian situation repeatedly since the onset of the Arab Spring in 2011, which started in Tunisia, sparked by the immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi in Sidi Bouzid, a town in the Tunisian interior.

Here is the snippet of that discussion. The full interview will follow in a few days.

The author in front of “Linstitut Bourguiba des Langues Vivantes in Tunis where he taught many, many years ago. Photo from 2011.
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