Middle East

Timeline: Tunisia's authoritarian slide

September 2, 2020, Tunisia's President Kais Saied speaks during the new government swearing-in ceremony at Carthage Palace on the eastern outskirts of the capital Tunis, following a confidence vote by parliament. . (Photo by Fethi Belaid / AFP)

TUNIS: In the decade since Tunisia's toppling of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali sparked the Arab Spring, the North African country has had almost as many governments.

But fears of a regression to authoritarian rule are growing with President Kais Saied taking powers that will allow him to rule by decree.

Here is a timeline:

- 2019: Saied elected - Saied, a retired law professor and political outsider, is elected president on September 15, 2019 after his elderly predecessor dies in office.

The populist conservative is swept to power on a wave of public outrage against political parties seen as corrupt and self-serving, taking nearly 73 percent of the vote.

The populist conservative also has support from across the spectrum including the then ruling Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party.

- 2021: July 25 protests - Thousands of Tunisians join protest marches against the government led by parliament's largest faction, the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, as Covid deaths surge to one of the highest per capita rates in the world.

- Parliament suspended, PM ousted - That night Saied suspends parliament for 30 days and dismisses Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi.

Saied, who officially heads the army, says he will pick a new prime minister and lift parliamentary immunity, and warns armed opposition will be met with a "rain of bullets".

Saied's supporters flood the streets of the capital Tunis and sound car horns while fireworks light up the sky.

The move comes after a prolonged deadlock between Said, the prime minister and Ennahdha leader Rached Ghannouchi, which crippled management of the pandemic.

- 'Coup' - Ennahdha slams Saied's actions as a "coup d'etat against the revolution and the constitution."

The following day Ghannouchi leads a sit-in after the army blocks him from entering parliament. Later his and Saied's supporters clash outside the building.

Police close the Tunis office of Qatari news channel Al Jazeera. The Gulf state is close to Ennahdha.

- 'Danger to the state' - With Washington and Paris calling for a swift return to parliamentary democracy, Saied announces an anti-corruption drive on July 28, targeting 460 businessmen he accuses of graft during Ben Ali's rule.

On August 24, President Saied extends his suspension of parliament saying it and "the other political institutions are a danger to the state as they are."

His opponents warn he is establishing an "autocratic regime".

Human rights groups warn of restrictions on freedoms and the European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says he had made his concerns known to the Tunisian president.

- Rule by decree - On Wednesday, Saied took exceptional powers that will effectively allow him to rule by decree, concentrating authority in the hands of the presidency at the expense of parliament and the prime minister's office.

Ennahdha says Saied's power grab risks "dismantling the state".

Meanwhile, police arrest lawmaker Seifeddine Makhlouf, a critic of Saied who heads an ultraconservative Islamist party, for the second time in barely a week, for "undermining the dignity of the army".





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