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Tunisia's Islamist Forces Enraged as President Sacks Prime Minister, Ministers of Defence, Justice

© REUTERS / ZOUBEIR SOUISSISupporters of Tunisia's President Kais Saied gather as a police officer stands guard near the parliament building in Tunis, Tunisia, July 26, 2021.
Supporters of Tunisia's President Kais Saied gather as a police officer stands guard near the parliament building in Tunis, Tunisia, July 26, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 26.07.2021
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Tunisian President Kais Saied dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and froze the country's Parliament on Sunday in the wake of large-scale anti-government protests over the economy and handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
President Kais Saied of Tunisia issued a formal decree Monday sacking Prime Minister Mechichi, and firing Defence Minister Brahim Bartagi and acting Minister of Justice Hasna ben Slimane.
The decree, published in a communique by the presidential administration's press office, follows Saied's announcement on Sunday that he would be removing the prime minister and freezing Parliament for 30 days.
Saied suggested that there were forces in Tunisia who turned the country's 2011 revolution into an act of "plunder" and "robbed" the "will of the people."
In his comments Sunday, Saied said he felt he should have made the decision to sack Mechichi "several months ago" and clarified that he would assume executive authority with the assistance of a new prime minister, to be appointed at a later date. He specified that he had the authority to suspend Parliament under Article 80 of the Constitution, which allows him to act if the nation is in "imminent danger."
A supporter of Tunisia's biggest political party, the moderate Islamist Ennahda, scuffles with a police officer near the parliament building in Tunis, Tunisia July 26, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 26.07.2021
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Sunday's decision included a suspension of immunity for all members of Tunisia's Parliament, the Assembly of the Representatives of the People, and an order banning dozens of lawmakers from any attempt to leave the country.
Parliament Speaker and Islamist Ennahda Movement leader Rached Ghannouchi blasted Saied's move, characterising it as a "constitutional coup" and coup against the "Tunisian revolution" of 2011. Ennahda is Tunisia's largest party, holding 52 seats of the parliament's 217 seats.
Saied warned Ennahda and others against any provocations, saying that if anyone "fires a single bullet, our forces will respond with a rain of bullets."
Tunisians took to the streets of multiple cities over the weekend demanding that the government step down. Protests are thought to have been fuelled by the Mechichi government's failure to improve basic services, long-running concerns over unemployment, and frustrations related to the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Following Saied's decision to fire the head of government, troops surrounded the Parliament building in Tunis and deployed outside the state television building to ensure security. According to local media, protesters also attacked Ennahda's offices, and several of the party's regional headquarters have been set on fire. On Monday, Qatar-owned television network Al Jazeera's Tunis office was stormed by police.

Constitutional Crisis

Tunisia has been crippled by political instability and a severe economic crisis for years, with Saied, elected in 2019, engaging in back-and-forth wrangling with Mechichi, whom he appointed to the office in 2020 in a bid to gain the confidence of Parliament after the previous prime minister, Elyes Fakhfakh, was entangled in a corruption scandal and resigned.
Police officers keep guard as supporters of Tunisia's biggest political party, the moderate Islamist Ennahda, gather outside the parliament building in Tunis, Tunisia July 26, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 26.07.2021
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A social conservative who ran as an independent on a law and order ticket in the 2019 elections, Saied promised to resolve Tunisia's endemic corruption and governance problems by allowing people to recall elected officials, and received support from both moderate Islamists and the country's leftist forces.
The current constitutional crisis brings to mind the 2010-2011 uprisings against Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, which sparked the wider so-called "Arab Spring" protests that swept several entrenched secular governments from the region, replacing them with moderate Islamist forces at best or, in the cases of Libya, Syria, and Yemen, degenerating into foreign-backed brutal civil conflicts with no end in sight.
Western powers and media long hailed Tunisia as the Arab Spring's sole real "success story," but a decade after its "revolution," the country failed to quash corruption and economic troubles, with an unemployment rate of over 20 percent predominantly affecting the country's young people.
A Libyan rebel flashes a V-sign in front of burning tank belonging to loyalist forces bombed by coalition air force in the town of Ajdabiya on March 26, 2011 - Sputnik International, 1920, 15.02.2021
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The Tunisian crisis has sparked concern from regional and global actors. On Monday, the European Union called for all sides to respect the constitution and the rule of law, and to "remain calm and...avoid any resort to violence in order to preserve the stability of the country." The foreign ministry of Turkey, which has supported Ennahda heavily, said it was "deeply concerned" by the developments and called for the restoration of "democratic legitimacy."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that the US has not yet reached a conclusion if the events in Tunisia constituted a 'coup', expressed "concern" over the sacking of the government, and called on Tunis to respect "democratic principles."
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin was monitoring the situation in the North African nation, and expects that "nothing will threaten the stability and security of the citizens in this country."
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