Now more than ever – Tunisia’s democracy needs its friends

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Opposition and civil society leaders have warned that Tunisia’s democracy faces its ‘gravest’ threat in the decade since the Arab Spring, and the President set out plans to rule by decree and amend the constitution. [Stringer/EPA/EFE]

After the President’s decision in July to suspend parliament, Tunisia’s democracy needs support from the EU and other international allies, writes Rached Ghannouchi.

Rached Ghannouchi is the speaker of Tunisia’s parliament and the leader of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party.

President Kais Saied’s announcement of the suspension of Parliament, the dismissal of the Prime Minister and the take-over of the office of national prosecutor on 25 July is nothing short of unconstitutional.

Up until now, the democratic journey has not been an easy one for Tunisia – regional instability, weak growth at home and among its partners, terrorism, the death of a sitting President, and a global pandemic have generated major difficulties for the economy.

Any young democracy is fragile, and Tunisia in particular, with economic prosperity and opportunity not matching the political gains of the past decade, has led to public anger and disappointment. However, we cannot allow forces in the country who seek to exploit these challenges to bring about a return to authoritarianism. Closing media offices, arresting MPs and bloggers, arbitrary restrictions on freedom of movement and expression are all alarming signs of backsliding to the very dictatorship Tunisians rose against ten years ago. We recognise that the country has been suffering from a complex set of political, economic, and health crises. However, the measures taken by the president are not the solution but might in fact deepen the problems and undermine the country’s stability further, exacerbating the challenges in a volatile region.

The EU has already called for parliament to resume its work and that the Constitution and the rule of law be respected. The EU has also been among our closest supporters in granting financial assistance both before and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis. However, at this critical hour where our democracy is at grave risk, our country needs greater support.

Tunisia needs a political solution based on dialogue. Tunisia’s democratic transition has previously been saved from collapse through dialogue.  The 2013 political crisis was overcome through a national dialogue whose organisers were rewarded with the Nobel Peace prize.  We have repeatedly expressed our willingness to engage in an unconditional inclusive dialogue and ready for all the compromises required to save our democracy. The president so far has not answered calls for dialogue, but we hope that wisdom will prevail in the end. The aim of this dialogue is to reach an agreement on a way out of the crisis which should include ending the suspension of parliament, the nomination by the President of a prime minister and a government, and agreeing economic and political reforms that the country needs and the future government should work on. To have a legitimate government, parliament should be reconvened to vote on the new cabinet. Such an outcome will put an end to the illegal unconstitutional state in which Tunisia finds itself and return it to the democratic order and to respect the constitution.

Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring that spread across the region, remains today a beacon of hope for those of us who wish to consolidate freedom, democracy and progress in the Maghreb and the Arab region. Now is the time to ensure that this flame isn’t extinguished.

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