Amid a boycott by a wide range of political parties and civil society precautions, Tunisian voters on July 25 approved a new constitution for the country proposed by President Kais Saied that gives the presidency broad powers at the expense of parliament. This new constitution, which has a low turnout rate, raises domestic and Western fears for the “future of democracy” in a country that was, until recently, seen as the only successful exception to the Arab Spring revolutions.
I went out Tunisia On July 25 of the state of the “exception” by voter approval new constitution The country enters a different political stage from the ten years that followed the 2011 revolution, during which the president controls Kais Saied Most of the keys to governance.
Tunisia, the cradle of the Arab Spring revolutions, was long the only successful exception to this revolutionary wave, which quickly turned into violent or even armed political conflicts similar to what happened in Yemen, Syria and Libya.
The only candle left burning from the revolutions that rocked the region
The country succeeded in organizing three pluralist electoral dates over the past decade, which were praised internationally, making it the only candle that remained burning from the revolutions that shook the region, with the adoption of a consensual constitution in 2014 that guarantees public and individual freedoms and political pluralism.
However, while what was considered a success in crossing the transitional period in peace, Tunisia suffered economic, financial and security crises that made the democratic gains seen as a “curse” for all Tunisians with the disruption of the main economic engines, mainly tourism and the export of phosphates, and the succession of public financial crises and its dependence on IMF loans International, which imposes a package of economic reforms with a heavy social cost.
The crisis of the Corona virus and its global health and economic repercussions came to rot the social and economic situation in the country, which President Saeed exploited to impose his exceptional measures on the pretext of “imminent danger” and take over most of the authorities and approved a political transition map that was not accepted by most of the political forces in the country.
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By passing a new constitution that he himself proposed bypassing the opinion of the advisory body he appointed to draft it, it seems that Saeed succeeded in passing his most important step in his political project. However, local and international forces appreciate that this constitution does not enjoy broad consensus and weakens “democratic institutions” while granting most powers to the head of state.
The new constitution could weaken democracy and undermine respect for fundamental freedoms
On Thursday, the United States expressed its concern about democracy in Tunisia after the constitution, as the Secretary of State said Anthony Blinken In a statement: “Tunisia has witnessed a worrying decrease in democratic standards over the past year and has canceled many of the Tunisian people’s hard-earned gains since 2011.”
Blinken added that the United States had concerns that the new constitution could weaken democracy and undermine respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and that the process of drafting it did not enjoy a broad scope of honest dialogue.
For its part, the European Union called for the “preservation” of basic freedoms in Tunisia, during an announcement published on behalf of the 27 members of the European Union’s Foreign Minister Josep Borrell.
pointed the Union The July 25 referendum recorded a “low turnout” and stressed the need to reach “broad consensus” among political forces and civil society on “all the important political and economic reforms that Tunisia will undertake.”
The reasons that precipitated the collapse of the democratic experiment in Tunisia
As for the reasons that precipitated the collapse of the democratic experiment in Tunisia, the assistant editor-in-chief of the daily Al-Maghrib, Hassan Al-Ayadi, says that the Tunisian opposition parties at the time of the late President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, led by the Ennahda movement, succeeded in achieving a political transition in which they assumed control in a “participatory” framework. or consensual,” but she neglected the fact that the Tunisian revolution erupted primarily for social and economic demands under the slogan “occupying freedom with national dignity.”
He continued, “Even when successive governments were interested in responding to social demands, the cost of social peace was exorbitant to the state’s financial balances, which delayed the outbreak of the crisis instead of solving it, and perhaps the rot that reached the situation in the summer of 2021 is due to the policies of this ruling class.”
Al-Ayadi adds that a bad image of the political class has been entrenched in the minds of a wide section of Tunisians as “a corrupt class that makes deals among themselves and benefits financially from its presence in power without achieving a significant achievement for the general public.”
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The military establishment in Egypt, the civil war in Syria…
On the other hand, observers see the political path taken by President Kais Saied as another setback for the Arab Spring revolutions that may hasten the cessation of all hopes that were placed on Tunisia to preserve the “democratic exception.”
Among the countries of the first wave of the Arab Spring revolutions, power is back in the hands of the influential military establishment in Egypt, while Syria is still suffering the consequences of a civil war that has left and killed millions, despite the success of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in avoiding collapse. For its part, Libya and Yemen have also plunged into bloody civil wars and political crises, the horizon of which is not yet clear.
In what was called the second wave of the Arab Spring revolutions, the two revolutions of October 2019 did not succeed Iraq Lebanon is not achieving the expected aspirations, but the countries have plunged into political crises that have disrupted the formation of governments after parliamentary elections that did not produce a clear majority and in which the traditional political blocs maintained their weight, albeit relatively.
In Algeria, whose movement succeeded in toppling President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, observers believe that power did not come out of the hands of the same political elite allied with the influential army establishment. As for Sudan, where demonstrations overthrew the regime of Omar al-Bashir in 2019, the army, led by Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, returned to seize power after excluding civilians from the executive authority.
“What happened in Libya and Syria cannot be included in the revolutions of the Arab Spring.”
The director of the Arab Center for Political and Social Studies in Geneva, Riyad Al-Sidawi, refuses to generalize the changes that the region witnessed in 2011, stressing that each country has its own peculiarities. A split in the military establishment led to a civil war in addition to foreign interventions that tried to change the existing regime, and therefore what happened in these two countries cannot be included in the revolutions of the Arab Spring.
Regarding the outcome of the Tunisian experience, Hassan Ayadi insists that the arc of the revolution has not yet been closed, considering that the “individual rule” that Said intends to impose in Tunisia needs to achieve a measure of “well-being for his people to give legitimacy to his rule”, adding that the president is unable to do so now due to the weight of Debts on the Tunisian state, which Saied may suffer from the consequences in the coming months.
Here, Professor of Political Science at the French University Khattar Abu Diab recalls that the spring of European peoples required decades to achieve political stability and real democracy. He told France 24: “The seeds of change planted by the Arab uprisings in the 2011 and 2019 waves cannot be in vain. But it is not a matter of mere overthrowing a regime here or there. These uprisings need structural and cultural revolutions in Arab societies that suffer from the problem of rooting authoritarianism and the continued existence of tyranny. Repressive apparatuses in the state control the political process. There is also a sectarian and sectarian dilemma that arises in a number of countries and represents a major obstacle to the process of real political change.”
Arab countries “lack a national financial and industrial elite capable of pushing towards a liberal democracy.”
As for Riad Al-Sedawi, he presents a sociological point of view to explain the disruption of the political transition in the region, where he says: “The Arab countries lack a national financial and industrial oligarchia capable of pushing towards liberal democracy, as is the case in Western countries. The state, with its security and military services in the Arab region, is still the strongest player In the political equation, this is reflected, for example, in the extensive influence of the military establishment in some of these countries.
In Tunisia, Said may face a difficult success during the new political phase, in light of the percentage of refrain The widespread vote on the new constitution, which amounted to nearly 70 percent of the electoral body, and the confusion that appeared in the figures of the Independent High Authority for Elections, which was forced to withdraw the statistics of participants, raised doubts about the occurrence of fraud.
The National Salvation Front, an alliance of opposition parties in the country, accused the electoral college of “falsifying” the voter turnout figures in the constitutional referendum, claiming that President Kais Saied’s referendum “failed.”
Qais Said’s political project is not safe from “reversals”
Here Al-Ayadi says: “Saeed, who wanted to establish a strong presidential system that monopolized most of the powers, only succeeded in passing the constitution with a quarter of the electorate, which is a meager number compared to other experiences of the referendum on the constitution. A policy of openness to the political arena that the Tunisian president refuses to deal with.
Al-Ayadi adds that an entire generation of young people who grew up during the past decade did not participate in this poll, which may represent a “warning” for Saeed that his political project is not immune from “reversals.”
For his part, Al-Sedawi holds the Islamists who came to power after the 2011 revolutions responsible for the failure of the stage, adding: “It is the Muslim Brotherhood movements who failed in the experience of governance after coming to power and deliberately linking the success of the Arab Spring with the arrival of Islamists to power. In Tunisia, for example, The Ennahda movement took a full opportunity to rule for ten years, and it was the people who rose up against it on July 25, 2021. President Saeed was democratically elected by more than 72 percent, and what he did cannot be considered a coup, and what happened was a traditional dispute between the legislative and executive authorities, and the matter is not about apostasy. As his critics say.
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