On Sunday, July 25, 2021, President Qais Saied ousted Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi’s government, froze parliament for 30 days, banned meetings with more than 3 people, decreed a night curfew and put the army on the streets.
By Fabio Bosco
On that day there were demonstrations in several cities calling for the removal of the prime minister due to the economic crisis, unemployment and the collapse of the health system under the impact of the pandemic.
Qais Saied claimed to respond to the streets and to be based on the article 80 of the constitution which provides for the removal of the government in the event of a national emergency and in consultation with parliament (which there was not).
The next day, 20 plainclothes security agents invaded and closed the office of the Al-Jazeera network, the most important Arab media, a move that was condemned by the NGO Reporters Without Borders.
At first, six of the 12 main political parties condemned the coup as illegitimate. In addition to Ennahda (the main bourgeois and Islamic party in parliament) and its allies Qalb Tounes and Karama, the social democrat Democratic Current (Attayar), the liberal Republic Party and the Workers’ Party (one of the main left-wing parties from a Stalinist-Albanian background) also opposed the measures.
The labor federation UGTT took a neutral position.
The American and European imperialisms, and the Arab League did not condemn the coup, praising stability and social calm instead. The Saudi regime stood for the coup and, together with the Emirati regime, intervened in the social media to artificially inflate a campaign depicting the coup as a Tunisians’ revolt against the Brotherhood. (I)
After the American and European stand, Prime Minister Mechichi accepted the coup and the Ennahda and the UGTT adopted a conciliatory position for national dialogue while waiting the 30 days go by, refusing to call any kind of protest against the coup d’etat.
The unpopularity of the Mechichi government and the parliament, combined with the passivity of the political parties and the UGTT, created the conditions for the emptying of the streets, awaiting the 30-day suspension of parliament.
Who is Qais Saied
President Qais Saied was elected two years ago amid widespread dissatisfaction with the 12 governments that followed Ben Ali’s dictatorship, overthrown in January 2011, and with Tunisia’s own liberal democracy seen by 90% of the population as corrupt likewise the Ben Ali dictatorship.
Qais Saied has always criticized the Tunisian liberal democratic model based on shared power between the president, who is responsible for the armed forces and foreign policy, and the prime minister elected by the parliament that forms the government. Qais Saied stands for an authoritarian presidential system.
Right now, Qais Saied is following in the footsteps of Egyptian dictator Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi, whom he visited in April and exchanged praises.
General Al-Sisi took advantage of a large wave of protests against the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammad Morsi and launched a military coup on July 3, 2013. After nodding guarantees of democratic freedoms won by the 2011 revolution, Al-Sisi consecrated his authoritarian regime with the massacre at Rabaa al-Adawiya square, where more than 900 protesters were executed by military forces on August 14, 2013.
Despite the efforts of Qais Saied, supported by the military and the intelligence agency, to change the regime from a liberal democracy into a Bonapartist regime, sooner or later he will face the Tunisian working class and Youth who will fight for better living conditions and for the democratic freedoms won by the 2011 revolution.
New Colonialism and the Infitah are at the Root of the Social Crisis
Tunisia gained its independence from French imperialism in 1956. However, new forms of colonialism were implemented by European and American imperialism to plunder the country’s wealth, counting on the partnership of the new elites that took power. (II)
After an initial post-independence period of strong state intervention in the economy called “Dirigisme” during which important state-owned companies such as textile giant Sogitex and the refinery in Bizerte were created, the Tunisian regime changed its policy to open up the national economy for foreign and national private capital called Infitah (Open Doors in Arabic).
Guided by international organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank, the Infitah initiated austerity policies that are present to this day and are responsible for the penury experienced by the majority of the Tunisian working class.
Both the 2011 revolution and the twelve governments that followed failed to reverse these austerity policies. The average annual GDP growth between 2011 and 2019 was just 1.5%. In 2020, the economy shrank 8.6% and in the first three months of 2021, it decreased by 3% annualized. Tourism and manufacturing were hit hard by the pandemic. Unemployment is at 17.8% of the working class, reaching 35% among youth.
The pandemic funding (primarily basic income programs oriented by the IMF and World Bank) and corruption have depleted the State’s resources. Today, the public debt amounts to 88% of the GDP. Negotiations with the IMF to secure a $4 billion credit will require further cuts in public spending and more unpopular recessive measures. (III)
A New Workers-led Revolution
This situation of famine is what explains the wave of Youth mobilizations in January 2021 which, added to the recent explosion of COVID cases, the hospitals’ collapse and the lack of vaccines (IV), led to the protests on the 25th of July.
To reverse this situation, a new and meaningful national liberation that nationalizes foreign and national companies under workers’ control is needed so that all the national wealth is destined for the working class.
Only in this way will it be possible to have full employment, fair wages, good public healthcare and education, investments in people’s neighborhoods and poor regions in the hinterland and other necessary measures.
None of these measures were taken by previous governments nor will they be taken by Qais Saied.
Only the working class and the poor Youth, through their struggle, can achieve these goals.
In Tunisia’s history there were several important moments of workers’ and popular struggles, such as the 12,000-worker occupation strike in the state-owned textile Sogitex in 1977, which turned into a popular uprising in the industrial region of Ksar Hellal; the revolt of the unemployed in the areas around the mining town of Gafsa in 2007, and the 2011 revolution itself started in the town of Sidi Bouzid by fruit seller Mohammad Bouazizi self-immolation.
We must start this struggle fighting back Qais Saied’s coup d’état. Democratic freedoms are very important for the working class to organize itself. The struggle to change the UGTT compromising stand is critical to place UGTT back to the streets.
The big bourgeois parties Nidaa Tunis and Ennahda are the majority in parliament and fully committed to the new corrupted colonial system.
It is necessary to build an alternative, a revolutionary workers’ party that stands for workers’ power based on workers and people’s councils to achieve meaningful national liberation and justice for the working class.
(II) See the article on the Lebanese Marxist Mahdi Amel who analyzes this issue: https://litci.org/pt/64412-2/
(IV) Tunisia has the highest average death rate among Arab and African countries. Only 7% of the population is fully immunized. The minister of health recently announced vaccinations for people over 18 without having immunized drugs, causing huge queues for several days.