Tunisia to vote amid perennial crisis and authoritarian dreams – Corriere.it

Tunisia to vote amid perennial crisis and authoritarian dreams – Corriere.it

Of Francesco Battistini

Citizens will elect the new Parliament today, which will mostly be made up of unknown local ras. And President Saied dreams of becoming the Erdogan of North Africa

TUNIS — This time it’s easy to win. The good candidate doesn’t need to toe the party line, because there are no parties. And there’s no need to make commercials on TV: who can pay for them? Nor to give interviews: they are prohibited by lawespecially to foreign journalists. Nor does it count to have something strong to say: anyone who criticizes the government risks arrest. On the only whitewashed wall in rue 9 Avril 1938, at the Marsa, they have numbered ninety little squares in gray paint. These are the electoral spaces reserved for the posters of this December 17th. But except for three squares – they have affixed the big faces of a postal worker and two middle school teachers, smiling looks and below only the names with list numbers: 1, 03, 4 -, except for those three, the other squares they are all empty. Also avenue Bourghiba, the heart of Tunis where everything happens, cordoned off and patrolled as in the hardest months of the Revolution: Every now and then a small group appears shouting Saied get out!, but there are no TV crews to show it because all the media are on strike and even if they weren’t on strike, in the current climate, they would gladly avoid. In twelve years of democracy – summarizes the political scientist Hamadi Redissi -, these It’s the quietest election we’ve ever had. And also the most risky.

Off the radar

Six presidents and eleven governments later, the Jasmine Revolution is no more. The only democracy to emerge from the Arab Spring is called upon to elect, for the first time, a Parliament that will not be a Parliament. The populist president Kais Saied, crowned with 72% of the votes in October 2019, managed to dismantle what (little) that had been built in these twelve years. Had we feared for the courageous little Tunisia which in the last decade had managed to get rid of Ben Ali? Who had resisted the assassination of its lay leader Chokri Belaid, had driven the Muslim brotherhood into a corner, had survived the 72 dead in the massacres of the Bardo and Sousse and Tunis, had rejected the jihadist invasions from Libya, had avoided the drift Egyptian remaining in a miraculous floating between Islamic fundamentalism and the temptations of military coup? All past. All forgotten. Tunisia disappeared from the radar of international attention. Left alone in its economic crisis, in the great game of the new Maghreb, with its boats of migrants
. In the silence of the world, she found herself a Saied who rewrote the Constitution, dissolved the Chambers, resized the Superior Council of the judiciary and advocated many judicial powerskicked out about sixty public officials and overly politicized magistrates, gagged the press with a law that punishes anyone who spreads fake news (read: criticism of the president) up to 5 years… And with the latest electoral decree, an Assembly is about to of the representatives of the People in his image and likeness.

Erdogan model

One is worth one, no longer a utopia in Tunis. Because the new direct single-member system, imposed by the president, replaces the list ballot and rewards individuals, penalizing the parties and effectively eliminating their role. The result that this time, for the 161 parliamentary seats, a thousand totally unknown candidates aspire – only 112 women -, all of them disconnected from any political project other than the small territorial mandate, each representing himself. In a Parliament that will be reduced to a kind of municipal council, where the bills will have to be signed by at least a dozen deputies: all mavericks and without any political synthesis, who will in any case have to give precedence to Saied’s proposals, in the ‘building of a true presidential regime, almost impossible to distrust or even just censure through parliament.

The Erdogan model. The project, disturbing. And an election like this, of course, suddenly makes the international community suspicious and worried. The US speaks of an alarming erosion of democratic rules. The European Parliament does not send observers, inviting MEPs not to legitimize this vote with individual missions. All Tunisian parties have decided to boycott. The powerful Muslims of Ennahda, always a relative majority, go to the Aventine Hill and speak of a coup (I’m the coup plotter? – Saied replies -. It is you who have paralyzed all the reforms in recent years!). Even the secularists and nostalgics of the Tunisian Grand Father Bourghiba, all the opposition of the National Salvation Front, the PDL nationalists and the liberals, the Benalists and the revolutionaries, all of them call themselves out of the vote and ask to desert the polls. Only the Ugtt trade union, the one that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015, has decided not to boycott (we prefer dialogue), but even here we have gone from the convinced support of three years ago to a prudent distance, criticizing this vote no taste, no color. Everything goes in the sign of a rapid restoration and also the choice of December 17 is not accidental: the twelfth anniversary of the death of Mohamed Bouazizi, the itinerant greengrocer who in 2010 set himself on fire and set fires first in Tunisia, then gradually in Egypt and Libya and Syria, igniting the hope of the Arab Spring. Saied does not want to know how to celebrate that day and, if he really has to, only Ben Ali’s escape on January 14 counts for him. Because deep down he knows how Tunisians feel too: only two percent still honor the memory of Bouazizi, more than 60 percent regret the pre-revolutionary era, 1984 detests all politicians born of the Revolution. Was there really a need for this authoritarian turnaround? US Secretary of State Antoni Blinken asked him on Wednesday. We were on the verge of a civil war – replied the president -. Everywhere I went, Tunisians were all asking me to dissolve Parliament. So, finally, I untied it. They were so joyous and happy, as if they were getting rid of a real nightmare.

I don’t take sides

He doesn’t do much to seek sympathy, Saied. His July 25 Movement Hirak says that the international media and the opposition are denigrating the vote: for this reason the president avoids interviews with foreign media, especially if they are Zionist journalists. The man doesn’t appear much, in recent weeks he has only cut a few ribbons and at most made some electoral tours among the merchants of the old Medina or among the university students, who in 2019 had pushed him to power. a nostalgic of the 60s Non-Aligned and also got sideways on the topic of Ukraine, on aid to a starving Tunisia from the grain blockade: I refuse to side with one alliance against another, the solutions to our problems cannot be solved just by the numbers, nor by the International Monetary Fund, we don’t want lessons or solutions dictated from abroad…. Conservative on family issues and proud opponent of LGBTQ rights, in October he surprisingly appointed a premier: university professor Najla Bouden, the first woman in Tunisian history called to govern. But the move he hasn’t made it rise again in the polls, which give him a nosedive: the bread revolt in June and the one for petrol, this autumn, made Saied understand that time is running out. The international rating agency Fitch, which also removed Tunisia from the countries with triple C and under observation, predicts social unrest due to inflation and unemployment. And a few hours after the vote, almost in response to Saied’s isolationist theories, the International Monetary Fund postponed the 1.9 billion euro loan, spread over four years, which was to be announced on Monday 19. Why this unexpected stop? Maybe pressure from Washington has to do with it, where Saied has been received with icy courtesy in recent days. Maybe we don’t trust the reforms of a president who hasn’t even signed the finance law. Perhaps instability is feared: this December, the IMF granted more credit even to Al Sisi’s Egypt or to Armenia on the brink of a perennial war … The Fund’s money blocked is a problem, because it depended on it a further loan from France and other European countries. GDP down, inflation almost 10%, up by one and a half points in six months. Poultry, oil, eggs and fruit had increases of between 20 and 30%, clothing and transport of 10. The war in Ukraine has hit the economy of many African countries and Tunisia, to avoid financial collapse, needs one and a half billion euros immediately. Before going to America, Saied had flown to Saudi Arabia in recent days to participate in a summit with China: the new door to knock on if everything goes wrong. There would also be Italy, which has bypassed the French and become the first commercial partner, signing an energy agreement worth 300 million: the Enrico Mattei gas pipeline passes through here, which brings us Algerian gas to replace the Russian one, and a new opportunity (words of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni) will be European investments in solar energy. We Italians, after all, have no other choice but to look closely at Tunisia. A country that risks falling upon us: as early as next year, it is estimated that migrants on boats will return to the levels (180,000 a year) of 2016.

New De Gaulle

The crisis bites hard. And probably for this reason Saied accelerated his seizure of power on July 25th. It submitted its reform of the Constitution to a popular referendum – a Charter which in 2014 had been the result of laborious compromises on women’s rights, on the limitation of sharia law, on the separation of powers, on the rights of minorities -, due to the turnout of only 30%. In this electoral round, not much more is expected. But basically it doesn’t matter to the president: There is an agenda that is set after July 25 – says the political scientist Redissi – and this vote is a fundamental step for him. 64 years old, austere constitutional law professor who came out of nowhere and nicknamed “Robocop” for the classical Arabic he exhibited in conversations and for a certain rigidity of manners, Saied has established himself as an anti-caste symbol, he often compares himself to De Gaulle, he feels like the architect of a new decision-making republic that sweeps away the inconclusiveness of the “politique politicienne”. A year and a half ago he began to reshape the country in his favor with progressively harsher measures, such as the highly contested decree number 54: freezing the bank accounts of 460 businessmen linked to the old Ben Ali regime; giving military judges the power to try civilians as well; surrounding Parliament with tanks; arresting the head of Ennahda, Rashid Gannouchi, on charges of having sent jihadists to Syria; withdrawing the passport of another opposition leader; investigating too critical journalists; ultimately, bringing back the power above all inside the Palace of Carthage that belonged to Ben Ali and today to Saied… The project is completed with this vote. Starting tomorrow, the new Parliament will also be able to postpone the 2024 presidential elections, making Saied an Erdogan for life. The desire is there. And this December 17, may be an opportunity to take it off.

December 17, 2022 (change December 17, 2022 | 07:13)

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