Tunisia wakes up with yet another strike, and not the least: That of the magistrates. The files being judicial, we will not go further on the merits of the strike of the Head of State, Kaïes Saïed, who mowed down 57 judges. We will limit ourselves to commenting on the harmful consequences of this unilateral action, which comes on top of others, in a country more than ever divided in the face of major social and economic issues.
Saïed may be right about the substance, I say maybe, but clearly his problem is and will remain the art and the way. We can be right on the bottom but if we go about it badly in the formatting we obtain the opposite of what we wanted. And when you are at the head of an entire state, the risk is to block an entire country.
Dialogue certainly, but with whom?
To dialogue with the parts which are in agreement with oneself is to dialogue with oneself. This is exactly what the President of the Republic is doing, by decreeing that only those who agree to the turn of the screw on July 25, 2021 [date à laquelle le président tunisien s’était arrogé les pleins pouvoirs en limogeant le Premier ministre et en suspendant le Parlement, dominé par le parti d’inspiration islamiste Ennahda] are invited.
The Head of State does not surprise anyone, he is doing what he said, what he had promised his voters since the 2019 election campaign. The problem is that Tunisia is not and will never be a huge field of militants won over to his cause. In any case it will not be forced, it will necessarily be by persuasion. This is one of the characteristics of even the most imperfect democracies.
Dissonant voices that express their disagreement even when the opposite arguments are clear, struck at the corner of common sense and unstoppable, that’s also democracy. It is the same system that allowed Saïed to be propelled to the palace of Carthage [siège du palais présidentiel] when no one was expecting him there, he must be recognized, he must be protected. He cannot allow himself to do less well than his predecessors, he is condemned to do more and better. For the moment, he is sticking to his vision of things but, whether he likes it or not, he is the president of all Tunisians and will have to listen to them, respect them, even if he has good reasons to hate some of them.
And Tunisia has another specificity: Its appetite for inclusive national dialogue. We can say what we want (it wastes the country precious time that it does not have, it dilutes responsibilities, blurs the course and makes Tunisia ungovernable in many respects…) but the young democracy is there and is not able to do better at the moment. In the great democracies the cause is heard: It is the majority that governs and the opposition awaits its turn. But in Tunisia the reality is quite different, and since we cannot make a people happy against their will, and since we cannot go faster than the music of learning about democracy, then we have to adhere to established codes.
Progressive presidentialization of the regime
Political and constitutional projects occupy all the space. The government may well put on the table the most ambitious recovery plan, the most voluntary reform plan, all that is overshadowed by the agitation around the personal plans of Kaïs Saïed: to seize all the levers of power and presidentialize the whole regime.
And he’s going to pick up the pace because he plans to wrap up his schedule, his whole schedule, before the election. [législatives] of [décembre] 2022. And when he opens the game at that time, nothing will be able to reach him, on top of his Carthage pedestal, not even Abir Moussi [présidente du Parti destourien libre (PDL), parti nationaliste], to whom all the polls predict a triumph in the legislative elections. The only problem is that Saïed’s obsession and stubbornness are causing great collateral damage in the economy.
Some of his supporters argue that Saïed will put the country’s economy in battle order once he completes his project – the presidential regime – but the current turmoil risks causing damage that nothing can repair. The head of state is certainly popular, an unprecedented popularity since 2011, but it is not the citizens who are going to bring all the national organizations and all the corporations of the country into line. But we cannot reform anything without them… Behind the fury of the UGTT [L’Union générale tunisienne du travail est la principale centrale syndicale de Tunisie. Le 23 mai, elle a refusé de prendre part au dialogue proposé par le président Kaïs Saïed dans le but de fonder une “nouvelle République”] which led it to declare a general strike on June 16 there are not only social considerations – essentially wage increases -, there is above all the project of Kaïs Saïed to demolish the symbolism of the centrality of the trade union center and to reduce it to its simplest expression: an organization that is content to defend the moral and material interests of employees. It is true that the UGTT came out of the nails, that the fact that it sits at the table of elected decision-makers to lead is an anomaly and that even in union paradises – France, for example – the thing is inconceivable. But this is not the time to demolish the symbolism on which the fragile balance of the country rests.