Tunisia faced its biggest crisis in a decade of democracy on Monday after President Kais Saied announced he was taking over. Saied ousted the government and froze the activities of parliament, a move his foes labeled a coup that should be opposed on the street.
Saied, who was elected in 2019,
invoked the constitution to dismiss Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and decree a freeze of the parliament for 30 days, saying he would govern alongside a new premier.
The move came after a day of protests against the government and the biggest party in parliament, the moderate Islamist Ennahda, following a spike in COVID-19 cases and growing anger over chronic political dysfunction and economic malaise.
It poses the greatest challenge yet to Tunisia after its 2011 revolution that triggered the “Arab spring” and ousted an autocracy in favor of the democratic rule, but which failed to deliver sound governance or prosperity.
In the hours after Saied’s announcement, huge crowds gathered in his support in Tunis and other cities, cheering, dancing, and ululating while the military blocked off the parliament and state television station.
In the early hours of Monday, Ghannouchi arrived at the parliament where he said he would call a session in defiance of Saied, but the army stationed outside the building stopped the 80-year-old former political exile from entering.
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“I am against gathering all powers in the hands of one person,” he said outside the parliament building. He earlier called Tunisians to come onto the streets, as they had done on the day of the revolution in 2011, to oppose the move.
Dozens of Ennahda supporters faced off against Saied supporters near the parliament building, exchanging insults as the police held them apart, televised pictures afterwards showed.