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The end of the last thread of hope of the Arab “Spring”

Tunisia was the only case of democratic advances after the so-called Arab Spring. Was, past tense. On the last day of July, a new constitution was approved via a dubious referendum, concentrating power on the figure of President Kais Saied and, in practice, returning the country to the authoritarian period of Abidine ben Ali. The referendum, in addition to creating a new authoritarian legal order, is far from resolving the country’s political crisis.

Approximately a year ago we talked about the Tunisian crisis here in our space. Interestingly, at the beginning of 2021 we also talked about the ten years of the Jasmine Revolution, the popular process of 70 that overthrew the dictatorship of ben Ali in Tunisia, created a democratic political environment and resulted in a new constitution in 2014, the second after the country’s independence from French rule, in 1956.

The constitution of 2014 established a semi-presidential government, a consequence of the trauma of the dictatorship of ben There, to prevent a politician from concentrating too much power on his figure. Executive power, then, was divided between the president, as head of state, and the unicameral legislature, which names the head of government, the prime minister, leader of the largest party, which forms his cabinet.

As a result, Tunisia was considered the only successful case of the so-called “Arab Spring”, a very inappropriate term, both then and today. For example, in 2015, the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, made up of civil society organizations, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its role in expanding democracy, representativeness and human rights in the country.

Current crisis

The trauma of power concentrated in one man motivated the division of power which, in turn, motivated criticism of the new political model. Supposedly ineffective, slow, fragmented, when, in fact, only democratic and a consequence of a fragmented parliament. In turn, this divided legislature represented the will of the voter. The problem with authoritarian regimes is that they perpetuate a false idea of ​​efficiency.

For many, including the president, however, the biggest problem with this dispersed parliament, however, was in its composition. The largest party in parliament was the Ennahda, inspired by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, that is, a religious party, which seeks to strengthen “traditional values” and rejects a society secular and “foreign ideologies”, such as liberalism and socialism.

Having an Islamist party as the main political force in the country displeased several sectors of society and the Tunisian estate, as part of the judiciary, origin of Kais Saied, and the military. The blame for the lack of a ruling party coalition was placed on the Islamists, while an “independent” cabinet was sworn in, politically weak and later removed.

Another element that contributed to the crisis was the of the effects of the covid pandemic 19, such as high unemployment among young people and supply problems. The pandemic, however, was, at most, a “fuse” of a situation that had already been gestated since the elections of 2019. And the fruit of this pregnancy is the return of Tunisia to the model of concentration of power in a single authority.

Referendum and boycott

As a supposed form of To circumvent the crisis, Saied’s decree government presented a draft new constitution in June, which was submitted to a referendum. The text establishes a presidential regime and gives the president powers of decree, to appoint the government without needing the vote of confidence of the parliament and also the power to propose changes in the constitutional text.

The parliament will now be bicameral, with fewer powers, and the judiciary was also “diluted”, with members of the Constitutional Court, the country’s supreme court, appointed by the president. The constitutional proposal that concentrates powers on the president had the support of only a few parties, most of them small and all of them secular nationalists. The largest of them, the left-wing Popular Movement, had fifteen deputies.

Most of the parties, however, called for a boycott of the referendum. This includes from the largest political forces, such as the aforementioned Ennahda, Islamist, to small parties. The boycott was advocated by parties of different political hues, such as the local Communist Party. The proposed boycott took effect and only 30% of the electorate attended the referendum, around 2.8 million people.

As a comparison, the elections of 2014, the first one after the new constitution, had 67% of electoral turnout. The presidential election, which elected Saied, had 55 % turnout. The spirit of the proposed new constitution, the sequence of events in the last year and the low turnout make the referendum open to questioning, not only today, but also in the future.

This is not of a low turnout due to some phenomenon of nature, or a tight election among a large number of voters, but an ostensible and effective popular boycott of the event. About 70% of voters, more than saying “no”, expressed that the referendum question should not even be asked. And, at some point, Tunisian society will certainly charge the bill for this setback.

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