Escalating Polarization in Tunisia

In the past few days, Tunisia has witnessed a remarkable development in the first public move that reflects the civil unrests and the state of political and popular polarization. The political elites concern about destabilizing the internal front and the signs of any political solution being blocked. This has come as a result of the dispute over Kais Saied’s policies since he announced his exceptional decisions last July.

Tunisians organized vigils in support and rejection of Kais Saied’s decisions he took about two months ago. These decisions directed the country into a constitutional crisis and escalating political polarization, as hundreds participated in vigils in front of the Municipal Theater headquarters on Habib Bourguiba Street in the Tunisian capital. The security forces separated between supporters and opponents by placing iron barriers between them.

Between Supporters and Opponents

Last Saturday, supporters of Ennahda movement and its allies in the dismissed government coalition demonstrated in the center of the Tunisian capital against the measures, chanting slogans calling for a return to what they consider “legitimacy.” On the other hand, hundreds of supporters of President Said gathered and chanted slogans supporting the president, such as “Oh Kais acted lawfully, no Ghannouchi, no Abir, we have decided the fate.” in addition to slogans attacking Rached Ghannouchi, Tunisian Parliament Speaker, let alone the signs addressing him with the phrase “leave.”

Observers consider that these demonstrations represented a development in the political and public scenes many citizens going for the first public protest movement in the street. However, the dispute over the president’s policies is widening the division among the people and may lead to greater repercussions. The observers stress that the division that Tunisia is currently witnessing is not a new, but rather it has been like that since President Kais Saied made his exceptional decisions. For some people, Saied’s decisions are considered the beginning of a phase full of hope after a year of chaos in ruling the country. As for others, this is a constitutionally questionable step with potential repercussions that may lead to destabilize the country and have far-reaching consequences.

In addition, observers believe that Kais Saied is still maintaining his popularity, especially after he took exceptional measures few weeks ago when he sacked the government and disrupted the Parliament, which was under the control of the Brotherhood’s Ennahda movement. This popularity is expected to help him facilitate his next mission.

On September 12, Saied hinted to the possibility of amending the 2014 constitution. “Constitutions are not eternal and amendments can be made so that they respond to the Tunisian people,” the President noted in press statements. Prior to that, on September 9, Oualid El Hajjam, the President’s advisor, had confirmed the existence of a tendency to amend the political system in Tunisia, by conducting a referendum, perhaps.

“The importance of the support that the president has underlined in breaking up with the 2014 constitution, and this new supportive system for the president is waiting for him to finally cut the rope with Ennahda movement, as there is a political and social majority against Ennahda movement’s policy,” Mondher Thabet, a political analyst, points out.

“The July 25 system has proved that there is a machine that can move the street whenever it wants, and the Saturday demonstration, which was led by forces opposed to Kais Saied’s decisions, turned out to be in favor of the president, and those opposition parties protested without achieving tangible results,” the analyst adds.

President’s popularity

Despite the wave of criticism that the Tunisian president has recently been subjected to, Saied continues to lead the way in voting for the upcoming presidential elections as a large majority of Tunisians adhere to President Said’s directions. Some parties, however, led by Ennahda movement, the front of the Islamists, continue their political maneuvers expressing their rejection of the actions the President took.

An opinion poll conducted by Sigma Konsai and the daily newspaper Al-Maghrib has revealed that Saied enjoys a great confidence among about 72 percent of Tunisians and won 90 percent of voting intentions in the presidential elections.

The poll has also shown that the percentage of Tunisians’ optimism about the future stage increased to 77.2 percent, while 71.7 percent of them expressed that the country is “going in the right direction”, with the Free Destourian Party’s chances in the legislative elections remaining abundant by about 34 percent. 26.1 percent also expressed their desire to vote for Saied’s movement in case he forms a party or submits independent lists. Ennahda movement fell to third place, with voting intentions that did not exceed 12.1 percent.

The results of the poll conducted on a sample of 1983 Tunisians aged 18 years and over between September 9 and 16, come in light of the exceptional conditions that Tunisia has been going through since last July 25 – the date of announcing “the state of imminent danger” by Saied based on the article 80 of the Constitution. This announcement was followed by decisions of dismissal and reservation that affected a number of state officials and parliamentarians.

Abdel-Sattar Al-Aydi, a journalist, has confirmed that President Saied’s popularity still maintains a high level, taking advantage of the boost that the moment of July 25 gave to him. For a large segment of the people, this man emerged as a savior from a difficult era that the country experienced 10 years ago under the rule of the party system and partisan quotas led by the Ennahda movement. Al-Aydi explains that these results are issued one day after the demonstration called by the anti-Saied blocs, which seemed unable to mobilize the street against the president and, thus, it is confirmed that Saied’s opponents have lost the street card since July 25. The president is still so popular that he can move comfortably during the coming period.

According to the official results announced by the Independent Electoral Commission in October 2019, Kais Saied had won a landslide victory over his rival Nabil Karoui with a record vote of 72.71 percent compared to 27.29 percent to gain, according to observers, a popular legitimacy that no Tunisian president has preceded.

The number of voters for Saied had reached two million and 777 thousand out of seven and a half million registered voters. A number that far exceeded the number of those who voted for Beji Caid Essebsi, the late President, in 2014, which amounted to one million and 700 thousand votes. Still, the number of those who voted for Kais Said exceeded the number of those who voted in the last legislative elections as it amounted to about one million and 750 thousand voters. With this number, Kais Saied was able to gain his legitimacy through ballot box, which saves him from the difficulty of searching for parliamentary support.

Ennahda – Dangers of partition

However, the most serious repercussions, which were pointed out by some political parties, represented the Tunisian street’s tendency to further division. The Tunisian Labor Union has expressed its fears of that, especially after the protests that occurred in the country on Saturday 25 July, to refuse any attempt that would divide Tunisians.

“Protest is a right, unless it is for the sake of dividing the Tunisians and creating two peoples in Tunisia, then, the Union would reject it and call for dialogue and consultation without slipping behind violence because mobilizing the street in different ways in the current situation may lead to confrontation,” Sami Tahiri, Assistant Secretary-General of the Tunisian General Labor Union, says.

“The Union is not concerned with the protest movements, which are organized on Habib Bourguiba Street in the capital, nor has it and will not participate in any other counter-movements,” he clarifies.

In turn, Zubair Al-Shahudi, the leader of the Tunisian Ennahda movement, has revealed that an internal crisis is hitting the movement, and there is a state of rebellion within the movement’s rules against President Rashid Ghannouchi. Al-Shahudi opines that the movement’s leader is losing control greatly over the movement, its cadres and rules, especially with no one has responded to his calls to go to the street since President Kais Saied approved exceptional measures in the country. Ennahda’s leader has noted that the rules of Ennahda have effectively become part of the Tunisian street that rejects Parliament and Ghannouchi’s presidency of it.

On July 25, the Tunisian president had frozen the parliament, dismissed Hichem Mechichi, the prime minister, and transferred executive powers from the head of the government to the presidency, which almost completely made Ennahda movement lose its influence and authority within the Tunisian state.

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