It is, however, fascinating to note how some jurists are rigidly attached to the letter of the law with regard to legislation generally recognized as flawed, even if it means forgetting that laws are only a tool to obtain justice. This “legalistic fetishism” seems to make them lose sight of context as well as the essentials in public affairs: service to citizens and progress for the nation. For 48 hours, the only argument put forward to establish whether the actions of the Tunisian President against the parliament constituted a coup or not was based on the constitutionality of his act and never on the reasons that led him to make his decision. Hardly did anyone ask the essential question about the civic and moral value of the Tunisian constitution and its obvious shortcomings.
Anybody who witnessed the genesis of our “supreme” law can attest that every major political party present in the National Constituent Assembly of 2011 was positioning itself to grab the largest share of power possible. Not many were concerned about its impact on democracy and on the well-being of Tunisians.
So allow me to be blunt about our democratic open secret. Our constitution is amateurish, confused, inapplicable, and above all ignored and often abused by the “representatives of the people” who ultimately only represent themselves as well as their big donors. Should we accept this fatality because it is the supreme law of the land, pending the next elections?
For at least the past five years we have had more than enough evidence that a bad constitution is like a bad marriage. The father (parliament) is abusive, the mother (country) suffers trying to cover up her bruises and the children (the people) suffer. Unfortunately, as it is in a bad marriage, believing that those who commit the abuse will change of their own will is therapeutic obstinacy, and the already deep trauma becomes irremediable.
Former dictator Ben Ali was also convinced of his legality, yet when we could no longer stand his abuse, everyone supported us when we kicked him out. Experts are also waving the specter of the Egyptian scenario, no matter how ridiculous and inapplicable such a scenario is in Tunisia. Besides, a majority of Tunisian will tell you that since 2012 we have been experiencing a permanent coup and an abject confiscation of our revolution by the dominant Islamist political party, Ennahdha, its various offshoots, and other self-proclaimed modernist acolytes.
I don’t think Kais Saied wants or is able to be a Tunisian version of Egypt’s Abdel Fattah Sisi, but many Tunisians are willing to take the risk anyway. Since the April 2010 flash mobs against Ben Ali, Tunisians have been taking to the streets for more than eleven long years and I know they will not hesitate to do it again. Saied must prove that he will live up to the historic pledge he made this past July 25, on Republic Day. He must present a clear roadmap right away, committing himself to never put individual freedoms in danger.
As for the parliament presented as the sole guarantee of democracy, many of its members who were hiding behind their immunity are facing prosecution for corruption, money laundering and even one documented case of sexual harrassment. A group of parliamentarians—reminiscent of the Alt-right in the West—kept openly advocating for laws to protect terrorists and brutally assaulted a female MP during a session of parliament. Their leader was the lawyer of the terrorists who attacked the US embassy in 2012. Add to that a catastrophic economic situation and copious evidence that the Ennahdha-led government has covered up political assassinations.
To the « supporters of democracy in the Arab world », please get informed, preferably by talking to us, here on the ground. Stop blindly following the pundits and usual suspects operating in Washington think-tanks. It is appalling to hear an “Expert on Tunisia” at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace calling for suspending Covid-19 vaccine deliveries to our country as leverage. And if there is nothing surprising about South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham’s call to “need to be all in, on the ground in Tunisia” to restore democracy, it is puzzling to hear Michigan representative Rachida Tlaib and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar calling for an end to US security funding to Tunisia because of human rights abuses.
We know firsthand that the road to democracy is rough, but we are building our own customized brand. We also remember what imposed models of democracy caused in Iraq and Syria, and even in the US Capitol last January 6. The slogan of our Tunisian Spring was “work, freedom and national dignity.” You can’t have a clearer agenda for a young democracy aiming to give every citizen equal rights whether they are Muslim, Christian, Jews or atheists, men or women, straight or gay.
As for the skeptics who are so prompt at detecting a dictatorship, rest assured, we will remain vigilant. After all, Tunisia is our country and we live here!
Hisham Ben Khamsa is a Film festival director. Translator and subtitler into English and French of Tunisian films selected and awarded at film festivals around the world; Cannes, Venice, Toronto, the French Césars and the Oscars.