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Protest against the referendum and the new draft of the constitution, Friday, July 22. Credit : Tarek Laabidi

It took less than twenty-four hours for our eminent legal scholars to dissociate themselves from their commander-in-chief. In fact, it was enough to look at Kais Saied’s facts and gestures, language and references, and above all his academic history to understand how naive they were to believe that he could listen to them for a moment.

It is clear that the whole process was only a personal exercise carried out by a gentleman who had never reached the only acceptable threshold of respectability for him: to be recognized by those he saw as his peers, and who, unlike him, held the administrative ranks that he had never succeeded in attaining.

The function of President of the Republic is too demanding and too complex for a mind as simplistic as Kais Saied’s, he who never ceases to hold forth on the only subject which, in his eyes, is important and gives him value: constitutional law.

If he has proven that the suit does not make the president, it is clear that the current tenant of the Carthage Presidential Palace would have been quite happy to see himself outfitted as the dean of the faculty of law or in the robes of the president of the constitutional court.

On July 25, 2021, when he took the decision to freeze the despicable parliament that Tunisia was dragging like a ball and chain, the Islamists and their regional masters immediately stepped up to the plate in the media and with Western power circles to call out a “coup d’état”. To counterbalance this external offensive, we all vouched for his honesty and his patriotism and especially his lack of interest in being a dictator. I personally spoke out in half a dozen English-speaking media outlets to say that what was happening in Tunisia stemmed from popular will. I knew Saied was a social and political conservative incapable of taking transformative risks, and yet I argued that he was not interested in absolute power. I must admit with bitterness that I had it all wrong.

I hesitated for a long time before deciding if I was going to vote in this referendum. I hesitated for a long time whether I would vote Yes or No. I saw a process put in place with an absolute lack of seriousness, disdain and an insult to the intelligence of Tunisians.

When Saied himself admitted that his initial text, published in the official journal of the republic, contained “several errors”, my choice was final. How can we trust a founding text filled with all kinds of errors? Wouldn’t forty-nine errors be enough to disqualify any exam?

But the problems of form are nothing compared to the content. His text showed us everything he’s not interested in: a civil and democratic state with separate powers, a state for citizens who are free and equal in rights and responsibilities, a state that protects the 52% of its population that are women and that looks to the future to settle Tunisia amongst the modern nations of the world.

Instead, he brought back fights we thought were over. He took us back to 2012, to talk about subjects as toxic and factious as the place of Islam in the state and its codification in society. Too bad for unemployment, insecurity and hyperinflation. In his constitution, with the stroke of a pen, he erased more than two hundred years of Tunisian history to jump from 1861 to December 2010, and finally July 25, 2021.

Saied keeps quoting history, even though his memory seems selective and geographically very restricted. It is time today to remind him that if he is at the Carthage Palace, he owes it to us, the Tunisian people. Above all, it is time to remind him that we vouched for him, in the days following his personal coup, one year ago.

President Bourguiba, the father of Tunisia’s independence said:

From the balcony of the Maghreb, Tunisia looks at Europe and the East. Its hospitable shores welcome men and ideas from both shores. But Tunisia is also a dam that juts out into the Mediterranean when the tumult of men rises.

When the days of great tumult that Saied will irremediably impose on us come, we will stand up to remind him that he owes us a debt. This is called the right and the duty to resist. This is called the right of ownership!