On July 25th, many Tunisians took it to the streets to protest against the political class and the consecutive failing governments. On the same day, president Kais Saied invoked article 80 of the Constitution. He sacked the head of government, froze the parliament and lifted immunity of its members. Foreign analysts ran to the conclusion that what was happening was a coup and Tunisia’s fragile and nascent democracy was threatened. In this special episode, we’ll go back to what happened on July 25th, its context and the roots of the situation.
In what seems to be a confusing set of legal opinions, a number of jurists in Tunisia and elsewhere were unable to converge decisively on qualifying the nature of President Kais Saied’s decision to suspend the Tunisian parliament and sack the government on July 25, 2021. Technically sound arguments seem to be made on all sides. Saied on his part, based his decision on article 80 of the Tunisian constitution which allows the President to take exceptional measures “in the event of imminent peril,” and one can very well argue that a Parliament and a government that let 18,000 Tunisians die of Covid 19 in a year and a half are a peril already in place.
Accusations of coups d’etat in Tunisia have multiplied along with the political crises and institutional delays that the country has witnessed over the past ten years.
It’s funny enough that post-2011 Tunisia was dubbed “democracy startup”. Well, why not apply a benchmarked and proven model if the playbook was matured by other players? Because the Tunisian people, consciously or unconsciously, are exploring a new path, and searching for a new model. And that’s what startups are about. In my view the Tunisian people are a rare kind of country-preneurs. But where are they heading to? Let’s look back at the roadmap, to try to understand where its trajectory may lead.
There have been numerous assaults and harassment of journalists by security forces, politicians and officials in recent years–with June alone seeing 18 assaults, and May seeing 13, according to the National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT). However, in the days since mass protests began on July 25 and President Kais Saied subsequently announced exceptional measures concentrating powers under him, there has been a spike in such harassment.
On the 25th of July, Tunisia witnessed a major shake-up of the political landscape. Western “experts” could have predicted that. They were able to believe what they actually saw and heard. In their well-entrenched imaginary, something was decidedly wrong with this picture. The complexity was too much to handle for minds trained to see Tunisia, and the region as a whole, as easily knowable if not already known. No wonder many of them have rushed to cry foul.
Sunday’s protests are now better known by the Presidential decisions they seemingly helped prompt: a freezing of Parliament, a dismissal of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, and the lifting of Parliamentary immunity in what critics of President Kais Saied have called a coup.
As Tunisians celebrated Eid on Tuesday, crowds of people took to the newly opened, walk-in vaccination centers across the country. The centers—offering vaccinations to anyone over 18-years-old for the first time—had been announced only one day earlier for a limited two-day period. But with the limited time frame, limited vaccine supplies, unclear directives from officials, and short notice given to volunteer organizers, many centers were overwhelmed with some witnessing disruptions, overcrowding, clashes, or the total freezing of operations.
In early May, an official delegation to Washington D.C. met with International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials for discussions on a new loan program for Tunisia. According to a leaked, confidential document allegedly produced by the Tunisian government which Bloomberg reported on (but did not publish), the government proposed removing food and energy subsidies as part of these discussions. In May and June, the prices of several consumer goods, including subsidized sugar, were raised or increased. Some have claimed these price increases were meant to “appease” the IMF as part of the ongoing loan discussions.
This 3rd call aims to expand our model with tools and content that include the diverse disciplines cited above. Innawaation is a creative media projects incubator structured around a series of residencies and events. These collaborations will take place during sessions that span 3 to 6 months of work.
The death of 32-year-old Ahmed Ben Moncef Ben Ammar on June 8, allegedly while in police custody, has prompted several days of protests and clashes with police forces in the working class neighborhood of Sidi Hassine. Several people have been wounded, including a 15-year-old who was stripped naked and beaten in a widely-shared video that has prompted outrage. Sidi Hassine is also the neighborhood where 19-year-old Aymen Othman was killed when customs officials opened fire in 2018.
Tunisian prime minister Hichem Mechichi failed to appoint a former collaborator of the Ben Ali regime—who today maintains close ties to Ennahdha—as director of the country’s national press agency. Mechichi’s failed attempt confirms the parliamentary majority’s eagerness to control the media, in spite of the sector’s resistance.
This project is a partof Innawaation : « Gloub Faydha », a rap song created within the Bab El Beat project, is a cry of revolt against the established political class and a call for resistance against police repression. The clip alternates between the fictional universe reflected in the song’s lyrics and Nawaat’s video coverage of protests. In form, these videos match the music’s accelerated tempo and hard core percussions. In substance, they illustrate the song’s theme and lyrics.
The tragic murder of a young woman by her husband has exposed the devastating failures of the authorities to protect Tunisian women from domestic violence. On 9 May, Tunisian Facebook timelines were suddenly flooded with a grim black image, bearing the words: “Her name is Refka Cherni.”
Over last three weeks, I have been telling everyone around me that my parents in India have Covid, that they had Covid, that they continue to cough or have intense body pain. I tell them about my fears that my parents might suddenly need to go to a hospital, that there are no hospitals with vacant beds, that there are no oxygen cylinders left to keep us breathing when Covid chokes us. I tell this to distant faces I see over Zoom, to folks I run into on the streets in Tunis. Every time I am confronted with the same response: remarks about the pictures of cremations, the images of fire eating away the bodies of the dead, followed by a look of pity that I am forced to accept.
One of the most beautiful lines ever spat in hip-hop comes from a song called « Last Supper » by D Smoke, in which he says “every kid needs a hero, I’m trying to be uncle Stan Lee.” In this context, Stan Lee represents the idea that no matter where you come from, you can make it if you put your mind to it, even when you live in a small hood in the capital of one of the tiniest countries in the world.
To celebrate its 17th anniversary, Nawaat has launched its own festival. Held from April 2-4 at its premises in the Belvédère district in Tunis, the event drew hundreds of visitors. Screenings of the documentaries “Non grata” and “Generation Manich Msamah”, debates as well as an exhibition of -Z-, and a mini-concert by Badiaa Bouhrizi were on the program.