Kais Saied speaks to the media in Tunis.
Tunisian President Kais Saied dissolved the Superior Council of the Judiciary on Sunday, after dismissing the government of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending the Assembly of People’s Representatives last July. Saied, a retired lawyer and university professor, who was elected president in November 2019 on an anti-corruption platform and with a promise to improve the electoral system, has emerged as the one who will clean up the system that has become corrupt in several levels. across the country where the Arab Spring started and spread to several countries.
Before dissolving the judicial council, the new leader authorized popular protest against the forum and observed emphatically and in no uncertain terms: “In this council, positions and appointments are sold on the basis of loyalties. Their place is not where they sit now, but where the accused stand. And encouraging anti-council protests, Saied generously remarked, “I tell all Tunisians to protest freely. It is your right and our right to dissolve the Superior Council of the Judiciary. The council was established in 2016 as an independent forum to appoint judges and maintain an independent judiciary. Saied’s dissolution of the council can be seen as the final act of overthrowing the system as it exists.
The challenge facing Tunisia and Saied is: The restoration of the democratic government that emerged following the jasmine of the 2011 revolution that spread to many other countries, including Egypt. He has to ensure and ensure that he will not be the unrestrained ruler because he has dismantled much of the political system. It has to prove that it is just cleaning up the existing system and that it would restore democratic processes. In Tunisia, there are Islamist parties like Ennahda and secular parties like Noda Tounes.
But Ennahda displayed a pragmatic vision and had supported Saied in the 2019 presidential election. It was the fallout between the main political parties, Qalb Tounes, that enabled Saied to oust the government.
It was the economic crisis in the wake of Covid-19 that shattered the fragile political coalitions. The question is whether Saied can rise to the economic challenge and alleviate the hardships faced by ordinary Tunisians. The difficulties in the lives of ordinary residents are increasing day by day.
The Mechichi government was composed mainly of technocrats, but they seemed unable to cope with the situation of economic distress. Saied had recently appointed Najla Bouden, a geologist and university professor as Prime Minister.
The key question is whether the two academics, President Saied and Prime Minister Bouden can handle the extremely demanding situation. They can win the support of the people if they can restore some semblance of normalcy to the economy.
Saied’s anti-corruption rhetoric will only have popular appeal as long as he can pull the country out of economic crisis. According to an October 2021 update from the World Bank on the Tunisian economy, there is a stagnation in job creation in the private sector, and the government wage bill for employees in public sector units is become unsustainable. Political uncertainty aggravates the economic crisis. Saied cannot therefore hope to succeed in his clean-up operation if he does not find a solution to the economic problem.
Anti-corruption rhetoric will get him that far and no further. People need jobs, and that’s a lot harder than overthrowing the government, suspending parliament and dissolving the judicial council. Tunisia needs a rapid economic recovery strategy.