In the midst of political turmoil in Tunisia, the president sacks the defense minister.
Tunisian President Kais Saied fired the defense minister on Monday, a day after sacking the prime minister and suspending parliament, plunging Tunisia’s fledgling democracy into constitutional crisis amid a pandemic.
After Saied removed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and ordered parliament closed for 30 days, street skirmishes erupted outside the army-barricaded parliament on Monday, which the largest political party, Ennahdha, denounced as a “coup.”
Following major protests in numerous towns against the government’s handling of the Covid pandemic, Saied said on Sunday that he had “made the necessary decisions to safeguard Tunisia, the state, and the Tunisian people.”
The president, who is in charge of the military forces under the constitution, warned his opponents against taking up arms, saying that if someone “fires a single gunshot, our troops would answer with a rain of bullets.”
The dismissals of Defence Minister Ibrahim Bartaji and interim Justice Minister Hasna Ben Slimane, who is also the government spokesman, were announced by the presidency on Monday afternoon.
Soldiers have been blocking the meeting in Tunis since early Monday, while followers of Saied have flung stones, bottles, and insults at supporters of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha, whose leader has been denied access.
Troops also surrounded Mechichi’s office, which had yet to respond to the events roiling the North African country.
The protests faded down later in the afternoon.
Despite the constitution’s enshrined parliamentary democracy, Saied’s extraordinary action comes a decade after Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, which is generally looked up as the Arab Spring’s lone success story.
It’s a “coup d’etat against the revolution and the constitution,” Ennahdha, Tunisia’s fractious ruling coalition’s leading party, alleged, adding that its people “will protect the revolution.”
The issue comes after months of gridlock between the president, the prime minister, and Ennahdha chairman Rached Ghannouchi, which has stymied the Covid response while the country’s per capita death rate has risen to one of the highest in the world.
Covid-19 instances have lately swept Tunisia, bringing the death toll to nearly 18,000 in a country of 12 million people.
The local office of Qatar-based Al Jazeera television was also shut down, according to Lotfi Hajji, the network’s Tunis director, who warned that “what is occurring is very serious, it is proof that freedom of the press is threatened.”
The president acted “in compliance” with the constitution to “avoid immediate danger and restore normal operation,” according to the powerful Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), which played a significant role in the 2011 uprising. Brief News from Washington Newsday.