The head of Tunisia’s largest parliamentary party, Rached Ghannouchi, held a sit-in protest outside the parliament building on Monday after the army barred him from entering.
The move came after President Kais Saied on Sunday said he would assume the country’s executive authority after dismissing the prime minister.
Supporters of Ghannouchi’s moderate-Islamist Ennahda party and of President Saied hurled stones and bottles at each other outside the parliament on Monday, AFP reported.
The political escalation followed a weekend during which during which thousands of Tunisians took to the streets in anti-government protests that turned violent.
What did the president say?
After announcing the dismissal of Prime Minister Hicham Mechichi, Saied said he would take over executive power “with the help” of a government headed by a new chief that he would appoint. Saied had appointed Mechichi as non-alligned prime minister in September last year.
The president also announced freezing the Tunisian parliament for 30 days and suspending the immunity of all deputies.
Saied claims his move is permitted in case of “imminent danger” under Article 80 of the country’s constitution.
“The constitution does not allow for the dissolution of parliament, but it does allow for its work to be suspended,” Saied said.
Outside of Tunisia, Germany’s foreign ministry expressed its concern over the suspension of the government and said it was important to “return quickly to the constitutional order.”
Although the ministry avoided the term “coup,” it called Saied’s use of the constitution to suspend parliament as a “rather broad interpretation” of the law.
What was the reaction in Tunisia?
Hundreds of Tunisians flooded the streets in celebration after Saied’s announcement. Local media reported that military vehicles surrounded the parliament building as crowds cheered.
Although Saied insisted that his move was constitutional, Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi accused the president of launching “a coup against the revolution and constitution.”
In a video posted by his party, Ghannouchi called on Tunisians to take to the streets against the “coup.”
What do protesters want?
Early Sunday, thousands of demonstrators across Tunisia defied COVID-19 restrictions to protest against the ruling party and the prime minister. Crowds shouted “Get out!” and called for the dissolution of parliament.
Police arrested several protesters and fired tear gas as the crowd hurled stones, according to the AFP news agency.
Protesters stormed the office of the Ennahdha party. There was also a heavy security presence around the parliament.
“Many people were deceived by hypocrisy, treachery and robbery of the rights of the people,” Saied said after the unrest.
“I warn any who think of resorting to weapons […] and whoever shoots a bullet, the armed forces will respond with bullets,” he added.
How did the political situation escalate?
Tunisia has remained prone to political turmoil a decade after the 2011 revolution that ousted strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
The Ennahdha party has held sway in the country since then. While still the largest party, it has been ruling in a coalition and often in open confrontation with President Saied. Its support has waned in recent years.
The too main political camps have been locked in a standoff — in February Saied refused to approve of new cabinet members. Tunisia lacks a supreme court that could have resolved such a conflict.
Politicians have been unable to form lasting governments. Mechichi’s government was the third Cabinet to come to power in less than a year.
The Coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn have ravaged the country. The crisis led to Tunisia’s deepest recession since independence in 1956. It also saw its sovereign debt rating downgraded, posing further difficulties to acquiring loans to pull itself out of the crisis.