In Tunisia, judges will begin a sit-in protest on Monday after voting unanimously to suspend work in all courts, reported Reuters. This strike comes in response to President Kais Saied’s recent dismissal of 57 judges on accusations of corruption and protection of terrorists, his latest move to tighten his grip on power. After claiming in a televised address to have given the judiciary opportunity after opportunity and warning after warning to purify itself, the official gazette announced the news despite little evidence, according to Al Jazeera. Some judges claim these dismissals resulted from their rejection of intervention by the justice minister and the president’s supporters, Reuters further reported. This judiciary purge is another striking addition to Saied’s depletion of Tunisian democracy, moves he claims are protecting the country from corruption and “imminent peril.” This consolidation of power began last July and has inched the once-hopeful beacon of regional democracy further into darkness.
The president’s removal of these judges has triggered both domestic and international unease and intensified fears for the future of Tunisian governance. According to Reuters, almost all of the nation’s political parties and the influential UGTT labor union have condemned the purge. As reported in Euronews, Anas Hamaidi, president of the Association of Judges, views these judiciary expulsions as an onslaught against the nation’s institutions. “This injustice will not pass in silence… These free voices will never be silenced,” Hamaidi said. “The attack was not only against judges but on the law and freedoms.”
Rahed Ghannouchi, the speaker of the dissolved parliament, implored domestic groups to express support for the judges and saw the president’s actions as a “continuation of the coup,” which began last July. In a video published by Al Jazeera, he stated that “the people and Tunisia are holding on to the constitution. Therefore, we reject the president’s decision to dissolve the legislative council.”
Many in the international community see this as another step in Saied’s erosion of democracy and fear its consequences. Monica Marks, a scholar and professor of Middle East and North African politics, believes that Saied has “no intention of transitioning Tunisia to anything other than an authoritarian state,” as expressed in a webinar hosted by the Arab Center Washington DC. “It’s been very clear for months now that Saied is an ascendant dictator and that Tunisia is no longer a democracy,” she stated.
The dismissal of judges is yet another striking attack on the nation’s institutions. The international community must not sit idly by as Tunisia’s democracy is threatened but must also be abundantly aware of the line between intervention and assistance. Democratic nations worldwide should lend their support by supporting grassroots, Tunisian-led initiatives and rallying behind domestic actors fighting against Saied’s anti-democratic measures. When Tunisia faced a political crisis in 2013-14, the path to successful resolution resulted from civil society dialogues which included NGOs and four Tunisia-based civil society organizations, a trend of local empowerment which is effective and should continue.
Unchecked, there is little hope that Saied’s attack on democracy will end. Saied’s referendum will occur in just over a month to amend the constitution, a move he refers to as a referendum for a “new republic,” according to France 24. The road map he laid out toward this date has been criticized by those such as Marks in the previously mentioned webinar as “not a road map towards anything remotely inclusive or democratic” and instead of a “highway towards dictatorial consolidation.”
The failure of democracy in Tunisia would be a failure to the region and the cause of democracy overall. While it is not a perfect system, democracy has been found to foster economic growth and provide an environment that protects human rights. Nations with strong economic growth can promote higher standards of living, which is beneficial to the well-being of their citizens. The pattern of dismantling democratic institutions is not a new one, and nations across the globe must take notice in order to support democracy in North Africa as well as a prosperous, free and just future for the citizens of Tunisia.