Tunisia launches a nationwide conversation and a constitutional change agenda

Kais Saied

Tunisia TunisiaTunisian President Kais Saied has declared the start of a national conversation to assist settle the country’s political crisis, but political factions complicit in pushing the country near to bankruptcy would be excluded.

Saied, a former law professor who was elected in 2019 amid popular outrage at the North African country’s political elite, dissolved the government on July 25 last year and went on to rule by decree.

In a speech late Sunday, he announced a commission will supervise the national conversation, a move urged repeatedly by the G7 nations and European Union.

Saied’s suggested meetings would involve four organizations which, along as the “National Dialogue Quartet”, jointly earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 for its efforts in constructing what was, at the time, the only democracy that emerged from the 2011 Arab Spring.

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Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), Tunisian Human Rights League, and Tunisian Order of Lawyers are the four organizations.

On Sunday, UGTT chairman Noureddine Taboubi urged Saied to start the national conversation, calling it “possibly the final chance” to bring the country together and avert “state dismantlement and financial and economic catastrophe.”

However, Saied ruled out those “who sabotaged, starved, and abused the people” from participating in the negotiations, implying that this would exclude political parties and civil society organizations that have stirred popular outrage. The Islamist Ennahdha Movement and its political partners would fall under this category.

Ennahdha, which has played a prominent role in Tunisian politics since the 2011 revolt that overthrew previous president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, is part of the National Salvation Front coalition, created last month between five political parties and five civil society organisations.

Saied further stated that a commission tasked with drafting constitutional revisions for “a New Republic” will be finished shortly, with a referendum on the ideas set for July 25 and legislative elections on December 17.

Tunisia is likewise suffering from a severe social and economic crisis, and has applied to the International Monetary Fund for a bailout package.

If Tunisia is to get much-needed international economic assistance, it must resolve concerns about democracy, according to Washington, the IMF’s largest shareholder.

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