Tunisia’s President intensifies his power grab with a move against judges

Tunisia_President

Tunisia TunisiaAs he moves closer to one-man rule, President Kais Saied’s decision to abolish Tunisia’s main judicial body has sparked a major debate about the rule of law and his personal responsibility. Saied, who last summer suspended parliament and seized executive authority in what his opponents dubbed a coup, has been criticizing the court for months, accusing it of being part of a corrupt, self-serving elite that ignores regular people to defend its own interests.

He claimed he would abolish the Supreme Judicial Council, the body that guarantees judges’ independence, in a late-night address this weekend, invoking his now-familiar mantra that “purifying the judiciary is a priority,” eliciting a heated response. Judges’ associations, civil society organizations, opposition parties, human rights organizations, Western funders, and United Nations agencies have all slammed his action, saying that it will suffocate the remaining remnants of official accountability for Saied.

Many judges are also protesting, closing down the legal system in part on Wednesday and Thursday, preparing a street demonstration, and seeking assistance from civil society organizations. “In this emergency situation, where the president controls executive authority in front of a people who have no power,” Raoudha Karafi, honorary president of the Judges Association, stated.

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Saied portrays himself as a reformer seeking to put a stop to the decade of stalemate that has followed Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, which introduced democracy to the country by overhauling the country’s political structure and cleansing its leadership. He has sworn to protect rights and liberties, yet he has shifted his allegiance to the security services. Critics claim he has advocated for the prosecution of several of his political opponents on corruption charges.

Rights organizations believe that his decision to dissolve the Supreme Judicial Council, which he announced in a late-night speech at the Interior Ministry, may pave the way for a broader assault on dissent. In a statement released on Tuesday, United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet stated, “There have been escalating attempts to crush criticism, notably via intimidation of civil society activists.”

OPPOSITION

Domestic opposition to Saied has been fragmented and feeble so far. Over the last decade, the president’s largest political party, the moderate Islamist Ennahda, has created many adversaries, including other parties that now oppose him. The powerful labor union agrees with Saied that Tunisia requires fundamental reform and that the current system is ineffective, but it is unhappy that he would not cooperate.

It’s probable that Saied’s determination to target the judiciary may persuade more civil society organizations to join the fight against him. Youssef Bouzakher, the president of the Supreme Judicial Council, has warned that judges “will not stay silent.” In Tunisia, however, the judiciary is not well-liked. Many individuals link it to the administrative dysfunction of the previous decade of democracy, as well as failures to root out corruption and bring those responsible for prior crimes to account.

Judges have sheltered conspirators in the 2013 assassination of secular politician Chokri Belaid, according to Abd Enaceur Aouini, a member of a judicial committee appointed to unearth the facts behind the crime. He described the Supreme Judicial Council as “a lovely façade for selling terrible goods.” Salah Eddine Daoudi, a university lecturer and activist who supports Saied, claimed there was widespread support for judicial reform. “Those who do not want reform speak about tyranny or the buildup of power,” he remarked.

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