Tunisian Islamist party urges dialogue to resolve political crisis


TUNIS – Tunisia’s biggest party, the moderate Islamist Ennahda, on Tuesday called for a national dialogue to get the country out of crisis after it accused the president of a coup when he dismissed the prime minister and suspended parliament.

In a reversal of a call early on Monday to its supporters to take to the streets against President Kais Saied’s actions, Ennahda urged dialogue and efforts to avoid civil strife.

“The movement … calls on all Tunisians to increase solidarity, synergy and unity and to confront all calls for sedition and civil strife,” it said in a statement.

Ennhahda had already told supporters through party branches not to resume a sit-in outside parliament and to avoid protests.

Though some senior party members wanted to retain a street presence, its leaders decided to avoid any further escalation and allow a period of calm, two Ennahda officials said earlier on Tuesday.

The area outside the parliament building, the site on Monday of confrontations between hundreds of supporters of Ennahda and Saied, was empty on Tuesday morning. Ennahda’s supporters left on Monday evening and have not returned.

Tunisia is facing its biggest crisis since the 2011 revolution that introduced democracy. Saied said his move — with help from the army — was in line with a constitutional clause allowing extraordinary measures during an emergency.

It followed months of squabbles with Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and parliament as COVID-19 exacerbated an economic decline and raised the spectre of major street confrontations or a slide back from the democratic gains won a decade ago.


Ennahda and the next three largest parties in parliament have all denounced the move as a coup.

A Tunisian political source said neighbouring Algeria had pushed both Saied and his opponents to step back from any confrontation to avoid further destabilisation or the intervention of any external forces.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Saied late on Monday and said he had urged him to “to adhere to the principles of democracy and human rights”.

Saied has yet to announce a new interim prime minister and has said he will replace the defence and justice ministers. He has not said whether the other cabinet ministers will remain in place.

He has not yet laid out a roadmap for how he will handle the 30-day period during which he said parliament will be frozen. The assembly remains legally in session but not able to meet according to Saied’s decree, with soldiers surrounding the building, government office and the television station.

On Monday he tightened some of the restrictions already in place against COVID-19 by bringing forward a nightly curfew by one hour and extending for a month the ban on travel between cities.

His order reiterated a ban on gatherings of more than three people in streets or squares – a measure that had technically been in place as part of a rolling state of emergency for years.


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