August 5, 2021

In Tunisia, the crisis on all fronts

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Young people demonstrate against police violence in Sidi Hassine, in the western suburbs of Tunis, on June 12, 2021.

In recent days, while the summer heat has attracted the first bathers to Tunisian beaches, photos and videos of the health situation in Kairouan, in the center of the country, have caused a shock wave. Shared on social networks, they show doctors exhausted in the face of the influx of patients with Covid-19, patients rushed to hospital on carts, municipal services overwhelmed by funerals and protesters demanding large cry out for the governor’s resignation.

With a 50% positivity rate and a vaccine campaign still in its infancy, the region is suffering the full brunt of the third wave of Covid-19, like three other governorates located in the north. The government has decreed a new general confinement there for a week, from Monday, June 21.

Read also In Tunisia, the government wants to vaccinate more to stop the new epidemic wave

The situation in Kairouan highlights the failings in the management of the increasingly criticized health crisis, in an explosive political and social context. “The numbers speak for themselves. When [le chef de gouvernement] Hichem Mechichi has taken office [en septembre 2020], the country had a few hundred deaths from Covid-19. Today, we are at nearly 14,000 dead. You have to wonder why we have failed for five months to stop this third wave ”, questions political analyst Mahdi Elleuch.

Some blame the slowness of the vaccination campaign, which began in mid-March but subject to the vagaries of supply, with significant delays in the delivery of doses.

“A government at bay”

The dramatic resurgence of the pandemic is only one aspect of the multifaceted crisis facing the Tunisian government today. Hichem Mechichi was also criticized in January for his management of demonstrations by young people from working-class neighborhoods in the country against unemployment and rising prices, which had led to nearly 2,000 arrests.

However, in recent days, the head of government, also interim interior minister, has had to face the anger of the inhabitants of Sidi Hassine, in the western suburbs of Tunis. The death of a young person in unclear circumstances during his arrest by the police and the video of another young person, beaten and naked by police officers in the same neighborhood, raised a wave of indignation within the society civil.

Read also Police violence in Tunisia: government on the defensive in the face of unrest

For sociologist Aziz Krichen, these repeated incidents between police and citizens testify to a “Government at bay, cornered by financial problems to complete the 2021 budget and which must comply with the wishes of donors. He is preparing unpopular reforms and therefore tries to crush all forms of resistance “.

The authorities are negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to obtain a loan of 3.3 billion euros. Tunis must also begin to repay the maturities of other loans from this summer, while the country still does not see the end of the economic crisis.

Find a way out of the crisis

At the same time, the relationship with the legislative power – in particular the opposition – continues to grow strained. In mid-June, the government presidency lodged a complaint for violence against MP Abir Moussi, president of the Free Destourien Party, and other members of her party. They had interrupted the hearings of ministers in plenary sessions by booming in megaphones.

A coup that prolonged several months of slavery in the hemicycle and sit-in in front of Parliament to demand the resignation of Rached Ghannouchi, president of the Parliament and leader of the Islamist Ennahda party, as well as that of the head of government.

Read also In Tunisia, the setbacks of the Islamo-conservative Ennahda party

Weakened, Hichem Mechichi struggles to find allies to stay the course in a country where nine different heads of government have already succeeded one another since the 2011 revolution. Even the President of the Republic, Kaïs Saïed, has been in open conflict with him for a long time. cabinet reshuffle in January which he disapproves of. Despite these differences, the Head of State brought together Hichem Mechichi and three former heads of government on June 15 to try to find a way out of the crisis.

A few days later, the powerful union of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) stepped up, accusing Kaïs Saïed of proposing his own roadmap and bypassing the national dialogue, an initiative of the union that has been on hiatus since. six months for lack of an agreement within the political class. The presidency immediately reacted, speaking of a misunderstanding, without dissuading the UGTT from calling for early elections.

In this political situation “Ubuesque”, as Aziz Krichen portrays it, democracy seems to be running out of steam. “Everyone now claims to be the victim of a conspiracy”, which would threaten the foundations of the system, notes the sociologist. During the meeting of June 15, the head of state denounced a plot to dismiss or assassinate him. This declaration led to the opening of an investigation by the courts.

In January 2021, the president had already claimed to have been the target of an assassination attempt by sending a poisoned letter. The suspect envelope did not ultimately contain any toxic substance according to the investigation conducted by the public prosecutor. In early June, members of the Ennahda party also assured that Rached Ghannouchi had received death threats.