Tunisia’s president accused of ‘coup’ after dismissing PM

Tunisia’s president has suspended parliament and dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi in a move condemned as an attack on democracy by his rivals but which others greeted with celebrations on the streets. President Kais Saied said on Sunday he would assume executive authority with the assistance of a new prime minister after violent protests broke out in several Tunisian cities over the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy.

President Kais Saied, who was elected in 2019, announced he was taking over. He also suspended the immunity of members of parliament, insisting his actions were in line with the constitution. The statement followed an emergency meeting at his palace after thousands of Tunisians marched in several cities, with much of the anger focused on the Ennahdha party, the biggest in parliament. His supporters erupted in celebration, but opponents in parliament immediately accused him of staging a coup. Tunisia’s revolution in 2011 is often held up as the sole success of the Arab Spring revolts across the region, but it has not led to stability economically or politically. The recent coronavirus surge – which saw the health minister sacked last week after a bungled vaccination operation – has fuelled long-standing frustration. Sunday saw thousands of people demonstrating against Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and the moderate Islamist ruling party, Ennahda, shouting “Get out!”.

Security forces in the capital, Tunis, blocked off parliament and streets around the central Avenue Bourguiba. Protesters also stormed Ennahda offices, smashing computers and setting fire to its local headquarters in Touzeur.