Soldiers surrounded Tunisia’s parliament and blocked its speaker from entering Monday after the president, Kais Saied, suspended the legislature and fired the prime minister and other top members of government in an extraordinary move.
Amid nationwide protests over Tunisia’s economic troubles and the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, President Saied decided late Sunday to dismiss the officials, including the justice and defense ministers.
He announced a series of other measures Monday, including a nationwide curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. for one month and a ban on gatherings of more than three people in public places.
Some demonstrators cheered the firings, shouting with joy and waving Tunisian flags, while others accused the president of a power grab, and the country’s overseas allies expressed concern that it might be descending again into autocracy.
Saied has denied allegations that he was fomenting a coup d’etat.
But in a move sure to fuel exacerbate fears, police raided the offices of broadcaster Al-Jazeera and ordered it shut down.
Tunisia, which ignited the Arab Spring in 2011 when protests led to the overthrow of its longtime autocratic leader, is often regarded as the only success story of those uprisings.
But democracy didn’t bring prosperity as the economy was already flailing before the pandemic hit, with 18% unemployment, and young people demanding jobs and an end to police brutality.
“I must shoulder the responsibility and I have done so. I have chosen to stand by the people,” the president said in a solemn televised address.
While Saied said he acted according to the law — but parliamentary speaker Rached Ghannouchi, who heads the Islamist party that dominates the legislature, said the president didn’t consult with him or the prime minister as required.