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Tunisian President Ousts Gov’t, Assumes Emergency Powers
Tunisian President Kais Saied (L) attends a talk on constitutional law during a visit to Qatar, Nov. 16, 2020. (Karim Jaafar/AFP via Getty Images). Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi (R) speaks during a plenary session of the Tunisian parliament, Tunis, Jan. 26, 2021. (Adel Ezzine/Xinhua via Getty Images)

Tunisian President Ousts Gov’t, Assumes Emergency Powers

Tunisia’s President Kais Saied late Sunday fired Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and froze the activities of parliament for 30 days, saying he would govern alongside a new premier.

Saied’s move, which critics say is a “coup d’état,” comes a day after mass nationwide protests broke out against the government and parliament’s largest party, the moderate Islamist Ennahda, over political dysfunction and a deep economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

With 1,556 deaths per million population, Tunisia has the highest death rate from coronavirus in the Middle East and North Africa.

Saied’s assumption of executive power was met with significant popular support, as crowds cheered, danced in the streets, and set off fireworks in Tunis and other cities. But it presents the greatest challenge yet to the country’s nascent democratic regime, which emerged after the ousting of longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in a 2011 revolution that triggered the Arab Spring.

Saied says his move is in accordance with the 2014 constitution’s Article 80, which gives the president emergency powers “in the event of imminent danger threatening the nation’s institutions or the security or independence of the country, and hampering the normal functioning of the state.” The article allows the president to “take any measures necessitated by the exceptional circumstances,” but only after consultation with the prime minister and speaker of parliament.

Early Monday morning, the military blocked Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, the head of Ennahda, from entering parliament after he said he would call a session in defiance of Saied. The military also took control of the country’s state-run television station. In addition to Ennahda, two of the other main parties in parliament, Heart of Tunisia and Karama, accused Saied of staging a coup. Mechichi, the ousted prime minister, had not responded to his sacking on Sunday night and his whereabouts are unknown.

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