Tunisia’s Democrats Aren’t Buying Saied’s Roadmap to Elections

Tunisia’s Democrats Aren’t Buying Saied’s Roadmap to Elections
Tunisians demonstrate against Tunisian President Kais Saied in Tunis, Tunisia, Oct. 10, 2021 (AP photo by Hassene Dridi).

Tunisian President Kais Saied announced a timeline for a new constitutional referendum Monday, to be followed by elections to restore the parliament he disbanded in July. But the plan remains silent on the question of who will draft the new constitution, and Saied’s announcement suggests that the country will remain without an elected legislature for at least another year.

Saied said in a televised speech that there would be three months of vaguely defined consultations before the constitutional referendum, which is to be held next year on July 25—the one-year anniversary of his seizure of power. Tunisians would then go to the polls in December to elect a new parliament. “We will never go back to what came before,” Saied said.

Growing opposition to Saied’s power grab, however, suggests that Tunisians aren’t going to passively accept the end of their experiment with democracy—perhaps a harbinger of obstacles lying ahead for the despots across the Middle East and North Africa. Authoritarians in the region have proven exceptionally resilient, largely pushing back the wave of popular revolts that shook the regional order beginning in 2010 and 2011. But rulers who restore authoritarianism without addressing the deficit in rights and governance that their publics want will find themselves facing the same challenges that rattled and, in some cases, unseated so many of their predecessors.

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