Soldiers controlled the entrances to the Tunisian parliament.

They did not even let the President of Parliament into the Bardo Palace, where the House of Representatives in Tunis has its seat, and the official seat of the head of government was also cordoned off.

There was tense calm in Tunisia on Monday after President Kaïs Saïed deposed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and took over his duties.

At the same time, he suspended parliament and lifted the immunity of all MPs.

Saïed relied on Article 80 of the Tunisian Constitution, which allows such a step if there is an imminent threat to the security and independence of the state.

He is doing this "to save Tunisia," he said.

Hans-Christian Rößler

Political correspondent for the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb, based in Madrid.

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On Sunday, thousands of Tunisians demonstrated against the government across the country: They protested against their failure in the fight against the economic crisis and the corona pandemic.

The protesters demanded the resignation of the cabinet and the dissolution of parliament.

No sooner had the president done that on Sunday evening than new demonstrations began despite the curfew - this time out of joy.

"Treason of all Tunisians"

Car corsos honking their horns could be seen on television in Tunis. Residents of the capital celebrated the crackdown of their head of state waving flags, while his opponents did not get far. During the night, several MPs tried unsuccessfully to get into parliament, which was surrounded by security forces. On Monday there were fights there again and again. Parliamentary President Rached Ghannouchi, whose Islamist Ennahda party accused the president of a “coup against Tunisian democracy” and “betrayal of all Tunisians”, also waited in front of the building.

"The president seems to meet with broader approval, especially among the middle class," says Johannes Kadura, who heads the office of the SPD-affiliated Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Tunis. Many people would have had enough of the government's pandemic policies and the political blockade in the country. However, Kadura considers the appeal to Article 80 to be dubious. "That is far-fetched," he said in a telephone conversation with the FAZ. Tunisian lawyers are divided on whether the constitutional article is applicable and is sufficient to take such drastic measures. They even went so far on Monday that security forces stormed the office of the Arab broadcaster Al Jazeera in Tunis, confiscated equipment and ordered journalists to leave the premises.

The discontent among the Tunisians had been building up for months.

At the last elections in autumn 2019 it was already evident how frustrated many citizens of the former democratic country of hope were with their parties.

The non-party constitutional lawyer Kaïs Saïed also owed his election victory to this mood.

From the beginning he made it clear that he thought little of the parliamentary system of government.

Instead, he would like to introduce direct popular or grassroots democracy - with a strong president.

The left is divided

Corona has further exacerbated the chronic, severe economic crisis from which more and more young Tunisians are fleeing abroad. The Delta variant hit the eleven million Tunisians with full force. A good fifth of all 550,000 new infections were registered in the first two weeks of July alone. Almost 18,000 people have died in connection with the coronavirus since March 2020. The state health system is on the verge of collapse. The vaccination campaign has not really got off the ground to this day, although the army has also been helping since the beginning of July. Only around five percent of the population has been completely protected so far. For many Tunisians, July 20th brought the barrel to overflowing. The Minister of Health announced that that day during the Islamic Festival of Sacrifice, all citizens over the age of 18Being able to get vaccinated without an appointment: Long queues formed in front of the vaccination centers, there was not enough stock, and chaos broke out. Shortly afterwards the minister had to resign.

On Sunday, the president also dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi. The former interior minister only became head of government last October. A power struggle soon began between him and the head of state, which increasingly paralyzed the country, which is on the verge of financial bankruptcy. On Monday, Kaïs Saïed was able to rely on two strong forces in Tunisia: The security forces were on his side from the start. The influential trade union umbrella organization UGTT, which played an important role in the peaceful revolution in 2011, followed suit on Monday. On Monday, the UGTT Deputy Secretary General described the President's actions as legal and called for political dialogue. On Monday, Saïed also dismissed the defense minister and the justice minister.

The left is divided. The party “Mouvement Echaab” (popular movement) considers the decision to be justified, while the Labor Party and “Attayar” reject it. You accuse the head of state of violating the constitution. The “Qalb Tounes” sees it similarly. The party of media entrepreneur Nabil Karoui is the second largest formation in parliament. The Islamists of Ennahda - the largest party in the country - found it difficult to put themselves at the head of the presidential criticism. During the protests on Sunday, popular anger was also directed at the party that had previously worked with Mechichi and his government. Several Ennahda offices were attacked.