Kais Saied’s cryptic messages highlight mounting tensions

The Tunisian president has multiplied his warnings seemingly in the direction of Ennahda over the past few days.
Thursday 23/07/2020
A December 2019 file picture shows President Kais Saied speaking to a crowd in the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid where he already warned of “plots” facing the country. (AFP)
A December 2019 file picture shows President Kais Saied speaking to a crowd in the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid where he already warned of “plots” facing the country. (AFP)

TUNIS – Addressing members of the security and military forces, Tunisian President Kais Saied seemed to be sending cryptic messages to political actors inside and outside the country. The president used particularly forceful terms more akin to military statements and included strong references that reflected the size of the challenges facing the country as a result of the stances of the Islamist Ennahda party. The Islamist party’s increasing political isolation has led it to attempts to shuffle the cards and alter balances of the political scene in the country to suit its narrow partisan agenda.

The president has remarkably multiplied his warnings seemingly in the direction of Ennahda over the past few days, but the timing and place of his latest messages gave them an additional dimension that reinforced prevailing fears that the political crisis in the country has reached dangerous levels threatening to generate violence.

Warning signs can be seen in the polarised and sharp political interactions resulting from the explosive crises on the governmental and parliamentary tracks, which have overflowed onto the street.

Saied chose to make his statements from the barracks of the Tunisian army’s special forces and the headquarters of the interior ministry. He began by emphasising that the presidency of the republic “is not a vacant seat,” and that the head of the state was doing his utmost to impose the law. He said that the constitution provided legal means for the president to ensure the continuity of the state, and that he “will not hesitate to resort to them to preserve the state and its institutions.”

In this context, he expressed his full confidence in the country’s military institution to address what he described as “conspiracies being hatched abroad.” The Tunisian presidency quoted Saied as confirming (during a night visit of the Special Forces Corps in the area of Menzel Jamil in the governorate of Bizerte), that the country’s military forces are “ready at all times and everywhere to strike with force against anyone who encroaches on the Tunisian state or even thinks of attacking its legitimacy.”

“I have full confidence in the military institution to confront the conspiracies being hatched abroad, and those who want to conspire with the outside against the Tunisian state,” Saied said, stressing that those who think about transgressing legitimacy or deviating from it “will collide head-on with a wall that will break them and their daydreams.”

The Tunisian president did not clarify who these conspirators were, but indicated during his visit to the interior ministry’s headquarters in Tunis that he “knows very well the facts and details of what they are doing, and knows well what they are seeking to achieve, and the chaos they are seeking to push the country into.”

Saied stressed that he “will never accept that Tunisia be a hotbed for terrorists,” nor will he “tolerate the existence of agents who conspire with the outside to create conditions where legitimacy will be trampled.”

“A mere bullet will be met with a hail of bullets […], and whoever among Tunisians conspires against Tunisia has no place in the country and will bear the responsibility of his acts before God and the people,” he added.

Addressing the security cadres during his visit to the headquarters of the interior ministry, Saied said that “there are a number of data, news and arrangements, and you are familiar with its evidence and goals, as well as the goals of some parties,” but all of these plots “will shatter on the walls of the army and security men.”

The president’s warnings open the gate to many conjectures that are not isolated from the hysterical reactions emanating from some political forces in Tunisia, especially Ennahda, which has recently intensified its political escalation.

In his statements, the president referred to “narrow political agendas” and said that “no one has the right to trade with the poverty and social conditions of citizens by fuelling the protests taking place.”

Many political forces and parties accuse Ennahda, led by Rached Ghannouchi, of being behind escalating tensions in the political scene in its attempts to break its political isolation. MP Abir Moussi, head of the Free Destourian Party (PDL), went as far as to accuse Ennahda of being part of the Muslim Brotherhood and of planning to plunge the country into a sterile and dangerous conflict about legitimacy.

During a press conference held Wednesday inside the parliament’s headquarters, Moussi warned against the danger of the scenario of “a parliament’s prime minister” that Ennahda was pursuing. She said that this strategy would lead to a conflict over legitimacy, similar to the one happening in Libya right now, thus dragging the country into what she described as “duplication of governments and a situation of illegitimacy.”

Moussi put the blame for this dangerous approach on the shoulders of those she called “the Brothers,” in other words the Islamists of Ennahda. She also said that the country “is now hanging in the balance and is being run by engaging in the game of pressure cards and dangerous manoeuvres.”

Moussi also emphasised that the continuation of Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi as parliament speaker is a threat to national security, as parliament under his “reign” has become “an incubator of terrorism and violence, and serves as the operations control room (for the Islamists) from which relations with terrorists and those returning from hotbeds of tension are managed.”

For his part, MP Noureddine Bhiri, head of Ennahdha’s bloc in the parliament, accused Moussi and her party’s MPs of paving the way for external forces to overthrow the “elected Tunisian state.”

Observers believe that the tense political atmosphere in Tunisia is conflicting calculations and the resentment by Ennahda of the stalling of its Islamist project. Secularist forces are advocating, in particular, for a clearer and a less wavering attitude towards this project.