Tunisian presidential candidate drops ‘coup’ bombshell

Defence Minister Abdelkrim Zbidi said he put the army on high alert to prevent a possible "parliamentary coup."
Saturday 07/09/2019
Tunisian Defence Minister and presidential contender Abdelkrim Zbidi. (AFP)
Tunisian Defence Minister and presidential contender Abdelkrim Zbidi. (AFP)

TUNIS - Outgoing Tunisian Defence Minister and presidential hopeful Abdelkrim Zbidi revealed in a television interview that he took precautions to block a legislative “coup” after late President Beji Caid Essebsi first became ill in June.

Zbidi, who is a front-runner in Tunisia’s September 15 presidential elections, told Hannibal TV on September 3 that he had been ready to close off the parliament building by force on June 27 — dubbed by Tunisian media as “Black Thursday” — to stop members of parliament from declaring both the president and speaker of the house incapacitated and overseeing a rushed presidential transition.

Zbidi said he put the army on high alert and assured Prime Minister Youssef Chahed “the army would prevent parliament from convening and that there would be no coup, military or legislative.”

“A couple of tanks would have been enough,” Zbidi said, adding that Chahed, who is also a candidate for president, expressed his “1,000%” support.

Tunisia was rocked June 27 by two terror attacks in Tunis at the same time Caid Essebsi was rushed to a hospital in critical condition. Rumours circulated that the president had died but he was only “sedated” at the time, Zbidi said.

The crisis renewed security concerns in the young democracy and raised questions about line of succession in the absence of an approved constitutional court.

Caid Essebsi, 92, recovered from the June health issues but died on July 25. Parliament Speaker Mohamed Ennaceur took over as interim president and presidential elections were moved from November to September 15.

Chahed has not confirmed giving Zbidi authorisation to mobilise the army during the political crisis but the allegations received blowback from politicians and journalists.

Presidential candidate and leader of the Machrou Tounes political party Mohsen Marzouk expressed shock at Zbidi’s claims and called for clarification on events surrounding “Black Thursday.”

“What happened was not a coup,” Marzouk said, “but to send tanks to parliament, this could be understood as a coup.”

Marzouk pointed to earlier calls to open an investigation to understand what occurred. He said the calls went unanswered.

Presidential contender Abdelfattah Mourou, of the Islamist Ennahda Movement, accused Zbidi of making baseless claims to advance his campaign and political agenda.

He said that given the seriousness of the security allegations made by Zbidi, the issue would have to be discussed again after the elections so such allegations would not go unaccounted for.

Tunisian analysts and journalists were also critical of Zbidi’s remarks.

“I’m still in disbelief,” journalist Zied Krichen said. “I wish that what happened was just a dream or, to be more exact, a nightmare. However, it is not. I just hope that Mr Zbidi would apologise or at least declare the allegations to be unintended.”