Tunisians deeply pessimistic amid worsening political, economic crises

Speaker of Parliament Rached Ghannouchi who also heads the Islamist Ennahda Movement, is the least trusted political figure in the country while the popularity of President Kais Saied is on the decline, according to a recent poll.
Sunday 14/02/2021
A Tunisian protester lifts a national flag during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Tunis. (AFP)
A Tunisian protester lifts a national flag during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Tunis. (AFP)

TUNIS–Tunisia’s economic, political and social crises have soured the public mood and deepened the gap between political actors and the public.

A recent opinion poll showed that Speaker of Parliament Rached Ghannouchi who also heads the Islamist Ennahda Movement, is still the least trusted political figure in the country, while the popularity of President Kais Saied is on the decline.

Despite the far-reaching ramifications of the current situation in Tunisia, which is gripped by a raging political struggle between President Said and Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi (who is supported by Ghannouchi), there are questions about the willingness of the political class to address the multi-faceted crisis before it spins out of control, especially after threats by political protagonists to take their battle to the street.

A survey conducted in recent days by the “Sigma Conseil”, a private polling agency, and published by Le Maghreb newspaper on Friday revealed that the level of pessimism among Tunisians has arisen to unprecedented levels with nearly 90 percent of the public believing the country is “going in the wrong direction”.  The poll also reflected growing wariness about the future and the possible repercussions of the current crisis.

The poll reflected a decline of public confidence in President Kais Saied to 39%, compared to 59% last June. He is followed by Ennahda figure and former minister of health Abdellatif Mekki, with 33%.

The leader of the Free Destourian Party, Abir Moussi, ranked fourth, with a confidence rating of 24 %, trailed by independent MP Safi Said.

Among the leaders who lack public trust, Rached Ghannouchi tops the list with 77% of respondents having no confidence in him, just a few notches from former prime minister and Ennahda leading figure, Ali Larayedh at 64%, and former prime minister and head of the Tahya Tounes movement, Youssef Chahed, at 63%, followed by the head of Qalb Tounes party, Nabil Karoui, who remains in jail over corruption charges, at 62%.

Despite the decline of his favourability rating, Kais Saied remains the political figure who enjoys the highest level of trust, in contrast to Rashid Ghannouchi who could not, for months, shake the dubious distinction of being the least trusted political figure in the country.

Ennahda figures are wary about the delicate nature of the current situation, in light of the intense political struggle fueled by conflicting interests and agendas.

“The only solution according to the movement at this stage is to establish dialogue between all political parties and state institutions. We call for consensus and dialogue considering the difficult situation and its major political, social and economic repercussions,” said Ennahda spokesman Fathi el-Ayadi.

Talking to The Arab Weekly, Ayadi added, “It is imperative to search for common ground to address social problems and meet the demands of youth for employment and to address the predicament of the poorer classes. For that, we need a social and political truce.”

“The problem is fundamentally political. What is required is that each party  sticks to its constitutionally-ordained prerogatives and that the political elite shows more humility in looking for a solution. We support the national dialogue proposed by the Tunisian General Labour Union”, he said.

There are conflicting opinions and views among the leaders of Ennahda regarding the manifestations of the crisis and its root causes as country faces a struggle between the two poles of the executive power (the president and the prime minister), while the trade unions believe the crisis has deeply worsened with no light at the end of the tunnel.

“The crisis is acute and has reached its apex, and there are great difficulties finding solutions, unlike the recent period,” Tunisian General Labour Union spokesman, Sami Tahri, told The Arab Weekly.

“The political class has failed to adequately manage public concerns, and its false promises and electoral pledges are now unmasked. Part of the political class has not matured and is tempted by populist discourse. People used to think they were voting for those who fear God, but today it turns out to be exactly the opposite”, Tahri added.

Political figures believe that the possible solutions, despite their scarcity, lie in establishing political and governmental stability and actually starting to deal with the crises, in addition to the two heads of the executive branch making concessions in order to overcome the conflict.

Islah bloc MP, Souhaib el-Wadhan, told The Arab Weekly, that “the succession of political crises has led to a loss of public confidence in the political class, and it is now necessary to think about political and governmental stability.”

Wadhan believes that “the crisis between President Saied and Mechichi requires concessions from both parties” and highlights “the need to uphold the national interest.” He believes the solution lies in forming a mini-cabinet through merger of ministries.

In light of the worsening political crisis and the increasing street tensions, which were reflected by recent protests, the gap is widening between Tunisians and their political class, which they see as incapable of resolving the outstanding issues, including the economic crisis and the stark need for educational reform and upgrading the health services and other sectors.