With each step he takes, Kais Saied wanders further astray. To rectify his trajectory, he has taken the most convoluted paths that have only drawn him nearer to complete isolation. Whether acting alone (as is generally the case) or in poor company, Saied is inclined to take decisions that are becoming increasingly subjective. What he knows are constitutions. That’s it. It’s what he has always taught. And this is precisely what he’s going to deliver. His prophetic perception of teachers, reflected in the Arab poetry that he loves so well, is fuel for the sacred mission that he has made his own. Indeed, Saied has clung so fervently to the divine nature of this mission that he has lost his bearings, believing himself capable of creating his own Qibla. To each prophet his message. President Saied’s is this draft of the Constitution.
Ugly duckling to spiteful lone wolf
He began preaching its content in 2011, developed it in 2012, perfected it between 2013-2014 and has repeated it thousands of times since. His colleagues, political officials and other elected members of government have often turned their backs on him. This is true even in spite of his frequent appearances on the 8 o’clock news. But isolation inevitably means subjectivization. As such, the political regime, voting system, state institutions, have all become a matter of personal concern for this president. A question of revenge for a retired professor who never climbed high on the social ladder, who never really got to know his teaching cohort, never mastered their social codes or assimilated into their associative dynamics. Nevertheless, Kaies Saied is not an outsider. Rather, he is the ugly duckling radicalized, forced to become a black sheep, and finally, to assume the form of a lone wolf.
The invincible Mr. President
The result of this transformation? A constitutional draft imposing a presidential regime in which the chief of state disposes of jupitarian authority. It is the president who designates government. Under a new bicameral system, the legislative branch is to be divided into two assemblies: the council of regions and the assembly of the representatives of the people. The first is elected, the second is not. Or at least this much is not specified in the draft published in Tunisia’s national gazette (JORT) on June 30. According to the draft, it would be nearly impossible to overturn any government designated by His Majesty, since doing so would require a two-thirds majority of both assemblies. As per Saied’s constitution, the president—unlike deputies—is invincible, irrevocable. There would be no checks on the executive branch of government, not even by the Constitutional Court, whose members are to be appointed by His Holiness.
Arbitrary power, forever and always
As for rights and liberties? They shall be at the mercy of the whims of the executive, dependent as they are to be on « good morals », « national security » and other such factors. The president is thus free will. The contents and style of the preamble confirm as much. A simple dissertation which promotes Saied’s role as the author of historical moments and savior of the people and of the revolution, written in the same style as his speeches and with the same wording.
Deviation from popular will
In the meantime, Saied continues to exploit a popular slogan of the revolution, using an amputated version, « The people want… », instead of « The people want the fall of the regime ». Yes, the regime is still in place, and oh, how thick its skin.
Neither the voting method, nor constitutional articles, can dismantle it. Its pillars are corruption and repression. For corrupted officials, Saied offered criminal reconciliation. Oppressors received a slight tap on the shoulder. In contrast, aside from a handful of constitutional magic tricks up his sleeve, Saied has relied on pure muscle—that embodied by the police baton, to be exact—in order to keep social dissidents in check. Having deviated from popular will, dignity and social justice, the former professor is ever at the ready to justify his alternative route using elitist legal arguments.
What President Saied hasn’t been able to grasp is that the celebrations of his power grab on July 25, much like the 2.7 million voters in the second round of elections who landed him at the palace in Carthage, are not concerned with constitutional articles. On the contrary, they are weary of these debates, which are seen as inopportune. Voters do not have any scores to settle with law professors. They want more dignity and equality. With inflation soaring—7.8% in May 2022—they simply want to be able to put food on the table. And thanks to conditions attached to the country’s loan facilities, the erosion of Tunisians’ purchasing power will inevitably accelerate the rate at which grain, basic food goods and fuel prices are increasing. The IMF, World Bank, European Union, United States and other debtors look on, waiting to collect their dues. Unemployment is at 16.1%. The commercial balance deficit is 2,157.5 million dinars. Hope has fallen somewhere close to zero. The hundreds of migrants who are setting sail for Italy are proof of this, as is the drain of doctors, engineers and other professionals, young and not so young. All of them are following the same directive: abandon ship.