Ad portas of the constitutional referendum promoted by President Kaïs Said, which will be held on Monday, July 25, hundreds of people marched this Saturday in Tunisia against the constitutional reform proposed by the president, which would grant him more powers and eliminate the tools of counterweight and control to the Government. The protesters consider the reform illegal. In parallel, this Saturday also ends the diminished electoral campaign for the vote.
“Stop the coup!”, “Stop the autocratic government!”, shouted the hundreds of demonstrators gathered on Habib Bourguiba avenue, the main street in the center of Tunis.
On Monday, July 25, the constitutional referendum promoted by the Tunisian president, Kaïs Said, is scheduled to be held, seeking the approval of a reform of the Magna Carta that would grant him exceptional powers, in addition to throwing down the control mechanisms to the Executive.
Saturday’s protests were called by the opposition coalition, which includes the activist group Citizens Against the Coup and Ennahda, the leading Islamist opposition party.
Although this Saturday no violent acts were reported, during the marches that took place on Friday night in front of the Municipal Theater, led by civil society groups and smaller political groups, disturbances with batons and pepper spray were reported by the Police, who arrested at least nine people.
Despite the fact that the rejection of the referendum and the new constitutional reform proposal is substantial, the fractures between the opposition and civil organizations have put a damper on the unification of a discourse that brings together all sensitivities and mobilizes protests under the same pretext.
This Saturday the electoral campaign also ends with the participation of 46 parties, which mostly asked for the vote in favor of the text, unlike the opposition, which has chosen not to campaign so as not to “legitimize” the referendum and calls for abstention massive.
A controversial reform
Kaïs Said, who has governed since July 2021 by decree, presented on the night of June 30 a constitutional reform project which, according to the bulletin, would allow him to present bills and be solely responsible for proposing treaties and drafting budgets. of the State.
Barely 10 days later, after enormous popular and opposition rejection, he presented a new text with minor modifications and asserted that “to err is human, but fortunately there is the possibility of correcting and revising.” However, the corrections did not convince either.
Then, the president proposed to reform religion: in the Magna Carta of 2014, the one he intends to change, it is established in its first article that “Tunisia is a free, independent and sovereign State, Islam is its religion, Arabic its language and the Republic its regime”.
In his proposal, Said does not speak of religion until the fifth article and his proposal is that “Tunisia forms part of the Islamic Ummah” and the State is “the only one that must work to achieve the objectives of Islam while preserving the soul and honor ”.
The ummah is the term used in the Koran to designate the Muslim community. If the modification is approved, the country would approach a secular position unprecedented in Arab countries, in practice it is very difficult to carry it out.
The Tunisian opposition is led by the Islamist Ennahda party, which won the last elections and has the support of Turkey and Qatar. The modification about what place Islam occupies, the majority confession in the country, is a controversial point to be discussed.
“The Tunisian people will deal a heavy blow to Said on the day of the illegal referendum and show him that they are not interested in his populist path,” said Nejib Chebbi, the head of the anti-referendum coalition.
Said’s movement is, for his political enemies, the definitive step towards an ultra-presidential Executive, in line with what happened a year ago, when the president decreed a state of emergency, relegated the prime minister, dissolved the elected Parliament and put an end to any option of legislative debate, a fact that the opposition classified as a coup d’état.
However, those measures against the Legislative took place after years of political and economic paralysis, so at first they were seen with good eyes.
But now, after the president’s authoritarian drift and a erosion of his political project, the signs of public enthusiasm for the referendum are quite limited.
The first referendum in the history of Tunisia
The choice of the date of July 25 for the referendum is not trivial. That day marks the 65th anniversary of the proclamation of the Tunisian Republic as well as the first anniversary since Said rebelled against the powers of the State.
This Saturday the polls have already opened in embassies and consulates abroad, where nearly 350,000 Tunisians are called to vote.
On Monday, between foreign and local residents, more than 9.2 million citizens are entitled to express with their vote, in the first referendum in the country’s history, if they want to change the 2014 Constitution, approved by consensus after the revolution of 2011 that ended with the fall of the dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.
With Reuters, EFE and international media