The Arab World’s only democracy is in peril.
Prior to the Arab Spring, there was the Jasmine Revolution. Everyday Tunisians took to the streets to free themselves from over five decades of dictatorship and began a long, deliberate journey towards democracy, emerging as a beacon of hope in the region. Today, Tunisian President Kais Saied is abusing military power to threaten the democracy being carefully built in Tunisia, however it is not too late to right his wrongs and bring back democracy once more.
Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy can and should be vocal about the crisis in Tunisia and call upon the military to take a stand by refusing to enforce the coup.
On December 17, 2010 Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit and vegetable vendor, lit himself on fire outside his local governor’s office after being harassed by municipal officials and denied a hearing with the governor. Tunisians around the world vowed to never forget the lessons learned from Bouazizi, who succumbed to his injuries on January 4, 2011. Among those who fought to move forward is Rached Ghannouchi, the current speaker of Parliament who held a sit-in on July 26 in front of the Parliament building after he and his colleagues were met with army tanks while trying to do their jobs.
This abuse of military power was ordered by President Saied, who sacked Tunisia’s constitutionally elected prime minister and suspension of parliament in a televised speech on July 25. Next, security forces Stormed the Al Jazeera news office in Tunis and removed journalists from their post. Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of any democracy, and this coup, attempted under the guise of “imminent danger” to the nation, threatens a young democracy that was earned by protestors who watched their friends be murdered by the state while protesting for their freedom.
The problems Tunisia is facing are serious; a deadly coronavirus surge without adequate legislative response made a struggling economic situation dire for many Tunisians who became disenchanted with their government. Saied’s response, however, was both opportunistic and a full step in the wrong direction. The Jasmine Revolution began because of a need for economic justice and a government that listened to the people. Returning to authoritarianism will not solve the same problems Tunisians came together to address through democracy and organizing. Only consensus-building and democratic means can do so. It is in no one’s interest to centralize power in such a dangerous, and unfortunately precedential way.
This crisis is in its early days, and if the international community moves with urgency, there is still time to turn things around before Tunisia is ripped from its place as a standard for young democracies. For that to happen, Saied and the Tunisian military must face pressure from leaders around the world to stop their abuse of military power, stop the occupation of the parliament building, and work with members of parliament to address the issues at hand.
As members of the foreign relations committee and armed services committee respectively, Murphy and Blumenthal hold unique and critical positions to aid Tunisians through this crisis. As chairman of the subcommittee On Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, And Counterterrorism, Murphy occupies a seat at the table that he can use to call an end to these abuses before the situation turns violent. Though the foreign relations committee issued a statement that called for an end to this coup, it is clear that more direct action must be taken if the United States hopes to help save the fragile democracy in Tunisia. Senator Murphy will be in Tunisia this weekend and must meet with the Speaker of the Parliament during his trip to discuss the political crisis facing the country.
Mohamed Bouazizi and the other martyrs of the Jasmine Revolution fought for the democracy that their fellow Tunisians were building until this shocking coup. The people of Tunisia deserve the better tomorrow they were promised, and Senators Murphy and Blumenthal have the ability to bring Tunisia back from the brink by speaking publicly and forcefully against the undemocratic means now being assumed by President Saied.
Haddiyyah Ali is the Founder of Abolition Ummah.