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International round-up: Democracy under threat in Tunisia after coup

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President Kais Saied is manoeuvring for total power after his takeover last month, explains Nick Clark
Issue 2767
President Saied has arrested his political opponents
President Saied has arrested his political opponents (Pic: Wikicommons)

Tunisia’s president Kais Saied has launched a wave of arrests against his political opponents after launching a coup last month.

The coup—backed by the army and the police—is an assault on the democratic gains of the Tunisian revolution of 2010, which sparked the Arab Spring.

Authorities arrested Tunisia’s interior minister Anouar Maarouf of the Islamist Ennahda party last Friday and placed him under house arrest.

Several other politicians and ­officials have also been arrested or told they are under investigation.


Meanwhile, Saied is moving to take direct control of more government departments by replacing ministers with people loyal to him.

It comes after Saied sacked the prime minister Hichem Mechichi, the speaker of parliament and Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi, and suspended parliament.

Saied encouraged popular ­support for his coup by dressing it up as a challenge to government corruption and a failed ­parliamentary system.

Many ordinary people in Tunisia are angry at the government for betraying the revolution.

The revolution that overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2010 was driven by anger over ­poverty and unemployment.

But the governments that ­followed responded to a financial crisis with austerity and privatisation measures in return for loans from the International Monetary Fund.

Now living standards are worse for many Tunisians. Unemployment is at 18 percent—rising to 36 ­percent among young people.

What’s behind the turmoil in Tunisia?
What’s behind the turmoil in Tunisia?
  Read More

Several left wing parties in Tunisia supported Saied’s coup, as did the major UGTT union, which hopes its officials will be able to influence his government.

Yet Saied has openly stated he wants to do away with political ­parties in government entirely. He once told an interviewer that political parties are “destined to become extinct. Their era is over.

“Their death may take some time, but surely in a few years their role will end.”

Saied also told the same ­interviewer he wanted to clamp down on civil society organisations, presumably including trade unions.

“I have a project aimed at ending support for all societies, whether from within Tunisia or from outside because they are used as a means for interfering in our affairs,” he said.

Saied’s real hope is that doing away with parliamentary democracy will end the political crisis for Tunisia’s ruling class. That’s why he was supported by the army and police.

But his biggest problem is that he has less support from other states including the US, which has called on him to reinstate parliament.

The US is happy to support ­dictatorships, but is worried that the coup will upset its allies such as Turkey, which backs Ennahda.

Turkey and another US ally, Egypt—which backs Saied—are competing for influence and ­control over the eastern Mediterranean. This worries the US.

Yet Saied has said there is “no turning back” from his decision to shut down parliament.

Castillo makes concessions to right wing in Peru

Peru’s new leftist president Pedro Castillo faces intense pressure from the right. But he has responded by making concessions to his corporate opponents.

The right is taking to the streets against Castillo. They have already organised two marches in the capital, Lima, calling for his impeachment.

And bankers and financiers continue to batter the value of the country’s currency.

Such people believe Castillo could spark demands for a broader class movement against the elite.

Peru—a radical history of resistance
Peru—a radical history of resistance
  Read More

“We are not Chavistas, we are not communists, we are not extremists,” Castillo said shortly before being sworn in on 28 July.

Instead of appealing to the mobilisation of workers, peasants and the poor, he has made more moves rightwards.

One of his first acts as president was to send prime minister Guido Bellido to the province of Chumbivilcas. This was in an effort to end a major strike against the Chinese mining consortium MMG Las Bambas.

It led to the strike being suspended with no real gains.

Anglo American mining corporation’s chief executive Mark Cutifani said his company’s interactions with Castillo had been “pretty positive.”

The US ambassador has also congratulated Castillo on his election. The strategy of compromise will be disastrous for those who hoped that Castillo would bring change.

China’s race to distribute vaccines is ‘soft power’

The Chinese state made a big push last week to become the leading supplier of vaccines to the world’s poorest countries.

Leader Xi Jinping said the country would provide two billion Covid vaccine doses and donate £72 million to the Covax global vaccine fund.

The push comes as rivalry between the US and China reaches new heights.

Both powers are anxious to win over poorer nations and prevent them falling into their rivals hands.

Is there a ‘new cold war’ between the US and China?
Is there a ‘new cold war’ between the US and China?
  Read More

The US is already fearful that China is using its economic power to build influence in Asia and Africa.

China hopes that by offering vaccines it will open up new territory for Chinese investment and the chance to exploit local mineral resources.

The US now has some serious catching up to do if it wants to be the world’s main vaccine supplier.

It has sent just 110 million vaccine doses abroad and purchased another 500 million vials of the Pfizer vaccine to be distributed through Covax.

However, the world remains short of the 11 billion doses the World Health Organisation says must be distributed globally to bring the pandemic under control.

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