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Tunisia's President Has Dismissed The Prime Minister And Frozen Parliament

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Tunisia's president has dismissed the prime minister and frozen the country's parliament. This comes following mass violent protests yesterday over the government's COVID response and the country's long economic crisis. For more on what's been happening there, we've reached Layli Foroudi, a journalist based in Tunis, the capital. Layli, welcome to the program.

LAYLI FOROUDI: Hi, Sarah. Thank you for having me.

MCCAMMON: So if you would, tell us about the political situation there in Tunis at the moment. What's led to this?

FOROUDI: So basically, what happened was that yesterday, the president, Kais Saied, froze the activities of the parliament, and he dismissed the prime minister. So then he took both the executive and legislative powers, both for himself, which means that power is now very centralized. He said that he was doing this constitutionally. He invoked an article of the constitution that says when there's a situation of crisis in the country, when the country is under threat that the president is allowed to take such exceptional measures. We have seen, like, very mixed responses to the situation. The immediate response that we saw on the street was a lot of joy. People were kind of honking their horns, cheering. And I think this is just kind of a sign of how unpopular the government, the political parties that were in the parliament and the prime minister were among people generally.

MCCAMMON: So people are supportive of this move by the president to essentially grab power, take power from the legislature.

FOROUDI: I think that there's a lot of support for it. There is also fear at the same time. So, I mean, even among the people who dislike the current government, they're also fearful about what's coming next, that yeah, this kind of - this president has taken power like that in an undemocratic way. And they don't know where this is going to lead. And I think there are a lot of people that are concerned about, is this a threat to the Tunisian democracy? I mean, the - right now, the parliament - the parties are not allowed inside. The army is inside. I'm actually right now looking through the gates onto the grounds of the parliament. And there are just security forces walking in there. And so we saw today there were also people that had come to just express that they didn't support this way of dealing with the catastrophic situation, the crisis that Tunisia is experiencing.

MCCAMMON: And briefly, what more can you tell us about the president himself, Kais Saied?

FOROUDI: Kais Saied was elected in 2019. And he came in as - he was a political newcomer. Like, he didn't have a political party nor a political machine. But he had a huge groundswell of support from people, especially the youth. And he won the second round with over 70% of the vote. And this was without any sort of institutional backing because at that time, there was really this general disgust with the political elites, with the existing parties. So he came in on this kind of newcomer card that he wasn't part of that class, that he also was seen as someone who's very honest and not corrupt, which is how people viewed the other politicians. But he came in without a program, actually. So he didn't kind of sell a political program. He was just voted on this as this good person who people thought was going to be something good and something different. And so now that's what some people are saying - like, well, we don't know what this guy's program is. So he's now taken all the power. And we don't know where that's going to lead.

MCCAMMON: Layli Foroudi - she's a journalist based in Tunisia's capital, Tunis. Thanks so much.

FOROUDI: Thanks a lot, Sarah.

(SOUNDBITE OF AK AND SUBLAB'S "ISOLATED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.