TUNIS – Tunisia’s crisis has thrown the fate of Muslim Brotherhood linked Ennahda Islamist party into the balance after President Kais Saied’s decision to dismiss the premier and suspend parliament.
Saied said his takeover is permitted under the constitution to avert disorder caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and political dysfunction and said parliament will be frozen only for 30 days.
“If we’re in this situation, it’s because of the political parties who only think about themselves,” said Adel Ben Trad, a butcher in the capital’s Bab El-Falla souk known for its low prices.
“In 10 years, we must have lost half of our customers,” he said, explaining that many shoppers now desperately haggle or ask for credit because they can no longer afford his rib steaks and lamb chops.
“All prices have gone up, but wages have not,” said the 52-year-old butcher, who admitted that he too struggles to survive on his income of 600 dinars (180 euros) a month.
Given the dire situation, he said he fully supports the president’s power grab.
Tunisia’s 2011 revolution famously started when the young fruit and vegetable seller Mohammed Bouazizi, after an official denied him a permit and slapped him, set himself on fire in a desperate act of rage.
Tunisia’s economy last year contracted by more than eight percent as the COVID-19 pandemic battered the crucial tourism sector.
The dinar currency has plunged by about 50 percent over a decade, and debt has reached 100 percent of GDP, compared with 45 percent in 2010.
Tunis is seeking a fourth loan in 10 years from the International Monetary Fund, and some fear the state will default, like Lebanon has.
The pandemic has flared, sending cases and deaths surging and sparking chaos and stampedes at vaccination centres.
Amid the sense of chaos, which has sparked angry street protests, many point the finger at what they say is politicians’ chronic nepotism and corruption.
Saied, addressing some of the public’s concerns, declared a graft crackdown late Wednesday and accused 460 businessmen of embezzlement, while also urging traders and wholesalers to “lower prices”.
In the Tunis market, Haykel Mosbahi accused the Islamist-inspired party Ennahdha (the Tunisian arm of Muslim Brotherhood), which has been a member of every government for the past 10 years, of being “most responsible for this crisis”.
Mosbahi, 40, said he lost his job as a civil engineer in a construction company during the 2011 revolution and has never found an equivalent position since.
The father of three now works as a security guard, at about one third of his previous salary.
“I used to be able to buy new clothes,” he said bitterly as he rummaged through bins of second-hand T-shirts.
“But job offers are only for Ennahdha’s supporters. Without the right phone call, you are never a priority.”
He too voiced hope that President Saied “will finally get us out of here”.