Magdi Abdelhadi analyzes the man who is hailed as a savior by his followers and as a usurper of power by his opponents in Tunisia at the same time as the country’s president is asking voters to ratify a new constitution on Monday that grants him greater powers. It is very evident that President Kais Saied Saied views himself as a man of destiny. Even though he has a tendency toward authoritarianism, which is neither new nor unique to Tunisia or the region, his academic credentials and the way he argues set him apart from every other Arab ruler by a wide margin.
The former law professor gives the impression of a guy who weighs his words carefully, with clear concentration and vision, and unbreakable determination, as he delivers his lectures in immaculate classical Arabic, often adlibbing, at a calculated pace. Since he took complete authority in Tunisia a year ago, he has been subjected to increasing levels of criticism both at home and abroad. Nonetheless, he has persisted unabated in his pursuit of the one and only goal he has set for himself. It is possible that this is one of the reasons why many Tunisians find him appealing.
The Arab Spring, which culminated in the ousting of long-time dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, had its origins in Tunisia, which is also the name of the country. However, after more than a decade of political insecurity, with ten governments coming and going and endless squabbles in parliament that at times devolved into violence, many Tunisians have simply grown tired of this “democracy,” which has brought no tangible improvement to their standard of living. Because of this, many Tunisians have grown tired of their “democracy,” which hasn’t really made their lives better in any way.
On the other hand, the economy was on a rapid slide, with all economic indicators going in the wrong direction. This includes an increase in inflation and unemployment, as well as an increase in foreign debt and a dive in the value of the Tunisian dinar. And things became a lot worse when the COVID pandemic broke out, and they got even worse with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the effect it had on the prices of food and electricity.