Tunisia: Coup d’état by President Kais Saied is frontal challenge to U.S. and democrac advocates

August 24, 2021


Ricard González (Túnes), “El presidente de Túnez prolonga indefinidamente sus plenos poderes; La decisión llega un mes después de la destitución del primer ministro y la suspensión de la actividad del Parlamento del país magrebí,” El País, el 25 de Agosto 2021 (12:15 a.m. CET).

Original article


1) Shadi Hamid, “Tunisia, democracy, and the return of American hypocrisy,” Brookings, August 3, 21021;

originally published in The Atlantic, July 30, 2021.

2) Sarah E. Yerkes, “The Tunisia Model in Crisis; The President’s Power Grab Risks an Authoritarian Regression,” Foreign Affairs, August 6, 2021;

3) Ricard González (Túnez), “El presidente de Túnez asume plenos poderes en medio de las protestas y abre una crisis constitucional; El dirigente depone al primer ministro y suspende un mes la actividad en el Parlamento, mientras la oposición habla de golpe de Estado,” El País, 26 de julio 2021 (1:47 a.m. CEST)

4) Ricard González (Túnez),”La crisis constitucional de Túnez entra en punto muerto; El presidente Said se resiste a nombrar a otro primer ministro y a aclarar su hoja de ruta para el país,” El País, 05 ago 2021 (14:52 CEST).

5) Lilia Blaise (Tunis), “En Tunisie, le président Saïed soigne ses militaires; Elu à la présidence en 2019, Kaïs Saïed essaie de s’appuyer sur l’armée, qui entretient des relations distantes avec le pouvoir depuis sa création en 1956,”Le Monde, le 5 Août 2021 (à 10h27, mis à 18h07).

In Tunisia, the cradle of the Arab Spring of 2011, where democracy has until recently survived, President Kais Saied seized all powers on July 25, 2021, in what amounted to a coup d’état.

Applying a distorted interpretation of Article 80 of the Constitution, and without complying with its requirements, he dismissed the prime minister, fired the minister of the interior, dissolved the parliament, and arrested several deputies. For the moment, the coup appears to be popular wmong the people, especially the young, who in the midst of a raging Covid-19 pandemic, seem to have lost faith in democracy, placing, or misplacing, their hopes in a new strongman.

The reaction of the United States and other countries which provide foreign assistance to Tunisia has been mild. Shadi Hamid, above, points oout that the United States appears to have adopted again a hpocritical posture of giving lip service to the goals of democracy, while doing nothing effective to defend it in countries like Tunisia.

The game, however, is not yet over. It is conceivable that strong pressues by the United States and other countries and the IMF which provide financial assistance to Tunisia might persuade Saied to pull back from the brink, and to allow matters to return to normal after the initial 30 days of the emergency powers decree under Article 8o expire. Shadi Hamid suggests, however, that observers should not hold their breaths waiting for President Biden to undertake bold action in defense of Tunisian democracy. Human rights grouups and NGO’s, on the other hand, have spoken out strongly against Saied ‘s seizure of power.

This is one important situation where strong leadership by the United States could help to preserve Tunisian democracy, and hopes for democracy in the Arab world. The challenge to democratic values is strong, particularly when the population appears to support or to be acquiescing in the seizure of power by Saied.

These developments seem to represent a classic scenario for the birth of a new authoritarian regime. In January 1933, Adolf Hitler was popular among many, particularly those who had lost faith in democracy, while others acquiesced in Hitler’s rise to power. Things did not work out very well for them, or Germany, or the world.

Biden faces a frontal challenge to democracy in Tunis, where strong leadership could make a difference.

Will he step up to the plate?

The Trenxhant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.