Blinken says Tunisia leader promised 'democratic path' but urges action
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that Tunisian President Kais Saied promised him that he was committed to democracy but urged action including the restoration of parliament.
Blinken spoke Monday with Saied after the Tunisian leader sacked the government and suspended parliament for 30 days, leading the largest party in the coalition government to accuse him of carrying out a coup in the birthplace of the Arab Spring.
Blinken, asked about the conversation in an interview with Al Jazeera, said that Saied gave a "lengthy explanation" of why he acted.
"The intentions he expressed to me were to return Tunisia to that democratic path and to act in a way that was consistent with the constitution," Blinken told the Qatar-based network on a visit to Kuwait.
"But of course we have to look at the actions that the president takes, that Tunisia takes," he said.
"So our strong hope and expectation is that Tunisia will return to that democratic path, act consistent with the constitution, unfreeze the parliament, have a government in place to do the work of the people, to be responsive to their needs."
The State Department had previously said only that Blinken encouraged Saied to "adhere to the principles of democracy and human rights" without explicitly calling for the return of parliament.
Blinken in the interview reiterated his criticism of curbs on the media, saying that the United States expects Tunisia to "uphold and respect the rights of journalists."
Saied, a political newcomer when he won a landslide presidential election victory in 2019, intervened after mass protests over the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He also dismissed top officials and the head of the national television channel and declared what he calls a crackdown on corruption.
Meanwhile, head of the Islamist Ennadha Party and adviser to Tunisia's parliamentary speaker, Rached Ghannouchi, called for a government of national salvation to prevent the country from descending into turmoil.
Ghannouchi's Ennahda faction is a member of the suspended coalition government and the largest party in the legislature.
His special adviser, Sami Al-Tariqi, issued a statement about Ennahda and the country's path forward The New Arab's Arabic-language sister service, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, reported on Thursday.
He said the Islamist party will work with Saied, acknowledging that the constitutional law professor was voted in by Tunisians.
This is despite the leader of Ennahda accusing the president of conducting "a coup against the constitution" soon after he made his move.
The special adviser also said: "The Tunisian situation is different, it is not like in Egypt or any other country, but it's a Tunisian situation with its own peculiarities, and there is an elected parliament."
He urged every political faction to come together constructively.
Al-Tariqi noted: "What was going on wasn't the way things should be done, and there was hope after the Saied-Ghannouchi meeting that a consensus could be reached".
However, while Ennahda "understands" this situation contributed to what happened, that "of course doesn’t justify the measures the president took".
He acknowledged there are "many challenges facing the country" but said Ennahda is willing to engage with others to rescue the country and establish a government of national salvation.
The special adviser insisted that "the new government must go through parliament's ratification", again emphasising the party's willingness to cooperate with others on this front.
Despite this, he did not indicate whether the party would be back in control of the reins of government.
"Saving the country is the top priority now," he said.