Mockery and criticism follow Tunisia's Saied speech decrying 'return of coups' to Africa

Mockery and criticism follow Tunisia's Saied speech decrying 'return of coups' to Africa
Saied's statements triggered widespread criticism and mockery, considering that he came to power last year in a way that many consider was a coup against the country's democracy.
2 min read
01 September, 2022
"Why all those continuous coups that returned again in a number of countries. (…) We should all give the answers with all courage," said Kais Saied. [Getty]

Tunisia's president Kais Saied, who seized all extraordinary powers in the country last year, criticised "the return of coups" in the African continent during the Japanese-African conference held last week in Tunisia. 

"Why have all those continuous coups returned again in several countries? (…) We should all give the answers with total courage," said Kais Saied as he addressed his African counterparts at the TICAD conference.

Saied's statements triggered criticism and mockery since he came into power last year in a way that was widely considered a coup against the country's democracy.

"Let him look into a mirror," "how could he keep a straight face," and many similar tweets were posted on social media about Saied's "anti-coup statements".

From the 1960s to the 1970s, Africa recorded a coup attempt every 55 days and over 90 per cent of African states have experienced a coup.

West Africa's latest successful coup, in Burkina Faso on 24 January 2022, renewed unease about coups "returning" while democracies are "dying" in Africa. 

At the TICAD conference, Saied tried to distance himself from the "putschists' legacy".

Last year, President Saied froze the parliament, dismissed the government and announced he will rule by decree.

Saied, a former constitutional law professor, legitimised his move by invoking article 80 of the 2014 constitution, which authorises the president to take "any measures necessary" in case of "imminent threat jeopardising the nation and the country's security and independence."

However, his opponents stress that his power grab was a coup that threatened democracy and freedom in the land in which the Arab uprisings of 2011 began.

In July, Tunisia passed a controversial constitution that gives Saied unchecked powers.

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Voter turnout for the referendum was low, with the electoral commission putting it at 30.5 per cent. Opposition groups who boycotted the referendum said turnout was likely even lower.

Washington's officials have accused Saied's constitution of undermining the country's democratic institutions, saying that the "dream of self-government was in danger."

"Across Africa, those who support democracy and freedom and the rule of law are battling the forces of autocracy, chaos and corruption," said US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin at a US Africa Command ceremony last month.

"We can feel those headwinds in Tunisia, where people inspired the world with their demands for democracy," he added.

Under Saied's rule, the Tunisian state has started showing little tolerance for anti-Saied protests, press interviews and jokes, with opponents warning of the country is "moon-walking" toward the pre-revolution era.