Tunisia's President Saied names a new interior minister under increasing international and domestic pressure to form a new government after his power grab on Sunday.

Tunisia's President Kais Saied, centre, leads a security meeting with members of the army and police forces in Tunis on July 25, 2021. The president suspended the legislature and fired the prime minister following protests over economic troubles and Covid-19 crisis response.
Tunisia's President Kais Saied, centre, leads a security meeting with members of the army and police forces in Tunis on July 25, 2021. The president suspended the legislature and fired the prime minister following protests over economic troubles and Covid-19 crisis response. (Slim Abid / AP)

Tunisia's President Kais Saied has appointed a former national security adviser as interior minister days after he suspended parliament and sacked the prime minister in a move his opponents labelled a "coup".

The new appointee, Ridha Gharsallaoui, is also a top-ranking former police official, local media reported. 

The presidency announced his nomination on Thursday just as Saied, who has spoken of "imminent dangers" to the North African country, came under increasing international and domestic pressure to form a new government.

Tunisians are waiting for the appointment of a new prime minister and the announcement of a road map out of the crisis. 

After months of political deadlocks, Saied, whose presidential duties are normally limited to diplomacy and security, seized power by invoking the constitution.

The move was denounced as a "coup d'etat" by Ennahda, his main opponent.

READ MORE: Will Tunisia’s economic pain be eased after Saied’s power grab?

US urges return to democratic path

While the president's actions fuelled political turmoil, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday that Saied had promised him he was committed to democracy.

But Blinken also urged action, including the restoration of parliament, which the Tunisian president suspended on Sunday for 30 days as he seized all executive powers.

"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 said during an interview with Al Jazeera, of a conversation with Saied earlier this week.

"But of course, we have to look at the actions that the president takes, that Tunisia takes," he said.

As the birthplace of the Arab Spring, Tunisia was often cited as the only example of democratic success after the 2011 protest wave. 

But the country has not been able to achieve political and economic stability since then, as more than 10 governments have taken office in the country in the last 10 years. 

The revolution failed to meet its promises such as employment opportunities, and the economic situation for ordinary Tunisians became more dire due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Tunisians are have grown infuriated by protracted political deadlock with infighting among the elite and took to the streets in mass protests during Republic Day on July 25.

'Those who plunder public money'

During a meeting with a leader of the employers' federation UTICA, Saied slammed "bad economic choices" made in recent years.

In comments late on Wednesday, the president singled out for criticism "those who plunder public money".

Saied accused 460 businessmen of owing $4.9 billion (13.5 billion dinars) to the state, citing the findings of a commission of inquiry into graft under former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

"This money must be returned to the Tunisian people," he said, adding that he intends to offer the businessmen "judicial arbitration".

In exchange for dropping proceedings, the reimbursed money would be injected into less developed parts of Tunisia.

Saied also asked traders and wholesalers to "lower prices" in a crisis-hit economy where soaring inflation has eaten away at the purchasing power of consumers.

He also called for a revival of phosphate production, one of the country's few natural resources.

Saied raised suspicions of corruption that surround the industry, referring to "people in parliament who protect themselves with parliamentary immunity".

Prosecutors have already opened an investigation into political parties suspected of receiving foreign funds for campaigning in 2019 elections.

The probe targets the religious Ennahdha party, which has been part of all coalitions since the 2011 revolution, as well as its liberal ally Heart of Tunisia and the Aich Tounsi movement.

Mismanagement of Covid-19 pandemic 

Saied, an austere legal academic who won office in 2019 thanks to his virulent criticism of political parties, had been well-known for his stance against corruption.

In January, he blocked a cabinet reshuffle by prime minister Hichem Mechichi, whom he sacked on Sunday, citing suspected conflicts of interest and corruption by some ministers.

On Wednesday evening, the president also announced the establishment of a crisis unit to manage surging Covid-19 cases.

Tunisia, with a population of around 12 million people, has one of the worst Covid-19 death rates in the world, with 19,000 fatalities linked to the coronavirus.

READ MORE:Emirati media rejoices as Tunisia's democracy comes under threat

Source: TRTWorld and agencies