After suspending parliament and sacking the PM, the Tunisian president has fired a broad range of government and state officials, including two ministers, Mechichi's aides, a top military prosecutor and the head of the state TV.

Tunisian police stand guard outside the parliament in Tunis on July 27, 2021.
Tunisian police stand guard outside the parliament in Tunis on July 27, 2021. (AFP)

Tunisia has lurched further into political uncertainty as President Kais Saied dismisses more officials, days after he suspended parliament and assumed executive powers in what opponents labelled a coup.

Key civil society groups warned against any "illegitimate" extension of Saied's 30-day suspension of parliament, and demanded in a joint statement a timeline for political action.

After suspending parliament and sacking Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi on Sunday, and firing the defence and justice ministers on Monday, Saied then ordered the dismissal of more than 20 top officials.

Late Tuesday, 63-year-old Saied, a former law lecturer who was a political newcomer when he won a landslide 2019 presidential election victory, issued decrees sacking a long list of senior government officials, including the army's chief prosecutor.

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In addition, he has lifted the parliamentary immunity of lawmakers and assumed judicial powers.

Saied says his actions are justified under the constitution, which allows the head of state to take unspecified exceptional measures in the event of an "imminent threat".

On top of the political turmoil, the North African nation is beset by a crippling economic crisis including soaring inflation and high unemployment, as well as surging Covid-19 infections.

Dismissals of top government officials

Among those who were dismissed are Prime Ministry Council Director Moez Lidine Allah al Muqaddam and Secretary General of the Government Walid Dhahbi.

All eight senior advisors and aides to Mechichi –– Rashad bin Ramadan, Salim al Tisawi, Mufdi al Masdi, Abdelsalam al Abassi, Zakaria Belkhodja, Elias Ghariani, Oussama Kheriji and Lahssan Benomar –– were also sacked.

Abdul Razzaq al Kilani, head of the General Authority for Martyrs and Wounded People of the Revolution and Terrorist Operations was fired as well.

Saied also sacked Taoufik Ayouni, top prosecutor of the military court.

Another nine officials in the Prime Ministry Council were let go, including Fethi Bayar, Mohamed Ali Alrawi, Hussam Eddine bin Mahmoud, Basma Daoudi, Ibtihal Alatawi, Monji Khadraoui, Nabil Ben Hadid, Bassam El Kchaou and Rawda bin Saleh

State TV head sacked

Saied removed the head of the national television station, Mohamed al Dahach, on Wednesday and appointed a temporary replacement, his office said.

Dahach was removed after an incident on Wednesday afternoon when officials from the journalists' syndicate and human rights league said they were forbidden entry to the station even though they had been invited to appear on a show.

Amira Mohammed, the deputy head of the journalists' syndicate, said Dahach had told her an army commander had ordered him not to allow guests into the building. The army had surrounded the television station on Sunday.

Both Mohammed and the human rights official, Basem Trifi, later managed to appear on the show. 

An adviser to Saied and an army spokesman were also interviewed on the programme and both denied that any order had been given to stop guests from entering.

On Monday police raided the Al Jazeera news bureau in Tunis, prompting the US State Department to say it was troubled by the move and urge "scrupulous respect" for freedom of press.

On Wednesday, a New York Times reporter said she had been detained for two hours in Tunis but was then released and allowed to continue working.

Since its 2011 revolution that introduced democracy, Tunisia has enjoyed far greater press freedoms than any of its neighbours. 

State news agency TAP regularly covers anti-government protests and statements critical of the authorities. 

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'Coup d'etat'

The religious Ennahda party, which was the largest faction in the coalition government, has labelled the power grab a "coup d'etat", while Turkey, the US, EU and other powers have voiced strong concern.

Further ramping up tensions, the Tunisian prosecutor's office announced on Wednesday the judiciary has opened an investigation into allegations that Ennahda and two other political parties received illegal funding ahead of elections in 2019.

Saied, an academic who has said he is determined to revolutionise the political system through changes to the law, said he would assume executive power with the help of a government whose new chief he would appoint himself.

Names of possible candidates circulated Wednesday after Saied met with representatives of national organisations late Monday.

The young democracy had often been cited as the sole success story of the Arab Spring – the series of uprisings that swept the region starting in 2010.

But, a decade on, many in the nation of 12 million people say they have seen little improvement in living standards, and have grown infuriated by protracted political deadlock with infighting among the elite.

The ousted government had also been criticised for its handling of the Covid pandemic. Tunisia has one of the world's highest official per-capita death tolls.

In the 10 years since Tunisia's popular revolution toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has had nine governments.

Some have lasted just months, hindering the reforms needed to revamp the country's struggling economy and poor public services.

READ MORE: Where is Tunisian democracy headed?

Source: TRTWorld and agencies