Tunisia found itself gripped in a political crisis following the decision of President Kais Saied to dismiss the government and freeze the parliament on Sunday.
Other parties such as Ennahda and Karama called the president’s move a coup, launching demonstrations on the streets. Saied announced that he would assume the executive authority with the assistance of the next prime minister which would be the biggest challenge yet to the democratic system Tunisia introduced in a 2011 revolution.
Here's how Saied emerged as a key figure in Tunisian politics.
Saied came to power in 2019 as the country's second elected president since the 2011 revolution. He won 72 percent of the votes. The 63-year-old law professor who is an expert in constitutional law had no prior political experience before being elected.
Previously, amid the worsening political atmosphere in the country, the former law professor refused to vote in any of the parliamentary elections that took place in the country since the 2011 revolution as he argued that the electoral system favoured certain parties.
Following the 2011 revolution that toppled the country’s long-standing ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Saied started to become more visible in the public eye. He often appeared on TV to comment on public affairs - primarily based on the country’s 2014 constitution draft.
In 2012, in an interview, he stated his opposition to the parliamentary system. Although Saied was not against the revolution and supported it, he defended different ideas about which constitution his country should adopt.
"The National Constituent Assembly must bear its historical responsibility and admit before the Tunisian people that it has failed and the powers emanating from it in managing this transitional phase, and accordingly, it must end its legal existence and dissolve itself," he said.
Also in another interview, he said: “The balance of powers is only guaranteed if there also exists genuine pluralism. The constitution of 1959 was not so bad in itself. The problem was the existence of a single or dominant party which gave all powers to the Head of State”.
“What interests us is that there are guarantees to make sure that the next regime represents a complete break with what we lived through before. We think that the debate surrounding the institutional guarantees is more important than that surrounding the type of system. We must give parliament real powers of control over the government, give the opposition an actual position of influence, and plan for the introduction of independent constitutional authorities, in particular a constitutional court,” he added.
Lining up six points on his personal Facebook account in 2013, the law professor again proposed the National Constituent Assembly to dissolve itself and end its legal existence.
During his lightning rise in Tunisian politics, he vowed to fight corruption and to bring social justice. He also said he will respect the social freedoms enshrined in Tunisian law following the 2011 uprising.
In 2013, he again emphasised the importance of making constitutional reforms for a better rule of the country.
“There should always be a reference to the law; the law should detail the way we enjoy our liberties that the constitution has guaranteed. However, the law should not affect the spirit of these liberties. I believe that the members of the NCA are going to amend this law to ensure this principle. All upcoming laws should not affect these rights and freedoms, and no matter how carefully they were crafted, they always need to be reviewed by independent judges from the constitutional court.”
However, Saied’s recent decision to topple the government, according to other political figures in the country, violates the constitution.
As the law professor-turned-president invoked Article 80 of the country’s constitution while announcing his decision to freeze Tunisian parliament and dismiss Prime Minister Hisham Al-Mashishi, his opponents accused him of violating the constitution, as he imposed the exceptional state without complying with what was stated in Article 80.
According to article 80, the president needs to consult the country’s prime minister and the speaker before making such a decision. Besides, according to the same article, the freezing of the parliament cannot be realised as the constitution stipulates that the House of Representatives remain in session continuously throughout the continuation of any exceptional situation.
When he was elected in 2019, Saeid often complained about not having enough powers that would go beyond the military and foreign affairs and allow him to hold the administration accountable to him and the parliament. He has been heavily criticised for holding such views and some of his critics even equate him to Egypt's autocratic president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.
Soon after becoming Tunisia's president, he had a feud with two prime ministers Elyes Fakhfakh and Hichem Mechichi.
As per some sources, Saied used to walk around the old parts of Tunis during the 2011 revolution and discuss politics with his students.
When the North African country was preparing its 2014 democratic constitution, Saied was among the legal advisers who first helped to get it done and then spoke out against the articles in the document.
Although Saeid has expressed his strong support for maintaining social freedoms, his recent move against the parliament was followed by the police's heavy-handedness. The Tunisian police started raiding the offices of media outlets such as Al Jazeera on Monday, forcing the staff members out.