Tunisia’s prime minister ‘beaten up’ in palace before agreeing to resign

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Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi  (Reuters)
Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi (Reuters)

Tunisia’s prime minister was reportedly physically assaulted inside the presidential palace as he was removed from his post by the country’s president Kais Saied.

Hichem Mechichi, and the rest of his government, was dismissed by Mr Saied on Tuesday in what has been described by critics as a coup.

Mr Saied, who also dissolved parliament and announced he would now take control as attorney general, insisted his actions were constitutional and necessary to restore political stability.

However, the Middle East Eye news website has reported Mr Mechichi was summoned to the presidential palace on Tuesday and ordered to stand aside.

When he initially refused, the outlet claims he was beaten up and sustained “significant” injuries.

Middle East Eye’s reporting has not yet been independently verified and the 47-year-old has not been seen in public since Mr Saied assumed sole power. He is reportedly at home and has denied claims he is under house arrest.

In a statement, Mr Mechichi said he would not be a “disruptive element” and was prepared to hand over power to a new prime minister appointed by the president.

“I will hand over the responsibility to the person who will be entrusted by the President of the Republic to head the government within the year of deliberation that our country has been following since the revolution and in respect of the laws that befit the state, wishing all the success to the new government team," he said in a statement.

Despite numerous opposition figures decrying Mr Saied’s actions as a coup, the president – who was elected with 70 per cent of the vote in 2019 – retains broad public backing.

Tunisia has been gripped by mass protests against its political class, with many angered by the country’s escalating economic woes and the near-collapse of its healthcare system due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A decade after its Arab Spring revolution ousted long-time dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has yet to cement its new democratic constitution nor establish tangible change for many of its citizens.

Mr Saied, an independent, rose to power thanks to the support of Tunisians who blamed the established, squabbling major parties for the country’s problems.

However, few expected such a radical effort by the former lawyer to overhaul Tunisia’s political system.

As well as deposing Mr Mechichi, Mr Saied also forcibly dissolved parliament and sent soldiers to prevent MPs from entering the building. He has also instituted a nationwide curfew and banned gatherings of more than three people in public.

Anonymous sources quoted by Middle East Eye claim security officials from Egypt were present when Mr Saied forced the prime minister to resign, and were directing the operation of his alleged coup.

People celebrate in the street after Tunisian President Kais Saied announced the dissolution of parliament and Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi's government in Tunis on July 25 (AFP via Getty Images)
People celebrate in the street after Tunisian President Kais Saied announced the dissolution of parliament and Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi's government in Tunis on July 25 (AFP via Getty Images)

In May, the same outlet – which is based in London and was founded in 2014 by a former Guardian writer – reported it had seen leaked documents which laid out a plan by Mr Saied to seize power in a so-called “constitutional coup”.

At the time the president admitted the document was genuine but said it was merely advice from his office and not an official proposal.

Tunisian political experts have told The Independent that while Mr Saied’s actual actions are in breach of the constitution and intended to amass more powers in the presidency, they were probably an attempt to transition from a parliamentary to a presidential political system and not an actual coup.

Tunisia could end up somewhere between an autocratic Egyptian-style dictatorship and full multi-party democracy if Mr Saied is successful, one analyst predicted.

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