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Global Powers Shrug as Opponents Denounce ‘Coup’ in Tunisia

World powers have reacted cautiously to President Saied’s power grab, with only Turkey voicing strong opposition.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Tunisian President Kais Saied
Tunisian President Kais Saied gives a talk on constitutional law during a state visit to Qatar at an event hosted by Lusail University on Nov. 16, 2020. Karim Jaafar/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: World powers react to Tunisia’s political turmoil, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken heads to India, and the World Trade Organization General Council convenes.

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Saied Consolidates Power in Tunisia

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: World powers react to Tunisia’s political turmoil, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken heads to India, and the World Trade Organization General Council convenes.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Saied Consolidates Power in Tunisia

Tunisian President Kais Saied further consolidated power on Monday following the dismissal of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi on Sunday as the country experiences its biggest political upheaval since the Arab Spring. Saied compounded Sunday’s announcement by confirming the removal of both the justice and defense ministers as world leaders largely held back judgment.

Saied has cited recent widespread anti-government protests—driven by a broken economy and a struggling coronavirus response—as justification for the move.

The legitimacy of Saied’s decision depends on a generous reading of Article 80 in Tunisia’s constitution, which allows for the president to seize power temporarily in an emergency. However, the article also says the parliament speaker and prime minister must be consulted before any emergency powers are invoked.

No such consultation took place, according to Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, who heads Ennahda, the biggest party in parliament. On Sunday, he labeled Saied’s actions “a coup against the revolution and constitution.”

The issue could be adjudicated by the country’s constitutional court—if such an institution existed. A constitutional court was mandated by Tunisia’s 2014 constitution but has been mired in arguments over who should sit on it.

International response. Global powers have adopted a cautious approach so far. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the United States was “concerned” but was waiting for a State Department determination on whether a coup had taken place. Later on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Saied. A readout said Blinken encouraged Saied to “adhere to the principles of democracy and human rights” in Tunisia. The European Union response was similarly vague, urging all sides to “restore order and return to dialogue.”

Omer Celik, a spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose Justice and Development Party (AKP) is allied with Ennahda, was more direct, calling the move “illegitimate.” “Those who inflict this evil on our brothers and sisters, the people of Tunisia, are harming their own country,” Celik added. 

Civil society waits. The Tunisian General Labor Union, the million-member body also known as UGTT, has offered a measured reaction, calling for the constitution to be upheld and for “the continuation of the democratic path.” The UGTT has in recent years been instrumental in cooling tensions in Tunisia and was part of a group of civil society organizations awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 for their efforts.

The way out of Tunisia’s economic crisis is no clearer following Saied’s actions. Government attempts to negotiate a $4 billion International Monetary Fund loan package have been resisted by UGTT and other unions over concerns that the austerity such a program would bring would be too much for the country to bear.

What We’re Following Today

Blinken travels to India. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken heads to India today for a two-day visit, with the coronavirus pandemic, “Indo-Pacific engagement, shared regional security interests, shared democratic values, and addressing the climate crisis” on the agenda, according to the U.S. State Department. Blinken is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Wednesday. Blinken is also likely to discuss plans for an in-person summit of the leaders of the so-called Quad nations of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States.

Blinken’s trip adds to a busy Asia-focused travel schedule for U.S. officials following Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s trip to China and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s tour of Southeast Asia.

WTO General Council meets. The World Trade Organization’s highest decision-making body, its General Council, meets today in Geneva. The group is expected to consider the lack of progress made in recent text-based discussions on a proposal to waive patent rights on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. Despite the urging of WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, WTO ambassadors are unlikely to revisit the issue until Sept. 6, Bloomberg reports, as many of them prepare for a summer vacation.

The slow progress has angered backers of the waiver. “August doesn’t matter in Geneva; it doesn’t matter if people are dying around the world,” said Shailly Gupta, a spokesperson at Doctors Without Borders. “We hope members will move at a faster pace.”

Tanzania’s democracy. Tanzania’s opposition party leader Freeman Mbowe has been charged with “terrorism-related” crimes, police said on Monday, raising fears that new President Samia Suluhu Hassan was following in the authoritarian footsteps of her predecessor John Magufuli. Mbowe and several Chadema party members had been arrested at a hotel, ostensibly for breaking COVID-19 restrictions. Mbowe and his colleagues were reportedly gathering at the hotel to discuss proposals for a new constitution.

Lebanon’s new prime minister. Najib Mikati, a billionaire businessman and former prime minister, was named Lebanon’s prime minister-designate after receiving a majority of votes in his favor from Lebanon’s parliament. Mikati must now form a government acceptable to President Michel Aoun, who disagreed with Saad Hariri’s attempts earlier in July. Mikati said that although he doesn’t have a “magic wand and can’t perform miracles” that he would focus on implementing a French-backed economic plan to pull the country out of an economic crisis.

Keep an Eye On

Global heating. “Record-shattering” heatwaves, still relatively rare, will become more common in the coming years as the effects of climate change take hold, according to a new study from researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. The research, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, projects that heatwaves that break temperature records by 5 degrees Celsius or more will become two to seven times more likely between now and 2050, and three to 21 times more likely from 2051-2080.

“Many places have by far not seen anything close to what’s possible, even in present-day conditions, because only looking at the past record is really dangerous,” said Erich Fischer, the study’s lead researcher.

Nicaragua’s elections. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega criticized opposition politicians as instruments of “Yankee policy” after police arrested Noel Vidaurre—the seventh opposition candidate to be detained ahead of presidential elections in November. In a speech on Sunday, Ortega said the United States—referred to as “the empire”—wished to undermine his bid for a fourth term. “The empire does not want elections in Nicaragua, the empire wants to boycott them, it wants to re-sow terrorism in our country,” Ortega said.

The United States has accused Ortega of undermining democracy by detaining his opponents, and it imposed sanctions on a number of Nicaraguan officials, including Ortega’s daughter, in June.

Odds and Ends

Croatia has angered neighboring Serbia by attempting to lay a definitive claim to Nikola Tesla, considered one of the world’s greatest inventors, as part of its plans to join the euro currency zone. Croatia has proposed putting Tesla’s likeness on its versions of 50-, 20-, and 10-cent euro coins, a decision that has been deemed “inappropriate” and an “appropriation of the cultural and scientific heritage of the Serbian people,” by the National Bank of Serbia.

Both sides appear to have a point: Although an ethnic Serb by birth, Tesla’s physical birthplace is now in modern-day Croatia. The dispute is further complicated by the fact that Tesla later became a naturalized U.S. citizen—and his cremated remains were returned to Belgrade following his death.

Although Croatia won’t join the eurozone until 2023, it’s unlikely its government will deviate based on Serbia’s objections. Croatian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Milosevic, himself an ethnic Serb, has declared himself “proud and happy” with the plan.

Correction, July 27, 2021: An earlier version of this brief provided an incorrect translation for the name of Turkey’s ruling party, known by its Turkish acronym AKP. It is the Justice and Development Party.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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