Tunisian President Kais Saied has appointed a former national security adviser to the presidency to run the interior ministry and pledged to protect rights and freedoms.
The presidency announced Ridha Garsalaoui’s 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.
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The new appointee is also a top-ranking former police official, local media reported.
On Sunday, the president invoked a national emergency to seize control of government, dismissing the prime minister and freezing the parliament.
“The state is not a puppet moved by strings, there are lobbies and corrupt individuals who have been pulling the strings from behind the curtains,” Saied said. “The conditions at this historical moment forced me to take such exceptional measures.
“I tell you and the whole world that I am keen to implement the constitutional text and keen more than them on rights and freedoms.
“No one has been arrested. No one has been deprived of his rights but the law is fully applied.”
Tunisians are awaiting the appointment of a new prime minister and the announcement of a road map to find a way out of the crisis.
Saied’s supporters have cast his intervention as a welcome reset for the 2011 revolution after years of economic stagnation under a political class that has often appeared more interested in its own narrow advantage than in national gain.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday said he had urged Saied to take action that would return the country “to the democratic path” and also urged the restoration of parliament.
“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, referring to 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.
The young democracy had often been cited as the sole success story of the Arab Spring.
But 10 years on, many say they have seen little improvement in living standards and have grown infuriated by protracted political deadlock amid rising cases of COVID-19 infections, along with infighting among the elite.
Saied accused 460 businessmen of owing 13.5 billion Tunisian dinars ($4.9bn) to the state, citing the findings of a commission of inquiry into corruption under former strongman 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”.
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.
The power grab has been welcomed by many Tunisians struggling to make ends meet and fed up by the mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Wednesday evening, the president also announced the establishment of a crisis unit to manage surging COVID-19 cases.
Tunisia, with a population of approximately 12 million people, has one of the worst COVID-19 death rates in the world, with 19,000 fatalities linked to the coronavirus.