Tunis: Tunisian judges launched a week-long strike on Monday in protest at President Kais Saied’s “interference” in the judiciary, days after he sacked 57 of their colleagues.
Saied — who suspended parliament in a power grab last July — issued a new decree last week extending his control over the judiciary, his latest move against the only democratic system to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings.
Earlier, four judges’ unions announced a nationwide court strike, strongly condemning the president’s “continued interference in the judiciary”.
They accused Saied of laying off judges “without the slightest recourse to disciplinary procedures” in an affront to the constitution.
The president had at an earlier cabinet meeting accused unnamed judges of corruption, stalling “terrorism” cases, sexual harassment, collusion with political parties and obstruction of justice.
Mourad Massoudi, head of the Young Judges’ Union, said that “the strike started today at all courts across the country, and appears to have been widely observed”.
Courts will stay open for terrorism cases.
Saied on July 25 last year sacked the government and suspended parliament, later dissolving the assembly, seizing control of the judiciary and moving to rule by decree.
Many Tunisians initially welcomed his assault on an often deadlocked political system seen as corrupt and ineffective, but opponents have accused him of sweeping away Tunisia’s hard-won democratic institutions. Saied has inveighed against official corruption and repeated called for a total overhaul of the country’s political system.
He plans to hold a referendum on a new constitution — yet to be published — on the anniversary of his power grab.
The man charged by President Kais Saied with rewriting Tunisia’s constitution said he would present a draft stripped of any reference to Islam in order to fight Islamist parties.
The first article of a constitution adopted three years after the North African country’s 2011 revolution says it is “a free, independent and sovereign state, Islam is its religion and Arabic is its language”.
But Sadeq Belaid, the legal expert appointed last month to head a committee to draft a new constitution, said “80 percent of Tunisians are against extremism and against the use of religion for political ends”.
“That’s exactly what we want to do, simply by erasing Article 1 in its current form,” he said in an interview. The draft will be presented to Saied ahead of a planned July 25 referendum.
Asked whether there would be any reference to Islam in the new constitution, Belaid said “there won’t be”. The new constitution is at the heart of Saied’s roadmap for rebuilding Tunisia’s political system, after he sacked the government last July and later dissolved parliament in moves described by rivals as a coup.
Belaid, who once taught Saied and now heads the president’s “National Consultative Commission for a New Republic”, said he would present the new draft by June 15. The president is then to sign off on the text ahead of a popular vote. Belaid, 83, said he wanted to tackle Islamist-inspired parties such as Ennahdha.
“If you use religion to engage in political extremism, we will not allow that,” he said.
“We have political parties with dirty hands. Whether you like it or not, French or European democrats, we won’t accept these dirty people in our democracy.”
Many Tunisians have welcomed Saied’s moves against political parties and a mixed presidential-parliamentary system seen as corrupt and inept, but others have warned that he risks scrubbing out the country’s democratic gains over the last decade. Web Desk