For his first media outing in several weeks, Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed improvised a press briefing on Tuesday, coupled with a course in constitutional law… and religion.
“Sovereignty and power belong to the people”, “the nation-state is only a chimera” and Montesquieu's separation of powers “is not above criticism”. In a few minutes, the Tunisian Head of State Kaïs Saïed skilfully explained his vision of the future Constitution of his country. A Constitution whose draft, written in a small committee, will be submitted to a referendum on July 25th.
Several details have leaked out, including the abandonment of the formula of the "religion of the State" of the previous Constitutions, but also the institutionalization of a liberal economy, or the transformation of the executive, legislative and judicial powers into "functions ".
So many points that the Tunisian opposition, from political parties to trade unions, continues to denounce. Kaïs Saïed, he remains in the nails, with his usual formula, and his electoral slogan: "The people want".
Still, this time, the usual accusations of Kaïs Saïed for “traitors and murderers” whose identity no one yet knows were no longer enough to maintain his popularity rating. Thus, this Tuesday, June 21, the Tunisian Head of State took advantage of the departure of the pilgrims for Mecca to speak out on all the angry subjects.
Religion, Kaïs Saïed's new weapon
Kaïs Saïed's speech to the media – he answered a few strangely benevolent questions – was well received by a large part of Internet users. And, precisely, this media outing took place at the airport, where Saïed came to meet the pilgrims leaving for Saudi Arabia. Something to add religion to his words. Anything but trivial.
Because among the novelties of the Tunisian Constitution which will be submitted to referendum next month, the pure and simple abolition of the formula “Islam is its religion”, speaking of the State. A vector of communication greatly taken up by opponents of Saïed, some of whom accuse him of being "too secular".
Kais Saied has, after all, seized full power in Tunisia by ousting the Islamists of the Ennahdha party. But still other opponents, on the other side, accused Kaïs Saïed of “having a Salafist side”.
Apparently, Kaïs Saïed has lost popularity in recent months. But, unlike his opponents, the Tunisian president knows how to handle a microphone. On the question of the religion of the state, Saïed simply said: "The state is a moral person, like a company, but it will never have human ethics, and will not go to paradise, nor to hell ". And to continue: “Islam and the Sharia must above all realize their motives. And at the risk of giving a lecture, (…) God said, above all, that the Muslims 'were the best Ummah (community, editor's note) that we have brought forth for men'. And not the best state or nation”.
A speech criticized by the Tunisian media, but which had a lot of response from the populations. More significant still in view of the context, and the speech was given alongside the Saudi ambassador, smiling.
— Tunisian Presidency – الرئاسة التونسية (@TnPresidency) June 21, 2022
Kaïs Saïed seeks to go beyond the constitutional principles of his predecessors
However, Kaïs Saïed did not limit himself to religious discourse. His improvised “conference” mainly concerned the promotion of his draft Constitution. A project that has drawn a lot of criticism. As the Tunisian head of state is economically liberal, statements by members of his constituent commission put forward plans to institutionalize the liberal economic model…in the Constitution.
But like an American Republican, Kaïs Saïed insisted on convincing the public of the reduction of state powers. “It is the dictatorships that erect effigies, and that venerate them, unfortunately in the XNUMXst century,” explains Kaïs Saïed, before returning to his religious discourse. “Islam condemns this idolatry” or “Islam encourages freedom”.
A way of Kaïs Saïed to desacralize the political establishment of his predecessors since independence. Indeed, the two one-party presidents, Habib Bourguiba and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, were precisely great defenders of the Tunisian “nation-state”.
"If Kaïs Saïed is dismantling this notion today, it is both to outdo his opponents by disarming them, but also to obliterate the constitutional principles of the first Tunisian Republic", declared a Tunisian professor of constitutional law in the Journal of Africa. But, in doing so, the Tunisian head of state also attracts the means of a non-negligible religious soft-power. To the point of converting the most sectarian of his fellow citizens? The July 25 referendum will surely say more.