In Tunisia, Kaïs Saïed supporters seek to mobilize youth

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Supporters of the head of state hold up a portrait of Kaïs Saïed, in Tunis, on October 3, 2021.

Now is the time for pedagogy in Tunisia. To promote the reform of the institutions that President Kaïs Saïed would like to submit to a referendum, the entourage of the Head of State and his most determined supporters have launched an “explanatory campaign” in recent weeks (« hamla tasfiria », in Arabic) supposed to lay the foundations for a dialogue with young people. A rapprochement that Kaïs Saïed called for on October 21, a month after having taken full powers by decree.

However, neither the format nor the content of this campaign is clear at this stage. A handful of thirtysomethings based in Tunis began to solicit the media and organize themselves to test public opinion on the project, not ” Of the president “, most “Carried by the president”. Most of them come from this revolutionary youth who participated in sit-ins in January 2011 to demand the fall of the transitional government and a new political vision. Many met Kaïs Saïed, then a law teacher, at that time and began to discuss with him a new democracy project for Tunisia.

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They are now between 30 and 40 years old and the enthusiasm of the revolution has given way, at home, to ” disappointment “, according to Ramy Hammami, 30, who lives in Ben Arous, a suburb of Tunis. A former militant of a left-wing party, he participated in Kaïs Saïed’s presidential campaign in 2019. Today, he uses the same process to explain the president’s political project. “It’s very horizontal as a method. For example, at my level, I speak with work colleagues, with friends in my neighborhood, and as soon as someone shows an interest in another region, I take my car and I will discuss ”, he said, noting that “Everyone can contribute”. The only requirements are to be in support of the project and not to belong to a political party.

Neither spokesperson nor slogan

The supporters of the head of state seek to reproduce the dynamics of the 2019 election, when groups of young people joined the candidate’s entourage. They mobilize within regional networks those close to the president and on pro-Kaïs Saïed Facebook pages.

« In 2019, figures who are present in the media today, such as Ridha Chiheb Mekki, at the origin of Kaïs Saïed’s political project, the businessman Ahmed Chafter or the teacher Jamel Mkadmi, already relied on cores tough young people mainly from the pan-Arab and nationalist left “, notes Rihen Sallem, member of Al Bawsala, an NGO that works for democratic transparency: “They served as relays to fuel debates and political cafes when Kaïs Saïed traveled to campaign, far from the media. “

The phenomenon was difficult to quantify during the election, since many volunteers had joined Kaïs Saïed’s campaign when he had qualified for the second round. But it had borne fruit: the candidate had been elected with 72% of the votes and the youth had been a driving force behind his victory.

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Today, the defenders of his political project claim the same autonomy, “Without spokesperson” and “Without a watchword”. They bring together new figures, rallied to Kaïs Saïed after his coup on July 25, such as Bouthayna Ben Kridis, a 35-year-old lawyer from Sfax, who is making more appearances on television sets to explain the legal springs of this new democracy. proposed. Believing that the discussion must include all of civil society, including the youth of the marginalized regions of the center, she pleads for a better redistribution of resources, echoing the recent declarations of the Head of State on the “Rental of state land for the benefit of unemployed young people”.

“The idea is really to refocus on the questions of the revolution, the social demands of the time and to move towards reforms”, defends Faouzi Daas, a 37-year-old entrepreneur based in Tunis. This project must go through a “Citizen dialogue”, without intermediary bodies or political parties, as opposed to « dialogue national » proposed during the political crisis of 2013 by unions and associations – and vilified by Kaïs Saïed.

Gaddafi’s Libya or Switzerland?

According to his speeches, the Head of State is in fact pleading for the establishment of a democracy from below: representation would find its primary source in local council elections by uninominal ballot – replacing the current list system. -, which would then emanate from regional councils and then the National Assembly, the whole being balanced by a strong executive power. A model that most of the members of the “explanatory campaign” find it difficult to qualify, since it is neither representative democracy nor participatory democracy.

“We still do not understand whether it is the Libyan example of Gaddafi or the Swiss model”, summarizes sociological researcher Aymen Belhadj. A theoretical vagueness justified by the fact that the proposed model, fruit of the reflections of the entourage close to Kaïs Saïed for years, has not yet been tested on the political level.

The contours of the national consultation planned by Kaïs Saïed and the ideas that it is supposed to carry remain at the very least vaporous, points out the political science researcher Mohamed Dhia-Hammami. For example, we ignore “What could be the prerogatives of local and regional structures in the new distribution of powers”, emphasizes the academic. And for the moment, “The main political actors, the union forces and the elites are all opposed to this project ». Most, skeptical of its purpose, also criticize the lack of dialogue or inclusion.

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Will the project appeal more to these “Young people” that Kaïs Saïed seeks to bring back into his fold? Or will he come up against the weariness and disillusionment of this segment of the population in which the unemployment rate exceeds 40%?

If the idea of ​​wanting to reconcile young people with political participation is laudable, “The lack of clarity on the role that civil society and citizens will play raises questions », says Salma Jrad, executive director of Al Bawsala and herself a former student of the president. The debate, she adds, is currently too polarized between the “pro” and the “anti” Kaïs Saïed for a fruitful and free dialogue to really take place.

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In Tunisia, Kaïs Saïed supporters seek to mobilize youth