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MENASource May 31, 2024

Partial government reshuffle in Tunisia as protests continue against its president

By Karim Mezran and Nicola Pedde

On the evening of May 25, Tunisian President Kais Saied surprised the country by announcing a partial government reshuffle, replacing two ministers and establishing a new institutional post to manage national security.

The reshuffle comes at the height of an upsurge in the securitarian clampdown imposed by the president on opposition and civil society organizations. Over the past two weeks, dozens of human rights organization activists, journalists, and lawyers have been arrested. The arrests are a response to the increasingly frequent protests against the government, especially against President Saied’s authoritarian turn in Tunisian politics since July 2021, when the president arbitrarily shut down parliament and progressively began a process of centralization of power.

On May 24, a demonstration was held in the capital, Tunis, where protesters loudly chanted slogans against the president. They described Saied as a dictator and called for the revocation of a recent decree, which allowed the government to crack down on political dissent and facilitate the arrests of those protesting against the line President Saied has imprinted on Tunisian politics and the economy.


Other measures have led to concern from the European Union and the United States. Both have expressly called for restraint by the Tunisian government in its crackdown on dissent, which President Saied has since described as intolerable foreign interference in the internal affairs of the Tunisian government.

The Tunisian Journalists’ Union (SNJT) has also denounced the government’s gradual authoritarian turn and the judiciary’s tendency to indict many journalists for criticizing the government’s line. SNJT claimed that more than fifty journalists have been detained over the past year for expressing views critical of government policy and have been accused of spreading fake news aimed at disrupting the constitutional order.

The government reshuffle also resulted in the appointment of Khaled Nouri as the head of the Interior Ministry, replacing Kamel Feki. Kamel Madouri, head of the Ministry of Social Affairs, replaced Malek Ezzahi. At the same time, Sufyan bin Sadiq was appointed under secretary of the Interior Ministry and was responsible for the new director of national security post. All three officials are considered very close and loyal to Saied. The president has since to comment on the decision behind this reshuffle or his reason for establishing a new post for national security within the Interior Ministry.

It seems quite clear that the cabinet reshuffle was brought about by the president’s dissatisfaction with the management of national security and the containment of the ongoing protests in the country, particularly in the capital, where the tone of accusations toward the government is becoming more serious by the day. The replacement of Feki with Nouri is most likely motivated by the intention to implement a more aggressive policy against opposition forces and to reduce the scale of protests. This is likely also behind the establishment of the new post of under secretary for national security, now chaired by Sufyan bin Sadiq, who will be specifically tasked with managing the growing phenomenon of dissent.

Despite the growing number of protests, however, President Saied’s popularity appears to be solid. Meanwhile, the opposition—however vocal and persistent in expressing its opposition to the government’s authoritarian drift—appears disorganized, divided, and seemingly unable to counter the government’s pervasive action in suppressing dissent.

President Saied succeeded in arresting the leaders of the Islamic Ennahda Party and the Free Desturian Party in 2023, considerably reducing the capacity of the main opposition parties. This, in turn, has paved the way for him to compete with a greater chance of success in the presidential elections scheduled for later this year.

Thus, at this stage the main force of opposition to the Tunisian government remains the National Salvation Front coalition, led by Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, which includes many of the smaller political groups opposed to the government’s authoritarian drift. Members of the front include the Islamist Ennahda party, the Al Amal party, Islamist parties Al Irada and Al Karama, and other minor groups of different ideological backgrounds united by a shared condemnation of President Saied’s policies.

Aware of his weakness, and in an attempt to fuel further critical debate of the government, Chebbi declared in March 2023 that he does not intend to run in the presidential elections unless authorities meet at least some basic conditions, including the reopening of Ennahda headquarters, the release of political prisoners, and, above all, the guarantee of the independence of the electoral commission that will monitor the elections. This last point is especially complex, as the constitutional amendments promoted by Saied have given the president the power to appoint the members of the electoral commission, making it somewhat unlikely that guarantees of transparency and impartiality will be provided.

What emerges from these latest events in Tunisia is a progressive increase in President Saied’s repression of all opposition to his role and, as a consequence, further opposition to him. The events in Tunisia are taking place in front of the international community, including Western democracies, which once again show their inability to uphold actions that they support in theory: human rights and democracy.

Karim Mezran is a resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center and Middle East Programs.

Nicola Pedde is director of the Institute for Global Studies.

Further reading

Image: Lawyers carry signs and gesture during a one-day nationwide strike over the recent arrest of two of their colleagues, one of whom they say was tortured during his detention, outside the Palace of Justice in Tunis, Tunisia May 16, 2024. REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui