Lecture by Kaïs Saïed to his detractors

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 immune to 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, drafted in a small committee, will be submitted to a referendum on July 25.

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”.

The fact remains that this time, the usual accusations of Kaïs Saïed for “traitors and assassins” whose identity no one yet knows are 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 express himself on all the angry subjects.

Religion, Kaïs Saïed’s new weapon

Kaïs Saïed’s speech to the media – he answered some 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 ordinary.

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 widely taken up by opponents of Saïed, some of whom accuse him of being “too secular”.

Kais Saied, after all, took 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”.

Read: In Tunisia, an already controversial referendum

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 society, but it will never have human ethics, and will not go to paradise, nor to hell “. And to continue: “Islam and Sharia must above all become aware of their motivations. And at the risk of making a sermon, (…) God said, above all, that Muslims “were the best Ummah (community, editor’s note) that we have given birth to men”. And not the best state or nation.”

A speech criticized by the Tunisian media, but which aroused a lot of echo among the populations. More significant still given the context, and the speech was delivered alongside the Saudi ambassador, smiling.

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. The Tunisian Head of State being economically liberal, the declarations of the members of his constituent commission propose projects for the institutionalization of the liberal economic model… in the Constitution.

But like an American Republican, Kaïs Saïed wanted to convince public opinion of the reduction of state powers. “It is the dictatorships which erect effigies, and which venerate them, in the 16th century unfortunately”, 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 presidents of the single party, Habib Bourguiba and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, were precisely great defenders of the Tunisian “nation-state”.

Read: Kaïs Saïed seeks the dubbing of the people for his presidential regime

“If Kaïs Saïed dismantles this notion today, it is both to surpass his adversaries by disarming them, but also to destroy the constitutional principles of the first Tunisian Republic”, declared a Tunisian professor of constitutional law to the Journal d ‘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.

Angela C. Hale