The Tunisian President dissolves the Supreme Judicial Council – the Organization for World Peace
A worrying series of events unfolded in Tunisia when President Kais Saied dissolved the Supreme Judicial Council on Sunday. The council is the Tunisian body dealing with judicial independence, according to Reuters, a move many describe as a power grab as well as an attempt to undermine the judiciary. President Saied did so under the pretense that the group was corrupt and was selling position and influence instead of fulfilling its obligations responsibly. That decision has drawn massive criticism inside Tunisia and abroad, with the country’s judges’ association protesting by suspending work in all courts on February 9-10, according to AfricaNews. Not only that, but the United States government has criticized the move, saying it is concerned about the developments. According to Al-Jazeera, this body was also one of the last remaining state institutions able to act independently of the president. In this respect, the dissolution of the council seems to be a further step in Saied’s consolidation of power.
The breakup had further developments on Monday when police officers physically closed the building where the Supreme Judicial Council meets and barred staff from entering. This is despite the fact that the presidency’s social media accounts said on the same day that President Saied would not interfere in the judiciary. The president defended his position a day after the dissolution, although he said he would not interfere, saying it was necessary according to Al-Jazeera. All of this is all the more worrying when one considers that only seven months ago President Saied also suspended parliaments, which led to the first fears of a coup and increasing authoritarian behavior by the head of state. This dissolution, along with the use of police officers to enforce this measure, demonstrates clear interference in judicial affairs by the executive branch and could be another step in a full takeover of state institutions.
Overall, this has far-reaching implications for Tunisia and any prospect of retaining a democratic government. First, the council’s dissolution shows the president’s willingness and ability to meddle with other branches of government, a practice exacerbated by last year’s suspension of parliament. Second, this appears to be another step in the president’s increasingly authoritarian decisions, similar to trends in other countries around the world for executive takeovers. Finally, it removed a body that would theoretically ensure the independence of the judiciary and was therefore instrumental in holding government officials accountable. By disbanding, President Saied will likely be able to thwart corruption and other allegations against him by meddling with judges and further damaging democracy in the country. Therefore, the dissolution of the Supreme Judicial Council, apart from being an illegal interference, also puts Tunisia at risk of full executive takeover, a sad end to a fledgling democracy.