Kais Saied: From an "Ordinary Man" to a "Savior"

Illustration by Ali Mandalawi
Illustration by Ali Mandalawi

Kais Saied: From an "Ordinary Man" to a "Savior"

Kais Saied described his victory in the Tunisian elections in 2019 as a "new revolution", but he seemed to be shackled by the constitution, which did not hide his desire to amend it to expand his powers.

For about two years, Kais Saied, who has a calm and patient character, sat on the presidential chair in Tunisia, and it seemed to observers as if he was sitting on a barrel full of gunpowder that could explode suddenly, in a country suffering from poverty, unemployment — especially among the youth — economic stagnation, and spiraling debt. Moreover, the chaotic launch of 29 drop-in vaccination centers last week prompted the sacking of the health minister, and President Kais Saied put the military in charge of the pandemic response — foreshadowing his broader moves at the weekend.

But it seems that the Tunisian president did not accept that his country should bear more pressure on its joints and not more popular anger. With a sequence of events which suggest it was carefully chosen, Kais Saied came out - after a long wait for a spontaneous breakthrough – with the decision that Tunisia will no longer return to the conditions that prevailed before.

The Man of Law and the Constitution resorted to Article 80, which gives him, as the president of the country, the powers to impose exceptional measures if there is an imminent danger threatening the state.

Saied said that he only implemented the constitution, which requires the president to take responsibility and take the necessary decisions to protect the country. According to the constitution, Kais Saied suspended the work of Parliament, dismissed the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Defense, Interior and Justice, and imposed a night curfew in the country for a month.

These bold and decisive decisions came under a legal umbrella well known to a law professor who has taught his students for decades – the Ennahda Movement (or Moderate Islamist Ennahda), which is an Islamist and a self-defined "Muslim democratic" political party in Tunisia, claiming that his actions “constitute a coup.”

While, the Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, head of the moderate Islamist Ennahda, was a major party to the confusion that has plagued the political scene since the Tunisian revolution in 2011, Saied entered the political arena as a relatively new face in 2019. Saied presented himself in the electoral campaign as an ordinary man seeking to reform a corrupt system. He ran in the elections without spending money with a limited team of advisors and volunteers, and at that time got the support of leftists, Islamists and youth alike.

He managed to win the elections by obtaining 72.71% of the votes, as he was elected President of the Republic for a period of 5 years in free and direct elections in the second round of the presidential elections on October 13, 2019, and assumed his duties as President of Tunisia on October 23, 2019.

Kais Saied was born on February 22, 1958 in Tunis. His family is of rather modest origin, but belongs to the intellectual middle class. His paternal uncle, Hicham Saied, was the first pediatric surgeon in Tunisia known worldwide for having separated two conjoined twins in the 1970s. Kais Saied completed his secondary studies at Sadiki College.

A jurist by formation, he is a specialist in constitutional law, and secretary-general of the Tunisian Association of Constitutional Law between 1990 and 1995 then vice-president of the association since 1995.

He was Director of the public law department at the University of Sousse between 1994 and 1999, then at the Faculty of Juridical, Political and Social Sciences of Tunis of the University of Carthage from 1999 to 2018. He was a member of the group of experts of the General Secretariat of the Arab League between 1989 and 1990, expert at the Arab Institute for Human Rights from 1993 to 1995 and member of the committee of experts responsible for revising the draft Tunisian Constitution in 2014.

President Kais Saied also holds to his credit many scientific works in the fields of law and constitutional law in particular.


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