Tunisia’s powerful union rejects President Saied’s dialogue proposal

The secretary-general of the Tunisian General Labour Union Noureddine Taboubi (R) chairs a meeting in Tunis on May 23, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

Tunisia’s powerful trade union UGTT has refused to take part in a limited dialog proposed by President Kais Saied with the aim of rewriting the constitution and founding a “new republic.”

In a statement released on Monday, the union said it "will not take part in any national dialog under the format proposed" by Saied.

The dialog has not been the subject of prior consultations and does not meet the expectations of national forces to establish a patriotic process to overcome the crisis," it said.

The UGTT believes this dialogue aims to “endorse conclusions decided unilaterally in advance and force them through as faits accomplis.” For the trade union center, “not only is this dialogue not likely to get the country out of the crisis, but it risks aggravating and prolonging it.”

The union’s secretary-general, Noureddine Taboubi, has also announced the intention to boycott the offer. “This dialog is not up to the crisis that Tunisia is experiencing and does not show a better future,” Taboubi said. “We call for a real national dialog because the one currently proposed excludes important political components in the country.”

UGTT spokesperson Sami Tahri said, “We reject any formal dialog in which roles are determined unilaterally and from which civil and political forces are excluded.”

Tunisia's major political parties pledged to fight Saied's decision to exclude them from key political reforms including the drafting of a new constitution.

Separately, the union has said it would hold a national strike over wages and the economy.

Saied's power grab on July 25, 2021 was welcomed by many Tunisians tired of a frequently deadlocked post-revolutionary democracy.

But his opponents, including the Ennahdha Party, which has dominated the country's post-revolution politics, have warned of a return to autocracy.

The 2014 constitution was the result of intense negotiation among political parties and civil society bodies, but Saied has rejected calls for a similar inclusive dialog, saying those who opposed his measures should be banned from discussion on Tunisia’s future.

Tunisia has been gripped by a political crisis since the president dismissed Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspended parliament for 30 days in July 2021. The Tunisian president said at the time that his decision was meant to “save Tunisia, the state, and the Tunisian people,” in the midst of growing public anger and protests against the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

His opponents have slammed the move as a “coup,” while rights groups have warned that the country could be sliding back into autocracy.

Nearly two months later, Saied appointed Najla Bouden Romdhane, a little-known university professor, as the country’s prime minister.

Saied’s seizure of power initially appeared to win broad support among Tunisians amid an economic and public health crisis, but it later caused growing opposition, even from major domestic players who were initially supportive.

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