Tunisia: Saied’s absence fuels speculation about his ‘illness’

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Tunisian President Kais Saied has been out of the public eye for nearly two weeks after apparently falling ill, prompting speculation about his unexplained absence.

Health Minister Ali Mrabet fueled rumors on Sunday when he did walked away from a journalist seeking an opinion on the president’s health.

Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, leader of Tunisia’s National Salvation Front opposition alliance, said on Monday that he was informed that Saied had “fallen ill” on March 22 but did not comment publicly on the matter because it did not have political implications at the time.

However, he said that the “mystery” related to the health of the president has now grown and the lack of response from the health minister “has made things worse”.

It is essential for the government to clarify Saied’s condition to the public and whether it will be temporary or permanent, Chebbi said, warning that the country will enter a presidential vacancy if Saied is unable to continue in his post.

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Under Tunisia’s controversial new constitution pushed by Saied last year, the President of the Constitutional Court is next in line for the presidency if there is a permanent presidential vacancy. However, Saied has not established the Constitutional Court yet, according to Chebbi, it could leave the country in a legislative void and lead to a “major disaster”.

The leader of the opposition asked for a discussion on the transfer of power.

Saied was last seen in public on March 22 during a visit to the Bab Souika market in Tunisia’s Old City. Tunisian officials have remained silent on his whereabouts or health since then.

Yassin Ayari, a former opposition leader, claimed on social media that Saied suffered “an acute health problem caused by a severe heart attack of the atrial fibrillation type with shortness of breath and lack of oxygen”. He did not clarify the source of his information and MEE was unable to verify it.

Rafik Abdessalem, a former minister of foreign affairs, said that Saied is in the Military Hospital in Tunis for treatment.

“The Palace of Carthage is empty of its thrones, except for presidential security,” he posted on Facebook.

‘The Palace of Carthage is empty of its throne’

Tunisia has speculated about the president’s absence for days, especially during Ramadan (which began on March 23), a month of engagement with communities and making public appearances.

Last week, Saied missed the ceremony to approve Brazil’s new ambassador to Tunisia, who was replaced by Foreign Affairs Minister Nabil Ammar.

Governor Gabes was also dismissed last week, prompting many Tunisians to question who was really leading the country amid Saied’s inexplicable absence.

“Don’t the Tunisians have the right to get an official clarification about the reasons why the head of state has been absent for 10 days?” Written by Riadh Chaibi, a political adviser to the head of the opposition group Ennahda Movement.

“If the president already has some health obstacles in carrying out his duties, then who is running the country now?” he said.

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Tunisian journalist Khaoula Boukrim visited the area where the Military Hospital is located in Tunis, where Saied is rumored to be treated.

“There were no security or military reinforcements that indicated, at least apparently, the presence of the head of state, as happened during the stay of the late Beji Caid Essebsi in the same hospital,” she wrote.

“Of course, lack of reinforcements does not confirm or deny [Saied’s] presence or not, but this is the picture on the ground,” she reported.

MEE was unable to independently confirm these reports.

In July 2021, Saied unilaterally suspended parliament and dissolved the government, a move he marketed as a step towards “real democracy”, which he described as a clean break with class. political, with the institutions, and with the “corrupting mouths”.

He amassed vast, unchecked powers, which were later enshrined in a tailor-made constitution which he used to pave the way for a “dictatorial regime”, according to opposition figures.

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