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A Crisis Follows After Tunisia's Prime Minister Is Removed From Office

NOEL KING, HOST:

Tunisia became a democracy 10 years ago when the Arab Spring put an end - at least temporarily - to dictatorships across the Middle East. Now Tunisia's democracy is under threat. The president there has invoked emergency powers, a move that some analysts call a coup. Here's NPR's Ruth Sherlock in Beirut.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: A decade ago, Tunisians came out in mass demonstrations that forced their dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, from power. Now many are back on the street but with a very different call.

(SOUNDBITE OF CELEBRATION)

SHERLOCK: In videos shared online, thousands of Tunisians celebrate a sudden takeover of power by the country's president, Kais Saied, on Sunday. Saied ordered troops to surround the Parliament, suspending it for 30 days. He invoked emergency powers to dismiss the prime minister and will now temporarily rule by decree. He's imposed a nighttime curfew.

MONICA MARKS: There's been tons of discontent brewing in Tunisia publicly over the past decade.

SHERLOCK: Monica Marks, a Tunisia expert at the New York University in Abu Dhabi, says his takeover is popular among many who feel let down by political parties elected after the revolution in 2011. She says that revolution called for democracy and dignity.

MARKS: There's freedom of expression, which didn't exist before under the old dictatorship. And that's a huge victory. But in terms of dignity, most Tunisians don't feel like there's been any progress because, for so many people, that meant jobs, that meant economic well-being - the ability to put food on the table and provide for your family.

SHERLOCK: Tunisians are dealing with rising inflation, high unemployment and a poor health care system that's been overwhelmed in the pandemic. Henda Fellah, a civil society activist in Tunis, says she's now worried for the future.

HENDA FELLAH: Many of us, like people working in civil society, especially concerned about our freedoms, our rights, the Constitution - like, these things that is huge, let's say, achievements that we gained from the revolution.

SHERLOCK: She wants the president to facilitate a democratic transition to new leaders who can bring meaningful change. But for now, she sees this as a coup to grab power. She says she hopes the president proves her wrong.

Ruth Sherlock, NPR News, Beirut.

(SOUNDBITE OF KENO AND TRISTAN DE LIEGE'S "REVERRING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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