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Tunisia's Kais Saied sacks prime minister without explanation

President replaces Najla Bouden with retired central bank employee Ahmed Hachani, who has no political experience and shared conspiracy theories on Facebook
Tunisia's President Kais Saied (left) shakes hands with newly appointed Prime Minister Ahmed Hachani in Tunis, 1 August 2023 (Handout)

Tunisian President Kais Saied sacked Prime Minister Najla Bouden late on Tuesday without explanation, and replaced her with Ahmed Hachani, a retired central bank employee who has shared articles on Facebook espousing conspiracy theories.

The dismissal of Bouden, Tunisia's first ever female prime minister, comes as the cash-strapped country faces severe economic and social crises.

Saied has repeatedly blamed the government and officials for not addressing the issues affecting Tunisia, including frequent water and electricity cuts, as well as shortages of many commodities, including bread, farina, sugar, rice and coffee.

In recent days, several government meetings have taken place to discuss the problem of shortages of subsidised bread in several regions.

The presidency published a press release and video shortly before midnight on Tuesday "terminating" Bouden's functions and immediately replacing her with Hachani, 66.

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"There are colossal challenges that we must overcome with a solid and strong will, in order to protect our homeland, our state and social peace," Saied told Hachani after he took the constitutional oath.

"We will work to achieve the will of our people and the desired justice... and to achieve national dignity."

Hachani has no political experience but on his now-closed Facebook page, he described himself as "an ultra-conservative, far-center Liberal, anarcho-leftist, clerical-secularist with a union-integralist tendency," adding that he is a "monarchist and in favor of the restoration of the caliphate."

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He also shared articles spouting conspiracy theories about a Zionist "Illuminati" takeover of Africa and human–animal marriages in Norway.

Saied sacked Bouden's predecessor, Hichem Mechichi, two years ago, dissolved parliament and granted himself sweeping powers. He has since ruled by decree, in what many have called a "constitutional coup". 

Since her appointment, Bouden's government has failed to overcome Tunisia's dire financial crisis, amid rising poverty levels, a high unemployment rate of 15 percent, and fears that the country is unable to pay its foreign debts.

In recent months, the president has dismissed several ministers, including the foreign minister, without giving a reason.

Since February, about 20 opposition, media and business figures have been imprisoned, accused of "plotting against state security", in a wave of arrests that includes the leader of Tunisia’s main opposition party, Rached Ghannouchi.

Among the other prominent opposition figures to be detained are former UK resident Said Ferjani, former justice minister and Ennahda party deputy Noureddine Bhiri and former public prosecutor Bechir Akremi.

Amnesty International has labelled the arrest campaign a "politically motivated witch hunt".

On Friday, hundreds of influential figures from across the Arab and Muslim world demanded the release of Ghannouchi and other political detainees in Tunisia, on the 100th day since his arrest. 

In late June, the families of jailed opposition figures called for the United Kingdom, European Union and United States to sanction Saied, citing the arrest campaign and torture of "anyone deemed critical of his government".

The families were also seeking to sanction Interior Minister Kamal Feki and Defence Minister Imed Memmich amid the widening crackdown on dissent, British lawyer Rodney Dixon had said at a press conference in London.

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