The Francophonie Summit, scheduled for November on the island of Djerba, Tunisia, risks being a propaganda operation for the authoritarian regime of Tunisian President Kaïs Saïed.
The delegations of Quebec, New Brunswick and Canada must boycott this summit to avoid condoning the autocratic drift of a political apparatus that continues to weaken the democratic progress of the Tunisian people after the 2011 revolution that triggered the Spring Arab.
Until now, Canada has not ceased to express its embarrassment at the Tunisian political crisis and to ask for the postponement of the Summit, initially scheduled for November 2020 and probably postponed further to 2023. Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly insisted, during his exchange with his Tunisian counterpart after the holding of the very controversial referendum, on the “respect for democratic principles”, on “the importance of holding legislative elections and restoring an elected and representative government as soon as possible” .
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has discreetly raised the possibility of a further postponement of this summit and indicates his concern about the weakening of the democratic process in Tunisia. However, the postponement ad infinitum is not a viable solution.
Since Kaïs Saïed’s coup in July 2021, the political crisis has continued to worsen. The Saïed regime is attacking everything that La Francophonie stands for: democracy, human rights, diversity and, more specifically, according to the declaration of the current Secretary General of La Francophonie, Louise Mushikiwabo, the defense of gender equality.
The adoption of the referendum on the draft new Constitution carried by Saïed is only a pseudo-democratic exercise as we have seen elsewhere in other autocracies. In fact, the Tunisian president is reinstalling an almost total hold over all of the country’s political and social spheres. It establishes a hyper-presidentialism without beacons, monopolizes powers, governs by decree and prohibits any opposition.
The Tunisian president had dissolved the Superior Council of the Judiciary to give himself the power to appoint the members of a new temporary judicial oversight body. It was also Saïed who appointed the head of the electoral authority who organized and supervised the holding of this referendum, which the majority of Tunisian and international opponents described as a serious autocratic regression.
The new constitution marks a radical break with human rights gains. The constitutional text, like the Tunisian president, creates a climate of division and identity cleavage and weakens the advances of civil society in terms of political, religious and cultural diversity.
At present, several journalists are imprisoned, lawyers are repressed and prosecuted by the military prosecutor’s office. This is what led the American Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and the American Ambassador-designate to Tunisia, Joey Hood, to strongly criticize this democratic decline and to denounce “an alarming erosion of democratic standards and fundamental freedoms”. in Tunisia.
Kaïs Saïed’s autocratic project constitutes a real danger for religious diversity and individual and feminist freedoms. The new constitution decrees Tunisia’s affiliation to an Islamic world and the obligation for the State to work to achieve the aims of an ultra-conservative Islam, which risks severely limiting the sexual and reproductive rights of Tunisian women.
A diplomatic boycott of Quebec and Canada would send a strong message of support and solidarity to feminists, journalists, members of civil society, as well as to the entire Tunisian opposition, who are campaigning for a return to the democratic values that are at the heart of the Francophonie.