Church leaders back president’s suspension of parliament over Covid blunders in Tunisia

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The Archbishop of Alexandria, the Most Rev. Samy Fawzy, offered prayers for the people of Tunisia this week after President Kaïs Saïed suspended the legislature and assumed full powers in response to the government’s failure to manage the COVID pandemic.

In a telephone call to the pastor of the St George’s Anglican Church in Tunis, the Rev. Frank Bernardi, Dr. Fawzy prayed the Lord would grant wisdom to President Saïed “in managing the country’s affairs and that the Tunisian people would enjoy security, stability, development, and progress, and would support the officials there to overcome the challenges of the next stage,” the provincial website reported.

Tunisia has been in lockdown since the beginning of the month, with St. George’s only offering on-line English and Arabic services. Fr. Bernardi told the archbishop they were in “precautionary isolation”  and said “the Episcopal/Anglican Church in Tunisia and the people and all the servants pray that the country will cross these difficult circumstances.”

The Roman Catholic archbishop of Tunis Ilario Antoniazzi told the Fides News Agency the president’s declaration was “welcomed with relief by the majority of the population, exhausted by a situation that seemed to have no way out”. 

Tensions have been high for several months in Tunisia over the government’s COVID policies. The imposition of a 4:00 pm curfew earlier this year sparked riots across the country while the lockdown has closed many small businesses and exacerbated the nation’s unemployment rate, which the state statistical agency says was at 17.8% for the first quarter of 2021.

Archbishop Antoniazzi reported “the population was fed up with the situation and the rulers who were here. We have reached a point where there is no work, tourism is zero, the only thing that seems to be going strong are the infections due to Covid-19. It is sad to say, but this is the situation: hospitals are full, there is lack of oxygen, we are close to disaster. Visiting certain hospitals, I had the impression of reviewing the images seen in Italian hospitals in the darkest moments at the beginning of the pandemic “. 

He explained: “the population initially placed their trust in the government, but then, in the face of government immobility, the opening of credit soon faded away. The ministers were accused of corruption, and of defending their private interests. Therefore the President waited for the national holiday to knock its fist on the table. After his speech, in which he essentially suspended the government, people went out on the street in celebration, despite the curfew, until 2 am, amidst songs, demonstrations”. 

The archbishop cautioned: “the unknown is that there may be a restriction of freedoms and that we are moving towards an authoritarian regime. Some TV [stations] have been closed. But of course for now the population is on the President’s side. Let’s see how things go. He promised directives, changes. Things he will certainly do, but he still has to do”.