The Jasmine Revolution that heralded the Arab Spring had provided Tunisia with a functional democracy for 11 years with multiple political parties; social activists and groups; a wide-ranging and free media channels-and a hope among Tunisians-young and old-about a brighter future after years of dictatorship.

The promises that the Jasmine Revolution held are like blooms being turned to dust now by just one man, President Kais Saied. The latest demonstration of the loss of faith in the President was the recent elections to Parliament where the first round in December 2022 had just 11 percent voters while the latest round in January had even less.

The route that the President had taken since 2021 had convinced some observers that he was bent on establishing a one-man autocratic rule with his opponents calling his actions a coup. Political opponents who spoke against his actions were arrested, including, among others, Ali Larayedh, a former Prime Minister and vice president of the Opposition Ennahda party, who had boycotted the elections.

The President had been making full use of the military courts to crack down. His military had sat quietly while he increased attacks on his political rivals, who he labelled the “enemies of democracy in Tunisia”, and had himself filmed lecturing his cabinet and military chiefs of staff.

Late 2022 had seen the media under increasing threat with journalists being arrested and recently Anis Kaabi the leader of the largest trade union UGIT, which had been conducting huge protests and strikes against the President’s rule was detained by the police.

The sequence of moves made by him which had generated huge public protests since May 2022, included getting his new Constitution approved through a referendum on July 25 2022, in which reportedly 30 percent of the people voted. The single question was ““Do you agree with the new Constitution?”

The referendum-approved new Constitution centralised power in the hands of the President. Many of the checks and balances of the 2014 Constitution disappeared. Now the President would unilaterally appoint the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

The legislative branch was divided into two meaningless bodies as, aside from the boycotts, the electoral law decreed by the President, after he dissolved the independent Election Commission, said people would have voted for individuals rather than lists as in previous elections.

The judiciary had become an administrative function of the executive branch under the control of the President. And, the President could not be impeached.

This tarnishing of the image and polity, internationally acknowledged as the one real success of the Arab Spring, came at a time when the country’s economy was in a dismal state. The American administration had been one of its biggest foreign donors, giving hundreds of millions of dollars. But it was reduced from $88.9 million in 2021 to $55.2 million in 2022, and further cuts were expected this year.

Saied had also failed to secure funding from Saudi Arabia during a visit to Riyadh as part of the Arab-China summit in December. There was still no cut in funding for the military since the Pentagon had been very insistent on continuing funding for Tunisia as it wanted major non-NATO allies to be able to do joint exercises.

The International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.) was also less than definite about concluding any arrangement unless there was some semblance of effective reforms being undertaken. Going along with the I.M.F. provisions was widely opposed by the trade unions and workers, since any austerity programme defined by the I.M.F. would, as it had in other countries, hit the poorest of the poor.

As Kais Saeid put on the garb of a dictator, garment by garment, Tunisia’s economic situation continued to grow more dire. The inflation rate had hit 10.1 percent in December 2022 and was likely to rise further. Tunisia had been a net exporter of textiles, agricultural products (olive oil, citrus, vegetables), phosphates and chemicals.

The country sent abroad mechanical and electrical goods and hydrocarbons. Tunisian imports were mostly machinery and equipment, chemicals, fuel and food. But the recent downturn in the international markets; the impact of rising inflation of manufacturing costs; the fall in the value of the Dinar which was said to be under pressure, was hardly the optimum moment for a president to choose to consolidate his position while his people protested and suffered.

The 2023 Finance Law has also been widely criticised with the National Association of Lawyers describing it as “a heavy burden to citizens”. The law introduced higher taxes to bring in much needed revenue for the government but at the expense of Tunisians struggling to make ends meet rather than going after those who were evading tax.

An analyst had said that the ongoing protests in Tunisia are similar to past demonstrations against austerity that shaped Tunisian politics over the decades. The 1984 Bread Riot against the elimination of bread subsidies demanded by the I.M.F. was an early sign of the political crisis that led to the 1987 coup d’état led by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Similarly, the 2008 Gafsa mining basin uprising that became one of the most impactful revolts in Tunisia’s history and inspired the 2011 popular uprising was caused by the Ben Ali regime’s alignment with the IMF’s structural adjustment programme.

Would Saeid face a similar ouster even if the I.M.F. signs up despite his record? Some observers anticipate that history would give the Tunisians the weapons to deal with another dictatorship.

When he became president he had three options:

Have the National Dialogue involving all parties, something the UBIT has repeatedly been demanding. The opposition parties had sufficient differences among themselves.

Based on that revise his agenda where necessary to diffuse the opposition as well as those looking askance at him internationally.

Ignore all those who opposed him and carry on regardless. It is this last option that he seems to have chosen-quite contrary to the time of his electoral victory when he told the people he would never be a Dictator.