TUNIS – Tunisia’s military court opened an investigation Tuesday into allegations by Rached Khiari, a member of parliament, who accused President Kais Saied of receiving foreign support and funding during his election campaign to win the 2019 presidential elections. The allegations have since been refuted by the US embassy in Tunis.
The head of Saied’s electoral campaign Faouzi Daas said that the military court opened an investigation Tuesday into the accusation made by the independent parliamentarian, who had earlier claimed that the president had received American funding to boost his chances of victory in the presidential elections.
Daas added, in statements published by the official news agency TAP, “I was summoned as a witness to the Public Prosecution of the Military Court after it opened an investigation into a video that MP Rached Khiari posted on Monday night on his official Facebook page.”
In the Facebook video, Khiari accused Saied’s election campaign manager of receiving $ 5 million from an American intelligence officer to finance his election campaign.
According to Khiari, the transaction happened during the era of former US President Donald Trump (2017-2021).
The MP claimed he had documents “proving Daas was the one who received the money through postal orders.”
He added that “the American party that funded Saied’s campaign leaked the documents to him, after the President of the Republic, who was coordinating with US, changed his allegiance to France.”
On Wednesday evening the US embassy put out a statement ” reference to recent media reports: the US Government did not provide funding to President Kais Saied’s presidential campaign. The United States reaffirms its respect for the integrity and sovereignty of Tunisian democracy”.
Late on Monday, Daas announced that he had decided to sue Khiari over the accusations that he had received foreign funds during Saied’s campaign in 2019.
Daas refused to provide further details about the case, saying that the matter now is in the court’s hands.
Khiari called on the judiciary to examine the allegations, accusing Saied and Daas of committing state security crimes that violate the sanctity of the homeland and invalidate the results of the recent presidential elections. He also accused, in an audio recording, Saied’s son of supervising networks of bloggers to discredit his father’s opponents.
Khiari’s accusations against Saied were met with disapproval by a large number of Tunisians, with Mohsen Marzouk, the head of Machrouu Tounes (four seats in parliament), branding Khiari’s statements “ridiculous fabrications.”
Analysts described the allegations as part of pro-Islamist attacks against the president who is engaged in an increasingly overt showdown with Ennahda leader and Speaker of Parliament Rached Ghannouchi and the current Islamist-backed prime minister.
Claims by Khiari are generally seen as being more driven by ideology than by facts although contributing to rising political tensions in the country.
Marzouk, who was a political adviser to the late President Beji Caid Essebsi, wrote on his Facebook page, “I do not want to comment on the series of ridiculous fabrications made against the president by one of the deputies. No one can believe this Bollywood sorcery except for an idle, ignorant and failed mind.”
He continued, “It is clear that this disgusting but very dangerous theatrical performance is a childish reaction by the employers of this deputy against President Saeid’s visit to Egypt and his most recent speech.”
Marzouk asked, “When will public or military prosecutors move to put an end to this disgusting manoeuvring that threatens Tunisia and its security?”
He said, “This person has publicly declared that he has abandoned his immunity and that he is placing himself under the jurisdiction of courts. Therefore, he must be summoned immediately to open an investigation into his allegations as an ordinary citizen who has no immunity. Then, if his allegations prove to be untrue, maximum penalties should be considered against him.”
“We may disagree with President Saied in certain matters, but what is happening now amounts to a crime against the state. The law must hence deal with this crime decisively,” he said.
Khiari, an independent MP, was elected as a candidate for the Dignity Coalition, which is close to the Islamist Ennahda movement. He recently sparked controversy with other accusations levelled at politicians and media professionals.
Ennahda distanced itself from Khiari Wednesday saying the “the matter is now in the bands of the courts”.
Earlier in October, Tunisian authorities opened an investigation into Khiari’s statements that appeared to defend the beheading of a French teacher who had shown his pupils satirical cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed.
Teacher Samuel Paty, who used the cartoons during a lesson on freedom of expression, was murdered in the street outside his school, sparking outrage and countrywide rallies supporting freedom of expression in France.
Khiari wrote on Facebook, “Insulting the prophet of God is the greatest of crimes and anyone who commits it, whether a state, a group or an individual, must accept the consequences.”
Khiari’s recent accusations against Saied were condemned by the powerful Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), with Sami Taheri, the spokesman for the union, saying “We can sense the manoeuvring of intelligence organisations in the series of rumours, strange allegations and leaks, the latest of which was the video that targeted the head of state, accusing him of ties with foreign parties.”
Taheri considered that such allegations “should not be ignored, or considered as a mere blubbering of a fool.”
“The end of this charade would come after sending an official request to the US embassy for clarification and opening an investigation into the allegations so as to put an end to any potential threats,” the UGTT’s spokesman said.
He added, “There is no doubt that this is not just the fruit of a mental illness or an individual behaviour. There are recurrent manoeuvres that attempt to poison the political climate in the country and drag it into the unknown. The aim is to harm the country’s reputation.”
Taheri stressed that “the allegations must be taken seriously … the country risks disarray and conspiracies are not stopping.”
In a surprise to both public and political circles, Saeid, a university professor who is not affiliated with a political party, won the second round of the presidential elections in 2019, by obtaining 72.71 percent of the vote against his rival Nabil Karoui, head of the Heart of Tunisia party.
The accusation of foreign funding comes in light of an ongoing political dispute between Saied and the Ennahda Movement, which, along with its allies, have a majority in parliament.
In recent weeks, Saied has been facing a systematic campaign against his person and position, in what appears to be in anticipation of decisions that he may take soon.
Since his rise to power, the Tunisian president has advocated a change of the political system, which he considers as the main reason for the country’s unprecedented political, economic and social crises.
Saied also believes that the presidential system could be the solution to all of Tunisia’s problems.