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Pandemic Shows Cracks in Tunisia’s Governance

Tunisia’s government stumbled deeper into crisis on Wednesday over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, after Premier Hichem Mechichi fired the health minister amid skyrocketing cases in the North African country. Mechichi, whose office had announced Faouzi Mehdi’s sacking in a brief statement on Tuesday evening, slammed the minister’s performance, pinpointing a critical lack of oxygen at Tunisian hospitals and a slow rollout of vaccines. Tunisia has been facing an overwhelming Covid-19 caseload that has left more than 17,000 people dead in a population of around 12 million. The country’s hospitals have faced acute shortages of oxygen, staff and intensive care beds, and fewer than eight percent of the population are fully vaccinated. Mehdi’s sacking came a day after the start of a temporary opening of vaccination stations to those over 18, to mark the Eid al-Adha Muslim festival. But that led to stampedes at some of the 29 vaccination centres, where jab stocks quickly ran dry. The country’s fractious political class have been unable to form lasting, effective governments. Since President Kais Saied was elected in 2019, he has been locked in a showdown with Mechichi and parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi, which has blocked ministerial appointments and crippled the state’s ability to tackle Tunisia’s multiple economic and social problems.