(Bloomberg) -- Tunisia’s president vowed to protect the country’s fragile democracy, as he sought to calm concerns that he’s staged a putsch in the cradle of the Arab Spring.

Kais Saied, who fired Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspended parliament on Sunday night, told civil society groups that he was intent on guaranteeing freedoms and respecting the rule of law, Mahdi al-Galasi, head of the Journalists’ Syndicate, told Bloomberg by phone on Tuesday. He said Saied had met with the gathering late Monday in a bid to further clarify decisions that parliament’s largest bloc, the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, dubbed a coup.

Tunisia’s President Takes Control as Islamists Cry ‘Coup’

Saied’s actions have rattled the brittle democracy that’s been Tunisia’s only tangible gain from the 2011 uprising that ousted longtime leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and sparked political upheavals across the Middle East. They also threaten to complicate efforts to secure new backing from the International Monetary Fund at a time when the economy is in deep crisis.

The meeting with the civil society groups was one of several Saied, a constitutional law expert and political outsider, has held with influential organizations in an effort to muster support for his actions. Winning legitimacy for his actions is critical to maintaining the goodwill of foreign allies and international lenders, who will be key to helping Tunisia emerge from its economic turmoil and implement necessary reforms.

The president says he invoked a constitutional measure granting him broader authorities in order to quell unrest over the government’s failure to address economic ills exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, he’s taken steps to quash dissent such as barring public gatherings of more than three people and raiding the offices of Qatar-based Al-Jazeera news network.

Ennahda’s executive body, in a statement posted on the group leader’s Facebook page, demanded that the normal functioning of state institutions be restored. At the same time, it called for a national dialogue to help guide the country out of its current crisis, mindful that many Tunisians blame the party -- which has been a major force in the country’s politics since the uprising -- for the political and economic tumult in its aftermath.

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