Ahmed Seif EL-Din
Tunisia’s president, Kais Saied, has been accused of making “racialized hate speech” by the African Union (AU). In a National Security Council meeting, Saied claimed that sub-Saharan African migrants were plotting to settle in the country and change its demographic composition. He further alleged that the immigrants were involved in “violence, crimes and unacceptable practices” and called for “urgent measures” to tackle illegal migrants. He also accused individuals of receiving money to “settle” sub-Saharan Africans in Tunisia.
The AU expressed “deep shock and concern” over Saied’s remarks, describing them as targeting “fellow Africans, notwithstanding their legal status in the country.” Civil rights groups and social media users have criticized the Tunisian leader for his views. The controversy comes amid an escalating crackdown on critics, with at least 12 opposition figures, including judges, politicians, activists, businessmen, and the head of a leading independent radio station, being arrested in recent weeks. They are accused of threatening state security or being behind recent price increases.
Tunisia is facing a severe economic crisis, with inflation averaging 8.3 per cent in 2022, and rating agency Fitch expecting it to average 9.5 per cent this year. The country’s imports have also risen sharply following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, leading to shortages of basic goods such as sugar and flour. Additionally, a $1.9 billion IMF loan remains stalled due to Saied’s unwillingness to implement reforms.
The president’s comments have reportedly increased fear among the estimated 20,000 sub-Saharan Africans in Tunisia. Some legally resident students are staying inside their homes, fearing arrest or attack by people inflamed by the anti-migrant rhetoric. In response to Saied’s campaign, a group of Tunisian civil society associations has formed the Antifascist Front to fight racism.
Saied, who was elected by a landslide in 2019, has been accused of “scapegoating” sub-Saharan Africans amid the economic crisis. He has been redesigning the political system to concentrate power in his own hands, with a new charter that gives him extensive authority over the government and judiciary. Critics say that his belief in conspiracy theories and his “reckless” accusations have contributed to an atmosphere of fear among political opponents. They contend that they must contend with “increasing uncertainty about the logic of repression.”
In conclusion, Saied’s remarks have sparked widespread criticism and drawn international condemnation. The controversy comes amid a worsening economic crisis and an escalating crackdown on critics, prompting fears that Tunisia’s democratic gains may be lost. The president’s authoritarian approach to governance and his reluctance to implement economic reforms have added to the country’s woes. The situation remains uncertain, with Tunisia’s future hanging in the balance.