Tunisia was once the great hope of the Arab Spring, the only democracy to emerge from the uprisings that swept North Africa in 2011. But the days when it was a showcase for the Arab world are over, he said Le Monde (Paris); every week the image of the nation deteriorates more and more.
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The problems started with the election of Kais Said as president in 2019. In three years, he suspended the parliament and most of the constitution drafted in 2014 and concentrated power in his hands.
His repressive policies have been accompanied by increasingly xenophobic rhetoric, culminating in a speech last month in which he railed against the “hordes” of migrants arriving in Tunisia from sub-Saharan Africa, bringing with them “violence, crime and unacceptable practices” and conspiracy radically change the demographics of a proud nation.
As a result of the slave trade (abolished in 1846), Tunisia has a significant black minority (about 10% to 15% of the population), said Lisa Bryant on VOA (Washington). And it was also the first country in North Africa and Middle East introduce criminal liability for racial discrimination (the law was adopted in 2018).
But Said’s speech was directed not at black Tunisians but at thousands of sub-Saharan newcomers, a mix of students and migrants trying to reach Europe. And that started a “spiral of violence” against them, Louis Celestin said News of Guinea (Conakry) – there are numerous reports of attacks on people with machetes; gangs of young men kicking down doors and dragging black migrant families outside, forcing them to watch as their property is burned.
Racial tensions have long simmered beneath Tunisia’s “ostensibly progressive surface”, Simon Speakman Kordal said in Foreign policy (Washington). But they were made much worse by Said’s campaign, which called on Tunisians to report undocumented migrants to the authorities: security services arrested black migrants en masse; racism came to “determine their lives.”
How sad that it has come to this, said Hafed Al Gwel Arabic news (Riyadh). When Tunisians elected Said, a former law professor, they believed that he could almost “single-handedly” put together the foundations on which a sustainable democracy could be built: but that would require “relentless” work, for which Said showed no appetite for anything. Instead, he focused solely on “clinging to power” – leaving the dreams of democracy that Tunisians once harbored “virtually buried.”