The World Today for March 24, 2023


When Hate Comes To Town


Tunisian President Kais Saied has recently been claiming that migrants originating from sub-Saharan Africa were coming to his North African country as part of a conspiracy to alter its largely Arab-Muslim culture. His comments came as part of a wave of violence against sub-Saharan migrants as well as Black Tunisians in a country that had for the most part seen diverse groups living harmoniously together, the Washington Post reported.

“That is a tried and tested tactic used by populist politicians or authoritarian leaders to win elections or shore up waning popularity,” wrote BBC analyst Magdi Abdelhadi.

Tunisia has around 12 million citizens. The majority identify as ethnic Arabs. As many as 15 percent identify as Black. Currently, approximately 20,000 sub-Saharan migrants are in the country. Most are seeking to migrate across the Mediterranean Sea for safety and better lives in Europe. They represent a source of instability but hardly an existential challenge, researchers say.

Meanwhile, the Tunisian economy is in terrible shape, and Saied has centralized so much political power in his office that people have nobody else to blame but him for the country’s sad state of affairs.

Tunisia’s economy has been hobbled since the political instability that followed the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, which sparked the so-called Arab Spring with its pro-democracy spirit that pushed across the region. Terrorist attacks and the migrant crisis hurt its tourism industry. The pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have not helped its import-dependent economy, either.

Still, Saied has been wielding near-total power in the country since 2021 when he fired his cabinet, dissolved parliament, and promised a plan to restore stability. Since then, he has been further expanding his powers while launching crackdowns on critics who claim he is seeking to become a dictator, argued College of Europe visiting professor Jean-Pierre Cassarino in the Conversation.

As Africanews reported, Saied this month shuttered local government councils whose members expected to run for reelection in April. Instead, the president replaced them with civil servants and others under his control. Saied then said he would write and release new rules in the future that would thenceforth govern the new councils.

Saied’s demonization of sub-Saharan African migrants might have gone too far, however. The World Bank recently paused a financial rescue package because of worries over violence against Black African migrants in the country, the Wall Street Journal noted.

Hate can cost dearly.

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