- The crackdown is aimed at diverting attention from the economic crisis
- President Saied denied racism but went on to lay down legal consequences for the attacks
- Thousands of people took to the streets of Tunisia to protest against the country's deteriorating economic conditions
Harare - Tunisian President Kais Saied 's crackdown on sub-Saharan African undocumented immigrants, which coincided with arrests of senior opposition figures, was aimed at distracting Tunisia's economic crisis.
During a statement on February 21 telling security forces to expel all illegal immigrants, President Kais Saied called migration a conspiracy to change Tunisia's demographics by making it more African and less Arab.
Police detained hundreds of migrants, landlords summarily evicted hundreds from their homes and hundreds of others were fired from work.
Sub-Saharan Africans have called their time in Tunisia a living hell and it seems like Tunisia has prepared a particular prison for sub-Saharan Africans to maintain the social divide.
Many of the estimated 21,000 sub-Saharan African people in Tunisia – most of whom are undocumented – lost their jobs and housing overnight.
Further the migrants have been attacked, including being pelted with stones by gangs of youths in their neighbourhoods, and rights groups said police had been slow to respond to such assaults.
While Saied denied racism in a statement on February 23, he repeated his view of immigration as a demographic plot. Before Sunday, Saied had not publicly warned of any legal consequences for the attacks.
A Tunisian rights group, which had this week already condemned what they call hate speech directed at African migrants, said Saied's comments were racist.
"It is a racist approach just like the campaigns in Europe, the presidential campaign aims to create an imaginary enemy for Tunisians to distract them from their basic problems," said Ramadan Ben Amor, spokesperson for the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights.
President Saied seized most powers in 2021, shutting down the elected parliament, moving to rule by decree, and rewriting the constitution, steps his foes including the main political parties called a coup. He has said his actions were legal and needed to save Tunisia from chaos.
Economic turmoil in Tunisia
On Saturday, thousands of people took to the streets of Tunisia to protest against the country's deteriorating economic conditions. The mass demonstration was called by Tunisia's powerful trade union, the UGTT, amid a deep political crisis that has worsened the country's economic situation since President Kais Saied dissolved parliament and assumed executive authority in 2021.
The UGTT Secretary-General, Noureddine Taboubi, addressed the protesters, declaring that the trade union would not accept any restrictions on freedoms in Tunisia. He also denounced any act of violence and vowed that the UGTT would be at the forefront if there was any plot to assassinate the Tunisian president. Taboubi stressed that the trade union did not advocate violence or terrorism and called for peaceful change through democratic mechanisms.
While the Tunisian president maintains that his measures were intended to "save" the country, his critics have accused him of orchestrating a coup. The ongoing political crisis in Tunisia has further exacerbated the country's already precarious economic situation, leading to widespread frustration and anger among Tunisians.
The UGTT has a long history of activism in Tunisia and played a pivotal role in the country's 2011 revolution, which toppled longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The trade union has been pushing for reforms to improve the lives of Tunisians, including better wages, increased job security, and improved working conditions.
Overall, the mass protest in Tunisia is an indication of the growing dissatisfaction and frustration among Tunisians with their economic and political conditions. The ongoing crisis has heightened tensions in the country, and it remains to be seen how the situation is going to evolve in the coming days and weeks.
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