Tunisia is the birthplace of the “Spring” that shook the Arab world in 2011. Indeed, it is the only country where the democratic reforms called for by the so-called “Jasmine Revolution” had a great effect politically and institutionally, resulting in one of the most progressive constitutions in the Arab world. But a decade of democracy has not brought prosperity and good governance. Tunisians have instead become disillusioned with politics and the extensive corruption of their elected representatives, which has generated a very deep and ongoing economic crisis.
The demographic composition of the country
Recent statements made by President Kais Saied – in office for three years – about sub-Saharan migrants in Tunisia have created some consternation, especially in certain international circles. On February 21, 2023, at a meeting of the National Security Council, he called for “urgent measures” to end what he described as an incessant flow of migrants, who are, allegedly, at the root of violence and crime in the country. He went on to decry “the increase, since the beginning of the century, of criminal activity aimed at changing the demographic composition of Tunisia.” In his conspiratorial interpretation, the president also claims that the secret goal, desired and financed by foreign countries, is to strip Tunisia of its historical Arab and Muslim identity and reduce it to being solely African.
This position is closely reminiscent of the theory of so-called “ethnic substitution,” first formulated by Renaud Camus and now embraced by the French far-right (particularly Éric Zemmour), and later popularized in several Francophile countries, including Tunisia.
While the claims were condemned by some international organizations, in Tunisia they were well received by part of the population. As a result, incidents of intolerance and violence against black immigrants have increased, so much so that they avoid being seen frequenting public spaces. From Tunis, the city of the Arab Springs, an “immigrant flight” was underway as never before. The embassies of Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea hurriedly organized flights to repatriate their citizens, who were no longer welcome. Echoing right-wing agendas, Kais Saied also denounced the increase in the number of Christian churches in Tunisia run by Africans, a change, he said, which would undermine the Islamic character of the state. But the fact is that Christian immigrants have opened places of worship is perfectly in accordance with Tunisian law: freedom of worship is provided for and guaranteed by the new constitution endorsed by the president.