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Tunisian President Accuses Black Africans of Stealing the Country's Culture


Tunisia’s President, Kais Saied, recently made shocking remarks which stigmatized Sub-Saharan African foreigners living in Tunisia as the cause of Tunisia’s economic, social, and political woes. The Tunisian President declared that Black Africans who live in Tunisia are a serious problem for Tunisia’s economic and sociopolitical development. Of course, not all Tunisians agree with his outrageous declarations. But many Tunisians do share this feeling with President Saied. In fact, the Tunisian President has been using populist rhetoric to mask the failure of his domestic policies.

The argument of President Saied is deeper than the mere accusations of having a group of foreigners in a country. President Saied argued that Tunisia is experiencing a demographic replacement. This demographic replacement argument is rooted in the theory of the Great Replacement. This theory was developed in the twentieth century by French author Maurice Barres, who argued that a group of foreigners settle in a new land, import their cultural values into that land, refuse to assimilate, and progressively start to replace the indigenous population by mixing with them and then subduing their [indigenous culture] cultural values. This theory was the essential political program of French presidential candidate Eric Zemmour. Why does this argument not hold in the Tunisian context?

First, the Sub-Saharan Africans who live in Tunisia are there on a short-term basis. Tunisia has always been a point of transit for Black Africans who want to go to Europe. Many Black Africans who cannot afford to go directly to Europe, migrate to Tunisia in order to either obtain some work experience or pursue their studies before going to Europe for better economic opportunities. Therefore, most of the Black Africans who live there are not seeking to settle in Tunisia. Thus, the argument of President Saied would have been valid and legitimate if the Black Africans who came to Tunisia did so illegally. There is no immigration restriction between Tunisia and many of the Sub-Saharan French-speaking countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger…etc. In fact, a treaty agreement between Tunisia and French-speaking African countries exists for a long time, which allows Africans from these French-speaking countries aforementioned to migrate to Tunisia without a visa. Second, most of the Black Africans who live in Tunisia do not hold positions and occupations in the Tunisian economy that will threaten ordinary Tunisians from losing their jobs or not finding work. Most of the Black Africans who live in Tunisia do odd and low-income jobs that ordinary Tunisians would not do themselves.

Many Tunisians appraised President Saied's decision because Northern Africans never truly felt Africans. They always had condescending views of Black Africans. They always believed that Black Africans were lesser than them. It is important to empathize that the Arabs actively participated in the slave trade for six centuries, way before the Europeans even got involved in it. Let us remind you that slavery is still actively occurring in Libya, which is another Northern African country. Though, it is essential to reiterate that not all Arabs are racists. President Saied used the “great replacement” argument for political expediency as a scapegoat to mask the failure of his own domestic policies. This strategy allows him to use rally support behind him after seeing his approval ratings fall in the polls. On the other hand, the Black Africans who are living there illegally should then leave the country and return to their homeland.

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