Racism in Tunisia: History Repeating Itself? (Part 2)

Racism in Tunisia: History Repeating Itself? (Part 2)
Photo by Clay Banks / Unsplash

As Top Tunnel continues to investigate the recent developments of racially motivated attacks against migrants in Tunisia, we would want to take a more critical approach as we investigate the reasoning and motivation behind President Saied's violence-fostering utterances.

To just quickly recap, it all began on the 21st of February when the president of Tunisia, Kais Saied instructed the police force to arrest and expel the "Hordes" of illegal migrants in the county and accused them of diluting Tunisia's ethnic demographic composition.

Is it a genuine concern for the demographic composition of his country that led Kais to utter such polarizing sentiments? Could there be a conspiracy to make Tunisia more or less like the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of racial identity? To put it plainly for those who may not relish intellectual innuendos, to make Tunisia more 'Black', or 'African?' Or is this just another populist ploy from the dictators' handbook? It has become common knowledge that often when dictators have failed to meet the needs and demands of citizens they identify vulnerable minorities to blame. This article will attempt to answer this question using a historical-comparative approach.

No One Does It Better than the Southerners

When addressing negative sentiments against migrants, it is hard not to bring up the lovely 'rainbow' nation of South Africa. In the case of South Africa, the instigators of xenophobia/Afrophobia justify their actions with the argument that the influx of foreigners has brought with it rising crime rates and scarcity of jobs.

The absurdity of these claims is a topic for another day, however, in principle, these reasons are enough to draw sympathizers and supporters. However in the case of Tunisia, what is interesting about its President's remarks is how they are void of the political correctness required as perfect political etiquette.

Unless there were already racial tensions brewing in the country, and the majority of the Tunisians were fretting about their Arabic ethnicity becoming extinct in the hands of the "hordes'' of Sub-Saharan migrants, then it would make sense why President Saied would capitalize on that 'fear' to garner support for his cause and stray away attention from his politics and state of governance.

The above assertion is not too far-fetched when we inquire from history for more clarity and perspective on this issue. Historically, dictators were known to rally support from the masses using populist ideas that sparked divisions and hate towards vulnerable minority groups. Adolf Hitler blamed Germany's economic crisis on the Jews he accused of amassing wealth at the expense of local nationals. Rwanda is another case study of how division is created when you attribute the problems of a country to a socially constructed ethnic group, resulting in the dreadful genocide that followed.

The Great Debate

Recently, it was reported that one of the greatest comedians in the world had their show scheduled in Egypt cancelled after it was revealed that the comedian said some unfavourable and unpopular remarks about the ethnic/racial history of Egypt.

One topic that has sparked controversy and debate is the original ancestry of Northern African People. Egypt is usually the point of reference because of its richness in preserved history. Today you will get many authors on both sides of the coin providing compelling and conflicting evidence that supports their opposing claims.  Well, as the reader you might be wondering how this might be relevant to the original conversation. Perhaps the injustices against illegal migrants coupled with the purported 'fear' of Arab Africa becoming more Sub-Saharan are issues which are just the tip of the iceberg. Could it ever be possible to address the injustices happening in Tunisia without first having an open and honest dialogue and discourse of African identity with the case of the people of Northern Africa? Perhaps the question we ought to ask ourselves is, had the foreign migrants come from Arab-speaking countries in the Middle East, would these causalities be happening today?