Tunisia is a small country located in North Africa, which has faced countless challenges since gaining its independence from France in 1956. The country’s recent history has been marked by a series of political upheavals, economic hardships, and security challenges that have left many Tunisians disillusioned and frustrated. The current president, Kais Saied, came to power in 2019 promising to address these issues and bring stability to the country. However, his increasingly authoritarian tactics and controversial statements have raised concerns about his commitment to democracy and human rights.
One of the biggest challenges facing President Saied is a growing insurgency in the western region of the country. Over the past year, there has been a surge in attacks by militants affiliated with the Islamic State and other extremist groups in the mountainous border region with Algeria. The attacks have targeted security forces, government officials, and civilians, causing dozens of deaths and leaving many communities in fear.
President Saied has responded to the insurgency by launching a major military operation to root out the militants and establish control over the border region. He has also ordered the closure of dozens of mosques that he claims are preaching extremist ideologies and inciting violence. Some critics have accused him of using the insurgency as a pretext to clamp down on political opposition and limit civil liberties, a charge he vehemently denies.
In a recent interview with a French news outlet, President Saied defended his actions and denied that he is inciting racism or infringing on civil liberties. He argued that the closure of the mosques was necessary to prevent the spread of extremism and that his government is committed to protecting the rights of all Tunisians. He also blamed foreign powers and international organizations for failing to provide sufficient assistance to Tunisia’s security forces in their fight against terrorism.
However, his critics argue that President Saied’s actions are having the opposite effect and fueling resentment and anger among the country’s marginalized populations. They say that the closure of mosques and the heavy-handed military tactics are alienating the local communities and pushing them into the arms of extremist groups. They also accuse him of using inflammatory language that stokes division and promotes a narrow, nationalist agenda that excludes minorities and immigrants.
For example, President Saied has been accused of making comments that are perceived as xenophobic and anti-immigrant. In one speech, he said that “we cannot accept that the Tunisian people become strangers in their own country,” a statement that was widely interpreted as a reference to the country’s large population of sub-Saharan African migrants. He has also called for measures to restrict immigration and has expressed support for a proposal to require Tunisians to pass a national identity test before being allowed to run for office.
These statements have drawn criticism from human rights activists and opposition leaders, who say that they violate Tunisia’s constitution and international law. They also suggest that President Saied is seeking to bolster his own popularity by tapping into popular frustrations and prejudices.
Despite these criticisms, President Saied remains popular among many Tunisians who see him as a strong leader who is willing to take decisive action to tackle the country’s problems. They argue that his military campaign against the militants is necessary to protect the security and stability of the country and that his efforts to root out corruption and reform the economy are long overdue.
However, Tunisia’s long-term prospects depend on much more than just security and economic stability. The country needs a political system that respects the rights and freedoms of all its citizens and promotes greater social inclusion and economic equality. President Saied’s authoritarian tendencies and divisive rhetoric are not conducive to achieving these goals and risk undermining the hard-won gains that Tunisia has made since the 2011 revolution.
To avoid a slide into dictatorship and deepen Tunisia’s democracy and social inclusion, President Saied must develop a more inclusive and participatory governing style that encourages dialogue and cooperation among all stakeholders. He must also take concrete steps to address the root causes of the insurgency, such as poverty, unemployment, and marginalization, by investing in education, health, and infrastructure in the affected areas. This requires taking risks: firing incompetent or corrupt officials, finding rigorous solutions, but also postponing some of the control he has already claimed.
Only by addressing these challenges can Tunisia achieve the stability and prosperity that its people deserve, and avoid the dangers of extremism, polarization, and conflict.