President Saied is also said to have blamed Jews for the social unrest in his country. Now he’s trying to limit the damage.
TUNIS taz | Tunisia’s President Kais Saied has sparked outrage among Tunisia’s Jewish minority with a controversial statement. The 62-year-old former professor of constitutional law wanted to call for an end to the current nationwide protests at a meeting with demonstrators in a suburb of Tunis. Serious street battles between groups of young men and security forces have continued since the weekend in several Tunisian cities.
In a video published by the presidential office, Kais Saied warns of the protests being taken over by political parties while talking to young people in the capital’s Ariana district. But Jews are also responsible for the unrest, said Said. At least Haim Bitan, the chief rabbi of the Jewish minority of the country’s 11.5 million inhabitants, claims that this sentence was uttered and asked for an apology.
The Association of European Rabbis called on the Tunisian government to “withdraw the false allegations immediately and guarantee the safety of the Jewish community.”
On Djerba and in Tunis, 1,500 of the former 105,000 Tunisian Jews who moved to Israel after the 6-day war or were forced to emigrate due to massive pressure still live.
Mouth and nose protection is to blame
After the Tunisian media reported on the scandal between Saied and the Jewish community, Said called Haim Bitan personally on Wednesday. The presidential office also tried to smooth things over and in a written statement contradicted the accusation that the president had made anti-Semitic statements. He was misunderstood by wearing an anti-corona mask, the statement said.
The fact-checking platform Falso stated after an analysis of the three-minute video that Saied had actually asked the rhetorical question “is that acceptable” with “Hal Jahun”. Tunisian journalists who listened to the recording believe that they heard the sentence “Al Jahud” – Jews who steal “. In Tunisia, inconsiderate behavior is described as “Jewish”, especially among the older generation, criticizes a journalist from the radio station Mosaique FM.
Even before his election, Kais Saied had caused a stir several times with anti-Israeli statements. Connections to Israel should be seen as high treason. According to Saied during the election campaign, only Jews without ties to Zionists and without Israeli passports should be able to visit synagogues in the future.
Every year hundreds of Israelis of Tunisian origin make a pilgrimage to Djerba to visit the Al Ghriba Synagogue. During a visit to the Jewish community on the holiday island, according to surveys, Said, who is still popular, described Tunisian Jews as equal citizens.
Not a big deal
Meanwhile, the scandal did not play a major role for the Tunisian public. On social media, many complain about the perplexity of politicians in the face of social unrest. A spokesman for the Defense Ministry claimed on Wednesday that terrorists had mixed with the “rioters”.
According to their own statements, the police have arrested more than 600 young men so far; the human rights organization FTDES speaks of well over 1000 detainees. Many of the very young protesters take to the streets because of the acute social crisis, which has been exacerbated by the total lockdown caused by the Covid.