Tunisians Protest Saudi Crown Prince's Visit
On Tuesday, Tunisians publically gathered in the cities of Tunis and Sfax to protest the arrival of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
The protesters showed their disgust at Bin Salman’s alleged involvement in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the atrocities of the Saudi-led war against the Houthis in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia’s efforts to improve relations with Israel at the expense of Palestinians.
Tunisia is known as the birthplace of the 2010-2011 anti-dictatorship movements known as the Arab Spring, where its citizens were the first in the Middle East-North Africa region to rise up against autocratic rule. In 2010, Tunisian citizens forced their long-time President Zine el Abedin Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia, thus ending his 34-year rule. The so-called Jasmine Revolution began a process of democratic reform in Tunisia that is slowly but surely taking root in the country.
Tunisians believe that Mohammed bin Salman is representative of values antithetical to the Jasmine Revolution. On Tuesday, Tunisia’s Journalists’ Union hung a large banner outside its office, which depicted Bin Salman carrying a bone saw and said in Arabic, “No to the desecration of Tunisia, land of the revolution”.
Another protester named Lafita said, “Tunisia is pure now. If you have blood on your hands, don’t come to Tunisia.”
The Tunisian Order of Lawyers attempted to obtain a court order that would bar Bin Salman from entering the country. The Order of Lawyers is among the four organizations known as the Tunisian National Dialog Quartet, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015 for its efforts at reconciliation and democratization in Tunisia.
Despite the protests, Mohammed Bin Salman carried on with his visit to Tunisia. The trip is part of a tour to six others Arab nations, his first visit abroad following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. It is speculated that the tour is an attempt to improve his image, which took a serious hit after the journalist’s murder.
Of the countries Bin Salman has visited on his tour so far, Tunisia is the only one where he was met with public protests. Unlike other countries in the region, Tunisia allows for free expression, which is why Tunisians were able to show their disapproval of Bin Salman’s visit. The fact that Tunisia allows public protests is a sign that the country’s transition to democracy following the Jasmine Revolution has thus far been successful.
However, the country is not without its problems. Its economy is struggling, with inflation at 7 percent and unemployment at 15 percent. The Tunisian Dinar’s value continues to fall while the cost of living constantly rises.
It is rumored that Saudi Arabia was preparing to deposit around $2 billion into Tunisia’s central bank, as well as offering fuel and military support. However, despite experiencing economic hardship, Tunisians voiced their disapproval of Saudi money. Tunisian human rights activist Said Arous told Al Jazeera, “We are here to underline our dignity, our national sovereignty and to say we are not for sale. We don’t need your oil barrels or your petrodollars.”