Migrants, Tunisia also raises the specter of the "major replacement"

Migrants, Tunisia also raises the specter of the major replacement


Sub-Saharan African migrants living in Tunisia are experiencing more dramatic days than usual. Two weeks ago, at the height of a wave of repression and centralization of powers, President Kais Saïed spoke of a "criminal plan" that would be orchestrated by shadowy elites to "organize a big wave" of foreigners in the country and bring about a great ethnic replacement. Statements made before national security advisers, and published on presidency websites. The public discourse taking hold across the nation seems to be fulfilling the most aggressive fantasies of the European identity right: a form of imported paranoia. But is it really so?

Hostile climate

According to the progressive site Middle East Eye , which has been monitoring the cultural and civil debate in the Middle East for years, Saïed's phrases are not a bolt from the blue but they find an echo in Tunisian society, where anti-immigrant sentiments have been intensifying for years. On Facebook, the popular Tunisian Reality page shared a series of videos in which many of those interviewed on the street express ruthless opinions on migrants from other African countries. A paranoid post on a Facebook group called "Together for the Liberation of Tunisia from Africans" theorizes a grand plan to "erase our existence from our land which is watered by the blood of our martyrs" through migration. Another group is titled "Tunisians against the presence of sub-Saharan African migrants in Tunisia". On Twitter and TikTok, Tunisians often justify the lynchings against Africans.

The climate of fear has led the organizations of sub-Saharan students residing legally in Tunisia to stay in their homes to avoid being attacked. About 300 West African migrants have left Tunisia on repatriation flights in recent days, fearing a wave of violence after Saied's statements. “The unstated goal of successive waves of illegal immigration is to consider Tunisia as a purely African country that has no affiliation with Arab and Islamic nations,” he said.

Twitter content This content can also be viewed on the site it originates from.

Several commentators have compared Saïed's speech to the theory of the Great Replacement of the French writer Renaud Camus , a very famous ex-bohemian aristocrat in the 1960s, who twenty years ago espoused white nationalism becoming one of the most cited sources on the radical right in the West. “ I am very shocked that the 'Great Replacement' is considered a theory. Because it's not a theory, it's a reality ”, the writer Michel Houellebecq, a personal friend of Camus, said in January in conversation with the philosopher Michel Onfray: a distillation of pure sovereignty that flows into verbal terrorism, in which the theme of immigration evokes civil war scenarios and the hope of a revenge of the whites.

The backing of the European far right

It is no coincidence that the Tunisian speech was publicly supported by Eric Zemmour, a far-right French politician who launched a candidacy last year in the presidential elections - in the end taking less than 10 percent of the votes - based on this same thesis: “ The Maghreb countries themselves are beginning to raise the alarm in the face of the surge in migration. Here is Tunisia which wants to take urgent measures to protect its people,” he wrote on Twitter.

Twitter content This content can also be viewed on the site it originates from.

But the theory of the "Great Replacement" is not just a trendy concept that has conquered Tunisian politics: for a long time, recalled Muriam Davis, professor of history at the University of California Santa Cruz, scientific racism was adapted by nationalists of the Middle East for their own political ends, especially during decolonization.Between the two world wars, these nationalists looked to European racial science to justify territorial origin, ties to soil, and superiority over other groups, sometimes through notions of genetics.

The Tunisian drift towards paranoid racial theories has surprised many observers: after all, this is the country that in 2018 was the first in North Africa to approve a particularly tough law against racial discrimination. Yet for Huda Mzioudet, an activist for ethnic minority rights in Tunisia, racism against blacks has always been strong. Despite the abolition of slavery in 1840, the mistreatment of black Tunisians and those from other parts of the continent persisted over the following decades. “Part of the problem is the denial, rejection and downplaying of the issue of racism by Tunisians,” Mzioudet said.

Racial pseudo-science reflects the political and social trends of the time. Another historian and expert on the Middle East, Elise Burton, recounted how in Turkey and Iran there was a strong emphasis on national categories, especially in the early years of state formation, in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. The Turkish and Iranian governments were very concerned with consolidating their authority and feared losing ground to competing nationalist movements, which could become separatist. Their governing strategies were based on the imposition of a single national-ethnic-linguistic identity which was supposed to unify the population. Behind these confrontations was another foreign policy objective as well: to ensure that Iranians and Turks were considered “white”, like Europeans, and consequently received the same kind of diplomatic respect that European nations accorded each other.

Genetics and history

In contrast, in the 1950s, during the golden age of Egyptian President Gamal Abd el-Nasser, pan-Arabism influenced the way science and politics understood the meaning of Arab identity and shared Arab ancestry. In Lebanon, for example, scientists from the American University of Beirut combined the most advanced evolutionary theories with stories of migration in the Middle East, to provide a progressive explanation for the differences in pathologies recorded between the various religious communities of the country. In this way they wanted to avoid an explanation that would end up associating diseases with specific demographic segments, which would have been in conflict with the internationalist theses of pan-Arabism.

Today Tunisia, heavily in debt and dependent on imports, it is grappling with a major economic crisis that preceded Saïed's takeover of power in 2019, but which has worsened with the consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Since he assumed full executive power, Saïed has neutralized parliament and pushed through a new constitution that gives him nearly unlimited control and makes impeachment nearly impossible. The new parliament was voted on in December last year with less than nine per cent of those eligible to vote. Authorities have tried several opponents in military courts and activists say they are reinstating a more authoritarian system than that of dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, deposed over a decade ago during protests and unrest that took the journalistic name of Arab spring .

The centralization of Saïed's powers is conditioning the institutions and areas of civil society: from media freedom to trade unionism. Yet, hundreds of protesters continue to take to the streets to oppose this drift. The question is therefore not whether Tunisia has become racist, but how the political elites of the former colonies, whom we are used to seeing as victims of white supremacy, can use race as a political argument: sometimes on the basis of local prejudices, sometimes times in a game of ideological exchanges with the Western right. Rather than judging with the categories of colonialism or paternalism, we need to ask ourselves about the political project behind these exploitations, wherever they occur.

Powered by Blogger.