Creating new perspectives since 2009

What’s behind the ugly descriptions by Saied of those who disagree with him?

August 14, 2021 at 10:35 am

In a photo taken from the television station of President Kais Saied, Presidnet Saied announces, the dissolution of parliament and Prime Minister Mechichi’s government on July 25, 2021 at Carthage Palace after a day of nationwide protest. [FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images]

“Endemics, viruses and microbes” are descriptions used by Tunisian President Kais Saied in almost every speech he delivers to attack those who disagree with him. “No turning back and no compromise. The washing machine of political anecdotes will come to cleanse, and for some people, their place is in sewage canals.” The threats are to the extent that some see a charge of betrayal that could plunge the country into murder and ablation. Some observers see the descriptions of opponents used by President Saied as nothing but repressive fascism that reinforces despotism and repression.

International standards

In an exclusive statement to Arabi21, regarding the terms used by the president, Anwar Al-Gharbi, member of the International Association of Lawyers, stressed that there are: “International standards regarding hate speech or incitement or what may be considered to be a language threatening, insulting, debasing or belittling others.”

Al-Gharbi affirmed: “Tunisia is a signatory of the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights and therefore its leaders are obliged by the rules of international law. Articles 19 and 20 of the Convention stresses that every human being has the right to freedom of speech. This right includes the freedom to seek information, receive it and relay it, and to seek ideas of all types. Yet, Article 19 determines the restrictions that relate to this right, including respect for the rights of others and for their integrity.”

He went on to explain: “Article 20 states that any call for hatred is forbidden. This would include any incitement toward discrimination, hostility or violence. Hatred for national, racial or religious reasons is considered a criminal offence in a number of Western countries. The agreement demands from all states that are signatories to the Convention that they should deem as a criminal offence any propagation of ideas based on the notion of supremacy or hatred or incitement against dissenters.”

READ: Will evidence ‘disappear’ to cover up the Tunisian president’s crime? 

Charges of betrayal and populism

Rights activist and vice-chairperson of Al-Karamah Foundation, Fatma Kammoun, in an exclusive statement to Arabi21, expressed: “The terms used by the president indicate arrogance. He uses terms in his plans and approaches such as no going back, which can only be through annihilation.”

Kammoun added: “We are facing a moral, political crisis. The president has no programme, and I am afraid that his programme is filled with pesticides.” Kammoun further warned: “What Saied says and does is very dangerous indeed, for it does not only undermine the political class but also the rights one. He only talks in terms of annihilation and pesticides.”

In a Facebook post, Khadija Ben Haddej stated, “There is a long list of expressions that discretely pass us by, legitimising destruction. This cannot be the language of a politician or a leader. Even dictators resort to different terms when fighting their opponents, such as “saboteurs”, “mischievous”, “not in favour of the country’s interests”, and so on. So, be wary of Saied’s discourse, which reflects his sheer ignorance of politics. Reiterating such discourse would only set the scene for the most vicious crimes with the support of the people themselves.”

In exclusive statements to Arabi21, university researcher and political activist Al-Ameen Bouazizi asserted: “The president characterises those who disagree with him politically, whether from within the parties or the trade unions, and this is a phenomenon of all populist regimes that embark on demonising the other. Such rhetoric does not target the minds of people but is aimed at arousing the sentiments and passions of supporters.”

READ: The fight over Tunisia’s identity is at the heart of the current crisis 

Is Tunisia slipping into a dangerous pitfall?- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Is Tunisia slipping into a dangerous pitfall?- Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Bouazizi pointed out: “The president is placing the people before the second polarisation. The president is resurrecting the climate of 2012, the days of Salafist extremism when agitation used to be conducted on the basis of charging others with blasphemy, and it is being conducted today to accuse others of betrayal. This is rather dangerous and even more dangerous than the coup he perpetrated. He is not in a cul-de-sac because everyone is refusing that, including even those who initially supported him but are now jumping off the train.”

Bouazizi considers President Saied’s lexicon too populist based on charging others with betrayal and using exclusionist terms. All that Saied does is deliberate and planned. This is characteristic of populist regimes from Hitler to Mussolini and Gaddafi.

With regards to legal limitations, especially from a rights-oriented approach, Bouazizi emphasised: “Whatever the president is doing, he will be held legally accountable. Whatever he does is in breach of the Constitution and the law. There is a difference between the law state that implements the law and submits to it and the legal state that implements the law but places itself above it. As such, the president today is violating the law. Everything he does will make him legally accountable.”

In a Facebook post, the prominent Tunisian communist leader Hamma Al-Hammami wrote, “On two occasions, on 6 and 8 August, speaking before military and medical staff, Saied used terminology unfamiliar to Tunisians, language derived from the lexicon of fascists. Saied has described his political opponents, without specification, as “viruses” and as “microbes”. Those who understand the basics of law know that treating viruses and microbes can only be achieved by finishing them off. Those who follow the hysteria of Saied’s supporters and how they behave on social media (slander, abuse, charges of betrayal, defamation and threats), realise the dangerous synchrony in the language used by both sides – an expression of a populist, fascist spirit that cannot in any way be ignored.

READ: Tunisia’s president is largely responsible for the disaster that he is trying to fix 

Saied borrows vocabulary from virology and microbiology to describe his opponents and justify his coup and seizure of all powers to try to save a reactionary regime that is so rotten. Do we have to wait and see what will happen to understand the implications and realise the repercussions? Hasn’t Saied promised an end to parties, elections and representative institutions for some time, presenting a vision of governance that may be summed up in ‘an inspired leader and a herd of people”?

On the other hand, Republican Party Secretary-General Essam Al-Shabbi disclosed in a statement to Arabi21: “The president’s idioms are charged with words that attack and belittle his political opponents. The president’s symbolism is supposed to be unity. His speeches cannot simply be at such a level of offence. It cannot be acceptable for the president to describe his citizens as germs and endemics.”

“This discourse is rejected. It is a discourse that is no different from that charged rhetoric in social media. This cannot become an official discourse for those who are in charge of running the state. It would only make things worse,” Al-Shabbi reiterated.

Al-Shabbi concluded: “We are awaiting a road map and dialogue but not a discourse of bullying and belittling so far away from political terms. This discourse is rejected if it comes out of an ordinary citizen, let alone out of the president of the state.”

Translated from Arabi21, 13 August, 2021.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.