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French press criticises Saied’s ‘gamble’ with Tunisia sovereignty; Italian FM accused of ‘racist’ remarks

May 30, 2023 at 9:03 pm

Tunisian President Kais Saied meets with the Grand Mufti of the Republic, Sheikh Hisham Bin Mahmoud, the Chief Rabbi of Tunisia, Haim Bitan and the Chief Archbishop of the Catholic Church, Ilario Antoniazi on 17 May 2023 [Saudi Foreign Ministry/Anadolu Agency]

The French magazine, La Tribune, criticised President Kais Saied’s refusal to accept the conditions imposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to approve a loan to Tunisia, considering it as Saied “gambling” with the sovereignty of his country. This comes at a time when Italian Foreign Minister, Antonio Tieanni, faced significant criticism after stating that it is a mistake to treat Tunisia as a European country, using what some describe as “racist” and “arrogant” rhetoric.

Under the headline “The Sovereignty Poker in Tunisia,” journalist Benoît Delmas wrote in La Tribune: “While countries are lining up at the door of the IMF to obtain Special Drawing Rights, hedging lines and liquidity to mitigate the social impact of crises, Tunisia rejects that money.”

He warned of the economic collapse that could occur if the country persists in rejecting the IMF’s conditions, as inflation and unemployment rates (16 per cent) continue to rise, prompting thousands each month to risk their lives in boats heading towards Italy.

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The writer stated that “Tunisia finds itself in a challenging position at the end of May, as President Kais Saied is being pressured to accept the $1.9 billion assistance by officially signing the letter of request, but he refuses to do so, repeatedly asserting that his country is ‘not for sale,’ and rejecting the submission to ‘dictates’, with encouragement from Algeria.”

He considered that “Saied’s refusal of the funds from the International Monetary Fund has caused a storm among his allies and sparked panic in Italy, which promised its voters to establish a ‘maritime blockade’ against migrants. Italy believes that the funds provided by the IMF will help impede departure operations, only to reveal that President Saied, a politician who claims to prioritise sovereignty, is risking losing everything through gambling,” according to the writer’s expression.

Meanwhile, Italian Foreign Minister, Antonio Tieanni, sparked significant controversy after using a speech that some deemed “racist” against Tunisia.

Italian Foreign Minister, Antonio Tieanni, in an interview with the Nova Agency, called for further reforms in Tunisia to support stability and avoid an economic crisis but considered that “we cannot expect a North African country to become a country in Northern Europe”, in a statement carrying a “patronising” tendency and an insult to North African countries.

President Kais Saied quickly criticised the “colonialist” discourse of the West, pointing out that “some still long for the discourse of Jules Ferry (one of the prominent figures of French colonialism),” indirectly referring to Tieanni’s statement.

Saied also emphasised, “the sovereignty of the Tunisian state and the necessity of equal and reciprocal dealings, while Tunisia maintains its strategic relations with European countries and the European Union in the context of shared interests.”

Abdulwahab Al-Hani, the former UN expert and president of the Al-Majd Party, wrote, “The Italian statement is degrading to Tunisia as a country, President, government, extraordinary measures and people. It is a repugnant racist discourse representing the most evident manifestations of Eurocentric racism, in which the sick white man claims the superiority of ‘higher European civilisation’ over the ‘lower Arab-Islamic civilisation,’ following the thought of the racist colonial French politician, Jules Ferry, to justify France’s brutal colonisation of Tunisia.”

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He wondered, saying, “Where are the shared human values among peoples who believe in freedom and democracy, who condemn human dignity, equality among nations and states in sovereignty, mutual respect and peaceful coexistence between civilisations?”

Previously, Tieanni had sparked a similar controversy when he called for urgent assistance to Tunisia before becoming a state governed by the Muslim Brotherhood.

He also urged the European Union to expedite support for the Tunisian economy to block Russia and China’s influence.