Tunisians Protest Saudi’s MBS Planned Visit
Dozens of Tunisians gathered on the capital's main avenue on Monday evening to protest against a planned visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [MBS].
MBS is expected to arrive in Tunisia on Tuesday afternoon as part of a regional tour as he makes his way to the G20 summit set to take place in Argentina at the end of the month.
It is also MBS's first overseas tour after the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two months ago. The murder - widely seen as orchestrated by the crown prince - created an international firestorm against Saudi Arabia that continues to reverberate.
"As a Tunisian citizen, I reject bin Salman's visit to Tunis," Achraf Aouadi, a civil society activist said.
Tunisia adheres to a "human rights framework" that should protect the rights of the Yemeni people, preserve journalists' right to do their work, and grant female activists rights to express themselves freely, said Aouadi.
In addition to the Khashoggi killing, Aouadi was referring to recent reports on the torture and sexual harassment of female Saudi activists, as well as the four-year Saudi-led war in Yemen which has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
"It provokes me that we [Tunisia] are dismissing this framework for economic interests," he said.
While the Saudi Royal Court did not clarify the official visit's program, Tunisia has long been a recipient of Saudi aid money. The two countries' air forces held their first ever-joint exercises in October, signaling tighter relations.
Faces painted in stark black and white, a group of performance artists cleared the cascading series of steps where the hundred-something protesters gathered to perform a mime sketch.
MBS also visited the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt - all staunch allies of Saudi Arabia - and is expected in Argentina for the G20 summit on Friday.
Similar performance art protests took place when Ben Ali invited late Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Tunis in 2005, and several Tunisians also protested a visit by Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan.
"This is not new," said Aouadi. The point is, "post-revolution Tunisia continues to receive leaders and officials with blood on their hands," he continued. The same people who protested Sharon and others are here to express their rejection of that, said Aouadi.
MBS' trip to Tunis, made known last week, has generated widespread condemnation among civil society for days.
On Monday, the Tunisian Journalists' Syndicate (SNJT) announced it planned to file a lawsuit against Prince Mohammed at an international court for "war crimes committed by the Saudi regime in Yemen".
In an open letter addressed to President Beji Caid Essebsi days prior, the union slammed MBS as a "danger for the safety and the peace of the region and the world, and a real threat to freedom of expression".
"Tunisians reject the war crimes being committed in Yemen and the obvious human rights transgressions against Saudi activists like Jamal Khashoggi," Sakina Abdel Samad, an SNJT member, told reporters during a press conference.
A giant poster of the Saudi prince holding a chainsaw has been hung outside the group's office. "No to the desecration of Tunisia, land of the revolution," read the banner.
In another symbolic move, a group of 50 lawyers announced they too filed a lawsuit with a Tunisian court to pressure the government to cancel the crown prince's visit.
"We have officially requested an investigation into crimes committed by bin Salman," Nizar Boujalal, a spokesman for the lawyers, told reporters.
MBS's involvement in Yemen - in addition to his alleged role in Khashoggi's killing and the detention of the female activists - has put the country's ties with Western allies under tight scrutiny.
It remains to be seen which leaders shake hands and pose for photos with the crown prince at the G20 in Buenos Aires later this week.
Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team