'Dictatorial' image of Tunisia President Kais Saied hung from mosque sparking fury

'Dictatorial' image of Tunisia President Kais Saied hung from mosque sparking fury
Following sharp criticism, an image displaying Kaid Saied's face on a mosque's minaret in the city of Sidi Ali Ben Aoun has been removed.
3 min read
08 August, 2022
Kais Saied's leadership has sparked criticism and protests for over a year ever since the president launched a series of power-grabbing moves [Getty]

A giant photograph of Tunisian President Kais Saied displayed on a minaret of a mosque in the city of Sidi Ali Ben Aoun has sparked outrage online, with Tunisians likening it to a "dictatorial move" following the leader's recent "power grab".

The banner was hung from a mosque in Sidi Ali Ben Aoun, which is located in the Sidi Bouzid governorate, reportedly during the city’s 29th edition of its International Film Festival.

The "cult of personality" image prompted activists online to call for an official statement from the event's organisers, which marks another step back for the country which had enjoyed more than a decade of democracy.

Several activists criticised the image, saying that it encourages the glorification of political leaders, as well as contradicting the principle of neutrality in public spaces.

The organisers, however, insisted that the festival "had nothing" to do with the exhibiting of the photograph, as the mosque does not constitute a part of the festival's content, according to an official statement.

The festival further stated that it does not endorse nor has an affiliation with any political figure or party, and that it remains committed to being "politically neutral" during the festival’s cultural activities.

Journalist Wejdene Bouabdallah described the display as "surrealist" and that  it appears to reflect a growing trend of 'leader worship' in Tunisia.

Another commentator, Ouissam Hamdi, sarcastically wrote: "I was sure beyond any doubt that our president's program is based on the [Turkish] Ertugrul series."

Former Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdel Salam said of the image: "This was not done by Bourguiba or Ben Ali, but the Kais Saied machine did it with awareness and determination. [The image] set out to embody Said's special purposes for Islam".

Following the backlash, authorities have since removed the image, according to Tunisian outlet Ultra Tunisia. The president reportedly "authorised" the removal of the photograph.

The North African country's leader has been the subject of controversy and intense criticism ever since he suspended parliament and sacked the government in July 2021, in a move widely regarded as a coup by his political rivals.

Saied has since gone on to sack a number of other government officials, including several judges – granting himself sweeping powers of the country’s judiciary.

The president recently ordered a new draft constitution referendum in another power-expanding move, which was condemned by human rights groups and opposition leaders.