Tunisia's Saied opposes anti-Israel normalisation law

Tunisia's Saied opposes anti-Israel normalisation law
2 min read
03 November, 2023
Tunisian President Kais Saied said that he opposed a proposed new law criminalising normalisation of Israel in a surprise statement.
Saied's Friday statement on the proposed law came as a surprise [Getty]

Tunisian President Kais Saied said on Friday he objected to a proposed law criminalising normalisation of relations with Israel, after parliament said it was committed to passing it.

Saied's move came as a surprise, as he had long deemed the normalisation of ties with Israel as treason.

Parliament on Thursday debated a bill that would punish the "crime of normalisation" with between six and 10 years in prison, with life imprisonment for repeat offenders.

The debate followed mass protests in Tunisia demanding that any normalisation be outlawed amid Israel's ongoing war on the Gaza Strip, which has killed over 9,000 civilians.

Late Thursday, the chamber approved two articles of the legislation, before parliament chief Brahim Bouderbala suspended the session until Friday.

Friday's session remained suspended, despite some parliamentarians insisting that a vote be held.

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Bouderbala had earlier spoken of "complete harmony" between Saied, parliament and "the public's aspirations", but later said the president had warned the bill could harm Tunisia's foreign affairs and security.

The draft bill defines normalisation as "recognition of the Zionist entity or the establishment of direct or indirect ties" with it, a crime which would be classed as "high treason".

It prohibits any "communication, contact, propaganda, conclusion of contracts or cooperation, directly or indirectly" by Tunisians with "the Zionist entity".

The legislation was drawn up and approved in late October by a group of lawmakers who back President Saied, who has enacted a constitution giving himself unchecked powers following a 2021 coup.

In an interview on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Nabil Ammar expressed reservations about the legislation.

"We cannot issue a law in two days," Ammar said on national television. "Who are we criminalising? We have no relations with the Zionist entity, so what are we criminalising?"

Tunisia hosted the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) during the Yasser Arafat era from 1982 to 1994, and is a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause.

The North African country has a Jewish community of some 1,000 people, most of whom live on the southern island of Djerba. Thousands attend an annual pilgrimage every May to the El Ghriba synagogue on the island.