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Tunisia from champion of 'Arab Spring' to sinking into racial crisis

Migrants from southern Africa continue to travel north in hopes of reaching Europe, but Tunisian President Kais Saied's recent harsh rhetoric has drawn both condemnation and quiet support.
Demonstrators lift placards and national flags during an anti-government rally called for by the powerful trades union federation UGTT in Tunis, on March 4, 2023. (Photo by FETHI BELAID / AFP) (Photo by FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images)

PARIS — After its recent slide toward authoritarianism, Tunisia's latest turn in the spotlight has come courtesy of anti-immigrant rhetoric from its president.  

Tunisia was the very country that started the Arab Spring in December 2010, when street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself ablaze. Democratic governance survived there long after other Arab upheavals melted into civil strife, armed jihad or military dictatorship. Populist candidate Kais Saied won the presidential election in October 2019 by a landslide, in reaction against a corrupt and inefficient parliament.

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