Mohammed bin Salman wants to demonstrate his strength with his first trip abroad since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. But in Tunisia, the Saudi crown prince is undesirable.
This time it was King Salman himself who sent his son on a journey. For the first time since the murder of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Mohammed bin Salman is back on the international stage. A total of ten days is the 33-year-old on the road, the CIA „with high probability“ for the principal of the spectacular crime holds.
The tour concludes this Friday with the two-day G20 summit in Argentina. There, the world stage will show what happens after the crime over the international reputation of Saudi Arabia and how Western politicians want to deal with the accused heir to the throne in the future.
In terms of the conflicts that are expected in Buenos Aires, the first hastily organized stage by „Arab brother states“ is merely diplomatic preparation. The first three stations United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt are part of the anti-Qatar coalition allied with Riyadh.
The Emirati crown prince and de facto ruler Muhammad bin Zayed is the closest foreign policy confidant of the Saudi heir to the throne with the acronym MBS. Bahrain, whose Sunni ruler controlled the Shiite majority with brutal repression, is little more than a Saudi vassal state. And Egypt’s dictator Abdel Fattah al-Sissi would probably no longer be in power without the billions of aid from the royal family.
Against the values of the Tunisian revolution
Only Tunisia, which the Crown Prince scheduled for Tuesday as the fourth stopover on the way to South America, does not fit into this series. In a very undiplomatic manner, President Béji Caïd Essebsi told his spokesman that Tunisia had not invited MBS, and that the visit took place at his request. Tunisia is the only country where the Arab Spring democratization movement continues to be successful. Also in the population there is much criticism of the Saudi prince. Activists and human rights activists called for demonstrations in front of the Presidential Palace and the Saudi Embassy in Tunis. The National Journalists‘ Association SNJT said in an open letter to head of state Essebsi that the visit of Mohammed bin Salman, a „determined opponent of freedom of expression“, was a provocation and a threat to peace in the region.
Like the majority of Tunisians, they were surprised by the plans of the heir to the throne, who only wanted to whitewash his bloody waistcoat. „The Crown Prince is involved in the killing of our colleague Jamal Khashoggi and the arrest of dozens of Saudi activists,“ said Mohamed Youssouffi, board member of the association. „That’s why we consider his visit an affront to the values of the Tunisian revolution and our democracy.“ Around 50 lawyers also filed a lawsuit to deny entry to the Saudi Crown Prince – a rather symbolic protest action.
An insult to the victims of Ben Ali
Tunisia and Saudi Arabia have diverged after the Arab Spring, even though both air forces have recently been in joint maneuvering again. Many Tunisians resent the kingdom for allowing Zine el Abidine Ben Ali to shelter for years and preventing the ex-dictator from being brought to justice in his homeland. „This visit by Mohammed bin Salman is an insult to the victims of Ben Ali,“ activists tweeted over the weekend.
By contrast, most financial aid and religious donations from the Gulf region come from Qatar. Its leadership maintains close relations with the moderate-Islamist Ennahda party, which again represents the strongest faction in the parliament of Tunis after the disintegration of its secular counterpart Nidaa Tounes. Many foreign foresters live and work in Qatar.
At the same time, the super-rich Gulf state is by far the largest Arab investor in the North African Mediterranean, after France, Germany and Italy in fourth place. No wonder that after 2011, Tunisia experienced a veritable construction boom at mosques, whose number increased by 885 to a total of 4,480. Qatar’s Tunisian critics come mainly from the left political spectrum, from the circles of the old regime as well as from the ranks of the police and bureaucracy. They accuse the conservative Gulf State of using its money to promote political Islam and thus a radicalization of society.