Hundreds of people gathered to demonstrate in downtown Tunis Friday afternoon, January 31 against the so-called “Deal of the Century” announced on January 28 by U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The “deal”, a plan which apparently formalizes the continued de facto fracturing of Palestinian territory and loss of sovereignty, was promptly rejected by Palestinians with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas saying at a press conference the same day the deal was announced that “Jerusalem is not for sale…your conspiracy deal will not pass.” In an interview with national TV on January 30th, Tunisian president Kais Saied called the “deal” the “Injustice of the Century.”
One demonstration, which began at 14:00 on the steps of the National Theater on Bourguiba Avenue, was organized by the General Tunisian Union of Students (UGTE by its French acronym), one of two major student unions. The UGTE, considered to be traditionally associated with Islamist politics, splintered in 1985 from the main student union, the UGET, or General Union of Tunisian Students, which is considered to be more closely associated with leftist, nationalist, and pan-Arab political currents.
Meanwhile, a second, separate demonstration began at 15:00 across the street from the national theater and continued at the same time as the first one. Although both demonstrations appeared to attract diverse groups including passers-by, the second demonstration across from the theater appeared to feature more nationalist, pan-Arab, and leftist political currents.
Demonstrators on both sides of the street waved Palestinian flags, expressing solidarity with Palestinians and Arabs while denouncing the “deal.” Chants in the first one included support for the Qassam brigades, the military wing of Hamas. Calls for criminalizing normalization of relations between Tunisia and Israel were prominent in the second demonstration.
“This deal of the century can be called a shameful deal, a traitorous deal…because it breaches all the agreements, breaches accords, and it infringes on the Palestinian people who have been resisting for years, who have been defending their rights, their dignity, and their land,” Hamza Akaichi, general secretary of the UGTE and general secretary of the Maghreb Students’ Union, told Meshkal at the protest.
The first demonstration included many speakers and chants invoking religious language, framing political issues in Palestine through the lens of Judaism, Islam, and holy sites. Akaichi told Meshkal that the “deal” was a “disgrace to the Arab Islamic Ummah.”
“This demonstration is a message to the Palestinian people, the Palestinian people are not a people all alone, isolated,” Akaichi said. “The second message is to dictatorial regimes, traitorous client regimes.”
The second demonstration featured signs with caricatures of Trump and Netanyahu blowing up part of the globe with dynamite. A flag of the the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) was also held aloft at the second demonstration.
The “deal” is an “aggression against the historical rights of the Palestinian people,” Moutaa Amin Elwaer, one of the demonstrators at the second demonstration and a member of the Tunisian Boycott and Anti-Normalization Campaign, told Meshkal at the protest. “It’s limiting the historical rights of the Palestinian people…It’s abandoning their right to go back to their homeland.”
Elwaer explained the resonance of Palestine for Tunisians noting that Tunisians have fought in Palestine in resistance organizations since 1947. Tunisia also hosted the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which was based in Tunisia from 1982 to 1991. In 1985, Israel bombed the PLO headquarters near Tunis killing dozens of Palestinians and Tunisians and wounding many more. In 2016, a Palestinian drone engineer linked to Hamas was killed in Tunisia, with many pro-Palestinian groups accusing Mossad of being responsible.* Tunisian authorities subsequently arrested ten Tunisians accused of participating in the killing, but two Bosnians suspected of involvement reportedly escaped.
Several other signs called for a Boycott of US Products with the acronym BUP. A group of people holding such signs explained to Meshkal that they had launched the campaign about a month before, following what they say are similar campaigns in other countries. However, the campaign members declined to answer more questions or go on record.
At least two demonstrators at the second demonstration held aloft photos of Bashar al Assad the president of Syria, and of Hafez al Assad, Bashar’s predecessor and father. The Assad posters appeared to prompt a brief set of arguments within the second demonstration.
Fadil Aliriza contributed to this article.
*Updated. An earlier version referred to speculation about Mossad’s involvement rather than definite accusations of such.