Tunisia’s Minister of Religious Affairs has been dismissed from his post after condemning the Saudi government’s role in promoting “terrorism and extremism…all over the world.”
The heated remarks came during a meeting in Tunisia’s Parliament (ARP), where several high-ranking Saudi officials were present, including the Saudi Ambassador to Tunisia and the General Secretary of the Arab Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Interiors.
“’I’m the only one to have the courage to ask the (Saudi officials)…to make reforms to the schools within their country,” Ben Salem said, “Because terrorism historically emanates from those schools.”
The Minister’s bold accusations prompted an immediate backlash from Tunisia’s government, which released an official communique today confirming Ben Salem’s sacking.
“The president of the Government, Mr. Youssef Chahed, has dismissed Mr. Abdejil Ben Salem, Minister of Religious Affairs, because of his disrespect for the procedures of governmental work and declarations that damage the precepts of Tunisian diplomacy,” the statement read.
Ben Salem’s comments nonetheless received an outpouring of support from Tunisian activists and social media.
“We all know that Saudi Arabia is responsible for terrorism, for Wahhabism,” said Mohamed Ikbel Ben Rejeb, head of the Rescue Association of Tunisians Trapped Abroad, a civil society organisation that liaises between the authorities and the families of those who have left to fight in Iraq, Syria and Libya. “What the Minister said is nothing new.”
“If he (Youssef Chahed) is bothered by Minister’s comments, why hasn’t he been bothered by the fate of multiple Tunisians captured and trapped abroad: in Libya, in Syria and lost in Italy?”
“Why didn’t he (Chahed) blame the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is doing nothing for these Tunisians trapped abroad?” asked Ben Rejeb in a phone call with Tunisia Live.
While the former Minister issued an apology for any embarrassment his comments may have caused the Ministry later that night, he stopped short of apologizing for the comments themselves.
In the meantime, the government has announced that current Defense Minister Ghazi Geribi will temporarily fill the former Minister’s role.
In December, it was announced that Saudi Arabia would provide over 600 million TD in loans to co-finance several development projects in the greater Tunis area. Saudi Arabia previously pledged $150 million in loans in 2013 to help finance a housing project.
Saudi Arabia has also been home to former Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who fled Tunisia after the Revolution in 2011.