Tunisia’s new president is a hardline opponent of any form of ties with Israel and recently called moves toward relations with the Jewish state “high treason.”
Kais Saied was the clear winner in the second and final round of the North African country’s presidential elections, beating rival Nabil Karoui with 77 percent of the votes.
Two days earlier, in the final televised presidential debate, Saied became animated when moderators asked about his stance on normalisation of relations with Israel, a sensitive issue in the Arab and Muslim world.
“‘Normalisation’ is the wrong word to use,” he retorted. “We should be talking about high treason.”
That is a common Arab nationalist position that ended up earning him praise among supporters and voters.
Tunis currently has no diplomatic relations with Israel. Its parliament was due to vote last year on a draft law criminalising ties with Jerusalem, but the proposal did not get the endorsement of then-president Caid Essebsi, who died in July.
During the debate, Saied also said Tunisia was in a state of war with the Jewish state.
Saied seemed to express tolerance of Jews, saying that Jewish people with no Israeli passport were welcome to visit the country’s synagogues. But he rejected “dealings with Zionists,” whom he accused of displacing Palestinians.
Hundreds of Israelis, many of them of Tunisian origin, traditionally visit the country’s Ghriba Synagogue for an annual pilgrimage during the Lag Ba’Omer holiday.
The anti-establishment Saied is seen as uptight and unwavering, but beneath his austere style is a commitment to socially conservative views and to decentralising Tunisia’s political system.
He has defended the death penalty, criminalisation of homosexuality and a sexual assault law that punishes unmarried couples who engage in public displays of affection.