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Libya floods: Tunisia's Saied says Zionist 'penetration of minds' behind naming of Storm Daniel

Tunisian president's statement is the latest in a series of controversial remarks dubbed as racist and antisemitic
Tunisian President Kais Saied attending the Arab League Summit in Jeddah (AFP)

Tunisia's President Kais Saied has claimed that Zionism's influence on "minds and thoughts" was behind the naming of Storm Daniel, which caused widespread devastation in Libya last week.

Speaking to his ministers in a recorded meeting on Monday, Saied claimed the name was based on the "Hebrew prophet" Daniel, a figure revered in Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions.

"Did no one wonder why the storm was named Daniel? It's because the Zionist movement has penetrated [ways of thinking]. Mind and thoughts have been attacked," Saied said in the video posted by the Tunisian Presidency Facebook page.

The remarks have led to condemnations of Saied with some Tunisia analysts and observers calling it antisemitic. 

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Storm Daniel formed near Greece on 4 September and was named by the country's Hellenic National Meteorological Service.

Over 11,000 people are believed to have died when the storm battered eastern Libya, overwhelming an aged dam and causing flash flooding on a catastrophic scale, according to the Libyan Red Crescent.

Saied, who led a 2021 power grab in Tunisia described by many as a coup, has had a history of racially-motivated controversial statements. 

Earlier this year he was widely criticised for targeting Black sub-Saharan Africans in an outburst in which he linked them with criminality and a plan "to change the demographic structure of Tunisia".

In 2021, he was accused by the Conference of European Rabbis of saying Jews were behind "the instability of the country". 

Saied has previously denied being a racist or an antisemite. 

Foreign delegations

In his Monday speech, the Tunisian president also railed against foreign representatives seeking to visit the country, in a veiled swipe at a European Union delegation that was blocked from visiting Tunisia last week.

"Stop these delegations that said they came to inspect us as if we were under colonialism and under guardianship," Saied said.

Several members of the European parliament were barred from entering Tunisia last week shortly after some European parliamentarians (MEPs) spoke out against a deal Brussels made in July that would reward Tunis for stemming the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean.

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In a statement, the Tunisian foreign ministry said on Thursday that the EU delegation would not be allowed entry due to "multiple reservations" about the visit. 

In his speech, Saied also defended the continued detainment of what he calls "illegal migrants".

Middle East Eye reported last week that sub-Saharan African migrants in Tunisia are increasingly being denied emergency food and water supplies in the latest move to crack down on migration.

The plight of migrants, mainly from sub-Saharan African countries, is the "worst" in modern Tunisian history, Nicholas Noe, a senior visiting fellow at Refugees International, told MEE.

Noe has warned that multiple Tunisian NGOs, international agencies and the Tunisian Red Crescent have been compelled to stop providing much needed aid to sub-Saharan migrants in the country.

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