History Opinion

No place in Ifriqiya for Afrikans

Photo credit: “Portrait Kaïs Saïed” by Houcemmzoughi is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Another day, another episode of anti-Blackness in North Afrika. I know. What a shocker.

This time, the president of Tunisia himself issued an anti-Black and Afrophobic statement aimed at so-called sub-Saharan Afrikans a.k.a. the Blacks. Kaïs Saïed in fact said “The undeclared goal of the successive waves of illegal immigration is to consider Tunisia a purely Afri[k]an country that has no affiliation to the Arab and Islamic nations.” Because Black Arab people or Black Muslim nations don’t exist, right? But let’s go back to his words. Saïed does not want the demographic (read genetic) makeup of Tunisia to change.

This sounds like the Great Replacement conspiracy theory by Renaud Camus from the 2010s. It has been spread all over the West from the UK to the US where White nationalists fear becoming a minority. I wonder why they are so scared and worried since they keep telling us, “the Other,” that there is no such thing as racism and racial oppression and that they are colorblind. White people in South Afrika are a minority and they are doing alright. But, who knows? Time will tell.

“They act like Malcolm X in France but turn into Jean-Marie Le Pen back home”

Twitter erupted after the Tunisian head of state spoke with many being horrified by such overt anti-Blackness and racism while many also agreed with him. Amongst the yay-sayers we “surprisingly” find French people of Tunisian/North Afrikan descent. They act like Malcolm X in France but turn into Jean-Marie Le Pen back home. They are the first ones to cry out “racism” when they are the victims of it in Europe but suddenly become members of the far-right when it comes to Black people migrating to Tunisia or crossing the country to reach Europe.

Whenever a political figure explicitly addresses burning topics, the people feel emboldened because they received their stamp of approval. And the consequence of Saïed’s words are tattooed on Black skin. They say that the tongue is mightier than the sword. But maybe not as strong as the fists and knives used to brutalize and slash our brothers in Tunisia. One thing’s for sure, that tongue reinforced those fists and sticks.

North Afrika is not new to anti-Blackness and anti “Sub-Saharan” sentiments. They often call us from down there “Afrikans” as if they were on a different continent. Take this note posted in a workplace by HR which states, “We inform all Africans working with us that they need to bring with them documentation proving their legal stay in Tunisia.” Something tells me non-Black Tunisians are not part of the above-mentioned group of people.

Saïed tried to play it smooth saying it is not discrimination because Tunisia’s ancient name was Ifriqiya which has become a moniker for Northern Afrika first and then for the rest of the continent. How can they be anti-Afrikans when they are Ifriqiya. We are all Afrikans, but some Afrikans are more Afrikan than others.

Another country (in)famous for its anti-Blackness is Morocco.

“We know that there is a lot of Europe in Afrika in institutions, businesses, corporations, laws, deals, and mentalities”

On November 1, 2022, BBC Africa Eye released the documentary “Death on the Border.” It investigated and showed footage of the tragedy that claimed the life of more than 20 men trying to cross the Moroccan border into the Spanish enclave of Melilla. Together with Ceuta they are the only places on the Afrikan continent that are officially recognized as part of Europe. We know that there is a lot of Europe in Afrika in institutions, businesses, corporations, laws, deals, and mentalities.

In June of the same year, hundreds of people mostly fleeing from Sudan reached the border at Barrio Chino after a day of confrontation with the Royal Moroccan Gendarmerie. They made their way down from the mountains in relative tranquillity, ease, and calm. But it was all too good to be true and at the border, the storm awaited them. The Royal Moroccan Gendarmerie force brutalized the men. They beat them with batons, kicked and hit them, and threw tear gas at them causing the migrants to panic which lead to a stampede. The few men that managed to get on the other side, on Spanish territory, were taken by the Royal Moroccan Gendarmerie back to Moroccan soil. 470 people were pushed back from one sovereign state to another. An illegal practice that prevented the migrants from demanding and seeking asylum in the European nation. All under the eyes of the Spanish police forces and the many CCTV cameras.

The documentary highlights how the level of severity Moroccan authorities show towards migrants depends on the diplomatic relationship and agreements the Kingdom of Morocco has with Spain. In March 2022, the police let migrants go over to Spain without stopping them. Relationships had then broken down. When a new deal was sealed and money poured in to support Moroccan efforts in curbing migration, violence, and death were the protagonists. May we add that Spain and the rest of Europe willingly ignoring the plight of Western Sahara and their fight for freedom and liberation from Morocco, makes Moroccan police want to do a better job at keeping their part of the deal.

“They all scratch each other’s back in the name of anti-Blackness”

North Afrikan nations and their European counterparts have been working in tandem for years to put a stop to migration from Western Afrika, the Sahel, and Eastern Afrika. They all scratch each other’s back in the name of anti-Blackness. The countries of the Maghreb more than willingly take money to act on behalf of Europe in violently brutalizing and killing Black Afrikans. But do not be mistaken. Let’s not give Europe all the credit for North Afrika’s anti-Blackness because it precedes the European brand. Now, Europeans may have perfected it and turned it into a self-sustaining economic resource that fuels and is the foundation of capitalism (from chattel slavery to colonialism to the most recent forms and expressions of racial capitalism). However, they come after the spread of Arab anti-Blackness from the Arabian Peninsula, which then infiltrated North Afrika through conquest and occupation.

Anti-Black North Afrikans, whether they be Arabs, Arabized, or Amazigh, will be quick to remind you that they enslaved us for more than 800 years. Just like White supremacists, they constantly tell us not to dwell on the past and get over (Trans-Saharan/Trans-Atlantic) slavery but are more than happy to brag about the crime their ancestors partook in as a way to shame us. But let it be known, the shame of slavery is only ever carried by the enslaver. Never the enslaved.

The slave auctions in Libya, the lynching in Tunisia, the border brutality in Morocco, the violence in Algeria, and the erasure in Egypt remind us that there is no place in Ifriqiya for Afrikans.

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