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Tunisia secured a $500m Saudi loan during crown prince's controversial visit

Cash injection may help President Beji Caid Essebsi handle the criticism he's receiving for hosting notorious Saudi leader
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi meets with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Reuters)

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi's hosting of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman caused much discontent in his country and led to large-scale protests in the streets of Tunis. The price for this bad PR, it appears, was $500m.

During the Saudi leader's visit, Tunisia sealed a number of deals, according to an unnamed Tunisian official quoted by Bloomberg, including a $500m loan at favourable interest rates. 

The report said the interest rate for the loan has not yet been decided. 

Tunisia is struggling to stimulate its economy, which has been rocked by the fallout of its 2011 revolution, terror attacks and gridlocked politics.

Hundreds gathered on the streets of Tunis on Monday and Tuesday to vocally oppose the visit, raging against Mohammed bin Salman's apparent role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Saudi Arabia's destructive war in Yemen.

The crown prince has denied dispatching the team of 15 Saudis that killed Khashoggi in his country's consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, but the CIA has reportedly concluded that the Saudi leader was responsible.

A poster depicting a figure resembling Mohammed bin Salman holding a chainsaw, a reference to Khashoggi's dismemberment inside the consulate, was hung from the headquarters of the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists.

Tunisia's prosecutor also launched preliminary research into a complaint against the crown prince over human rights abuses in Yemen. 

'Like his father'

Mohammed bin Salman began his first trip outside of Saudi Arabia since the murder of Khashoggi late last week, and his stops in the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Tunisia come amid global condemnation of the journalist's gruesome murder.

Despite the public pressure, Essebsi welcomed the Saudi crown prince when his plane landed in Tunis on Tuesday.

The two leaders discussed ways to improve cooperation on the "economy and finance, investment promotion and security and military cooperation to counter extremism and terrorism", the Tunisian presidency said in a statement.

We refuse to turn Tunisia into a destination to whitewash war crimes

- Sakina Abdel Samad, journalists union head

"He is welcome in Tunisia, like the rest of the Arab brothers. Saudi Arabia has an important role in the Arab region," Nourredine Ben Ticha, an adviser to Essebsi, said.

For his part, Mohammed bin Salman said Riyadh and Tunis have long had good relations and described Essebsi as being "like his father".

Under the title "No to polluting revolutionary Tunisia", Tunisian journalists and 12 civil society organisations held a press conference on Monday at the headquarters of the syndicate, condemning their government for hosting the Saudi leader, who they held responsible for Khashoggi’s death.

“The consulate should have been a safe refuge for any journalist, irrespective of their affiliation,” Sakina Abdel Samad, secretary-general of the syndicate, said at a news conference on Monday.

“We refuse to turn Tunisia into a destination to whitewash war crimes,” she said.

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