Tunisian president appears to blame Libya flood on ‘Zionist movement’

Kais Saied, the Tunisian president
Kais Saied, the Tunisian president, did not elaborate on his remarks - Fethi Belaid/AFP Pool

Tunisia’s president appeared to blame catastrophic flooding in Libya last week on Israel as he suggested that Storm Daniel had a secret “Zionist” influence.

Kais Saied made the anti-Semitic remark on Monday evening as he commented on storms and ensuing floods in Derna, eastern Libya, where thousands of people were killed.

“Did they not wonder about the naming? Daniel is a Hebrew prophet,” said Mr Saied referring to Storm Daniel. “The Zionist movement has penetrated to attack the mind and thinking, from Daniel to Abraham.”

He did not elaborate on his remarks, which were broadcast by his office. His mention of “Abraham” appeared to refer to the Abraham Accords, the series of normalisation treaties between Israel and a number of Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates.

Mr Saied and his government are vehemently opposed to normalising relations with Israel, which is working on adding Saudi Arabia to the accords. The Tunisian leader has characterised efforts to normalise ties with Israel as “high treason”.

Though Daniel is a Hebrew name, it is also popular in Western countries – while the storm itself was named by the Hellenic National Meteorological Service in Greece.

It is not the first time Mr Saied has made anti-Semitic comments, according to the Times of Israel.

In 2021, the Conference of European Rabbis claimed the Tunisian leader had been heard complaining during a meeting with residents in Tunis that Jews were to blame “for the instability of the country”.

More than 10,000 people are missing or dead in the wake of Storm Daniel, which brought heavy rainfall to the eastern port city of Derma, collapsing several dams.

Thousands of corpses have been found washed up on the shore, prompting fears that decomposing bodies in the area could cause a disease epidemic.

There is widespread fury in Libya about the scale of the disaster, with UN officials saying the death toll would have been substantially lower had the neglected dams not collapsed.

Hundreds of Libyans have vented their fury at Abdulmenam al-Ghaithi, who was the mayor of Derna at the time of the disaster, in rare protests in Derna. The mayor’s home was also burned down by demonstrators.