Indigenous Peoples in Tunisia
As elsewhere in North Africa, the Amazigh form Tunisia’s indigenous population. There are no official statistics regarding their number but specialists estimate that there are around 1 million speakers of Tamazight (the Amazigh language) in Tunesia, or around 10 percent of the total population.
It is in Tunisia that the Amazigh have suffered the greatest forced Arabisation. This explains the low proportion of Tamazight speakers in the country. There are nonetheless many Tunisians who, while no longer being able to speak Tamazight, still consider themselves to be Amazigh rather than Arab.
The Amazigh of Tunisia are spread throughout all of the country’s regions, from Azemour and Sejnane in the north to Tittawin (Tataouine) in the south, and passing through El-Kef, Thala, Siliana, Gafsa, Gabès, Djerba and Tozeur.
As elsewhere in North Africa, many of Tunisia’s Amazigh have left their mountains and deserts to seek work in the cities and abroad. There are thus a large number of Amazigh in Tunis, where they are working primarily in skilled crafts and petty trade.
The indigenous Amazigh population can be distinguished not only by their language but also by their culture (traditional dress, cooking, Ibadite religion practised by the Amazigh of Djerba).
Mobilisation for Recognition
Since the fall of the Ben-Ali regime in 2011, numerous Amazigh cultural associations have emerged with the aim of getting the Amazigh language and culture recognised and used.
Legislation Concerning Indigenous Peoples in Tunisia
The Tunisian state does not, however, recognise the existence of the country’s Amazigh population. The parliament adopted a new Constitution in 2014 that totally obscures the country’s Amazigh (historical, cultural and linguistic) dimensions.
In its recitals, the text refers to the Tunisians’ sources of “Arab and Muslim identity” and expressly affirms Tunisia’s membership of the “culture and civilisation of the Arab and Muslim nation”, committing the State to working to strengthen “the Maghreb union as a stage towards achieving Arab unity…”.
Article 1 goes on to reaffirm that “Tunisia is a free State, (…), Islam is its religion, Arabic its language” while Article 5 confirms that “the Tunisian Republic forms part of the Arab Maghreb”.
On an international level, Tunisia has ratified the main international standards and voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007.
These international texts remain unknown to the vast majority of citizens and legal professionals, however, and are not applied in the domestic courts.