TUNISA: The Black Revolution

9 May 2013

In the country that launched the Arab Spring, Black people organize themselves to defend their rights.

Tunis, March 21. On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, it was hold a symposium: “Black people in Tunisia … invisible visible.”


The title may seem trivial, but it is a real revolution in a country which  for decades maintained the illusion of homogeneity, since its independence and the president Bourguiba, and cultivated a “Tunisianness” prohibiting any reference to the fact of existing  minority: racism was a strong taboo.

At the beginning of the event, the association ADAM, the first association for  rights of the Black people ever created in Tunisia. Although absent on the management level, Blacks people constitute 15% of the population (more than African-Americans in the United States). Their presence in Tunisia is old, and not all are descendants of slaves, but also generations of traders and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa over the centuries and who gave rise to the current Black citizens.

“When I was demonstrating during the revolution, I was told, ‘What are you doing here?”

A Black student, Maha Abdelhamid is the co-founder of the association born of the revolutionary whirlwind. She got me into her family home in Gabes in the south where Black people are more numerous.

“We never spoke about discrimination between us! After the revolution, my friends and I started a Facebook page to denounce the racists. Then Taoufik Chahiri, the current president of ADAM, came inviting people to tell their personal “experience.


Hundreds of internauts rebelled against the racist vocabulary that plagues the media and everyday life, as the word oussif (domestic slave), circulating to designate Black people. The majority of them expressed their being sick and tired of bein perceived as outsiders: “When I was demonstrating during the revolution, I was told, ‘What are you doing here? It is for the Tunisians’ “she recalls. Her cousin Ahmed, an employee of a furnishing company is annoyed of “jokes” of his colleagues:

“In casual conversations about the crisis I am entitled to hear comments like «we are going to restore slavery, the Blacks would be no longer unemployed”.

On social networks, texts ask for the law regulating the racist actions and in 2012,  the association was founded.

«You divide Tunisia!”
In Tunis, the event organized by ADAM, combined artistic interventions and round tables. On Avenue Bourguiba the Taifa, a group of Black musicians from the south of the country, made a concert. After the performance, the activists are attacked by a half-dozen so-called “white” Tunisians, apparently offended: “There is no racism in Tunisia! Where do you see the discrimination? You divide Tunisia “. It is endemic denial denounced tirelessly by Tunisian racists. In the crush, when Sofiene, a lawyer and member of ADAM is shouted directly in French – “What’s the problem?” – He says in Arabic, in a weary voice: “That’s the problem”. He is Tunisian, and because he’s black, you come to him as to a stranger.

Roundtables evoked the structural racism linked to the history of Tunisia. Still today, some  birth certificates include the mention atig (freed) followed by the name of a “master” who freed a slave ancestor. ADAM made ​​a submission to the Minister of Justice to remove these references. In vain. In his speech, Salah Trabelsi, a historian, insists: “Our history, our language is imbued with the past, we must do this ideological and semiotic work.”

This “past did not yet pass”

From the stage, a slammer Anis Chouchène denounced in Arabic the guilty memory of Tunisia, this “past did not yet pass.” He throws in the face of a public, where all generations are represented, a cruelly plain racism: “When Kahlouch [derogatory term meaning “Black “] enters a café, all eyes are turned on him / He hears  a raising voice of pride. / And you the Kahlouch, where’s my coffee? “. The audience laughs, it feels alived.

Nouiri Omran relishes this special moment. He came from a region in the south Mednine: “In my area racism is stronger than in Tunis, there is a real division, we are called abid (” slaves “), we call the Whites h’rar (“free”). “The professional life of a lab technician is very discreetly affected by racism: “I was given a position below my level and I have not avanced since 2003.” He does not support longer the invisibility of Black people: “Nobody hears us, we are not in Parliament or in the ministries.”

Married to a black woman, a discreet man remembers refusals three families when he asked for the hand of their white daughter but is hopeful: “What  ADAM does is very important. I am very proud. I did five hundred kilometers to attend it.”

Black people are socially the most disadvantaged

Most Black people are among the most disadvantaged social groups, yet Maha Abdelhamid does not doubt that ADAM, led by intellectuals, will represent the basis of the voiceless. Effected by this new momentum, thirty activists defend the claims of their association wanting to weigh democratic process on young Tunisian. While the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) develops the new constitution, they lament its blindness about the state of Black people: “Nobody is talking about our lives, it is up to us to present ourselves to the NCA.”

Taking advantage of the presence of thousands of international organizations at the World Social Forum in Tunis, it challenges with verve those working for the rights of minorities. So at the end of the forum, a group of Brazilian, French and American associations formed ad hoc publishes a text calling, among other things, “the Tunisian government and the National Constituent Assembly (…) to consider their claims, to include in the draft constitution the principle of the fight against all forms of discrimination, including racial discrimination and penalize racist statements and actions. “So far, the ruling party Ennahda remained deaf to the demands of the Tunisian minorities.

Leur press (Rokhaya Diallo Inrocks, April 23, 2013)

Maha Abdelahmid on RFI: “Racism against Black people in Tunisia always existed”

One video shot by an amateur made ​​a lot of noise in Tunisia. It shows a building in Tunis, which houses students from sub-Saharan Africa, being the target of stone-throwing. One of the residents called the police and went down to the street. He was insulted, beaten by his attackers. And finally he waw be arrested by the police. Cases of racism against the black community are increasing in Tunisia. Protesters also marched in the streets on Wednesday, May 1, to denounce it. Maha Abdelahmid, co-founder of the Association for rights of Blacks people (ADAM) in Tunis returns to this disturbing phenomenon.

RFI: Has aggression that we discover on this video, this aggression against property and against the young who called the police, surprised you when you saw it?

Maha Abdelahmid: Frankly, for me, being a Black Tunisian, it does not surprise me, it does not astonish me. These are things that can be met against Sub-Saharian Blacks people, much less against Tunisian ones. But these are things that have always existed.

We could that these are common cases?

Certainly. There was violence, only not publicized. Before, during the dictatorship, we could not publish things like that. Since the revolution, there is a certain freedom to say things the way we feel. So it becomes visible.

Before the revolution, we could not read a newspaper article that talks about abuse of people from Sub-Saharan Africa in Tunisia. Now, there are people who say, “Really? There are things that happen, like that in Tunisia? ”

Racism in Tunisia against Black people, those from Sub-Saharan Africa and Tunisian ones always existed. Except that before, it was more a taboo. You could not say that there was racism.

How do discrimination and racism manifest themselvs? What cases do you report the most?

It is mainly in words, in gestures, in  facial expressions when a Black person or someone from Sub-Saharaian Africa is met on the street. Do you know how they call Black people in Tunisia?

There is a specific word then?

They say Wassif. Wassif, that is to say “slave.” It was a status before the abolition of slavery. (…) But now that word is stuck to Black people.

And it is a word that we often hear?
It is a word that become a common word, used to describe the black color, while this is not the color, in fact!

It must be also said that if there are poor in Tunisia, the poorest are the blacks! There is the abolition of slavery in Tunisia since 1846, but Black people were not able to climb the economic ladder in Tunisia. They always remained among the disadvantaged groups.

Is access to work difficult?

Yes, it is normal that it is very difficult because in fact they were not able to study. They can not access the top positions! This is fairly recent, the presence of Black people in Tunisian universities.

Your association fights especially against some mention in birth certificates. What is it?

The birth certificates of people living Djerba, known for its concentration of Black people, mostly descendants of slaves, still marked “freed slaves.”

For a newborn, they does not give the name of his family, but he is given the name of his master! For example, “Muhammad Ben Ablekri, freedman Benied ‘or’ freed Bentraya. ‘” It is not normal that the birth of a 20 year old or 22 years old is still registered “freed” while it is not him. It is rather his great-grandfather, who was freed in 1890!

Do you feel heard by the authorities when you report precisely this kind of problem?

Frankly, there is not a specific reaction. They do not really believe that the Black people’s question in Tunisia is an important cause!

Yet it is estimated that Black people represent 15% of the Tunisian population.

There are not really accurate statistics. But I think that Black people in Tunisia may be even more than 15%.

What is the priority of your association to fight precisely against such discrimination and that racism?

The focus of education. We know very well that this is a problem. It is a mentality rooted in Tunisia. You really need to work on extracurricular, with children rather. We need the Department of Education ito work precisely with these associations fighting against racial discrimination and racism in Tunisia to integrate programs that show the plurality of Tunisia. Because in fact there are people who do not believe that Black people are Tunisians.

When I walk in the street, sometimes there are Tunisians who ask me if I am Tunisian or not.  A  Black person is firstly African from Sub-Saharan Africa. So a Black one  walking down the street is a stranger for Tunisians.

We must show children that Tunisias iare mixed people. They are multiple people. There are also Black people who are Tunisian and who are there in Tunisia for centuries.

Translation Tahrir ICN

French original: Le  Jura Libertaire


About tahriricn

bringing together anarchist perspectives from the Middle East, North Africa and Europe

Posted on May 12, 2013, in North Africa and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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