Mark Freeman and Seth Kaplan write that Tunisia’s recent achievements are proof that, “leaders of transition countries must – sooner or later – make inclusiveness the organizing principle on which to ground political, economic, and social policies if they hope to consolidate peace and advance democracy.” They argue that Ennahda’s decision to cede power to a technocratic government best illustrates this point.
Indeed, compared to many of its neighbors, Tunisia is an oasis of inclusiveness. Yet, the country still has a ways to go, as some minority groups continue to feel they are being excluded or experiencing prejudiced treatment.
On March 21, activists organized a protest in Tunis decrying Tunisians’ racist treatment of blacks. “We are here to bear witness of the presence of racism [in Tunisia], and to denounce racial discrimination,” one demonstrator said.
Similarly, some Sub-Saharan Africans students living in Tunisia criticize the mistreatment they receive at the hands of the government. According to the president of the Association for African Students and Interns in Tunisia (AESAT), Blamassi Touré, the Ministry of Interior commonly denies residence permits for students from Sub-Saharan Africa, putting students at risk of expulsion. “I don’t think that a black person holding a French passport is treated the same way as a sub-Saharan African at the Ministry of Interior,” says Touré. He also notes that these students are sometimes victims of violence at the hands of locals, and, in such cases, the police are afraid to intervene on their side.
“Unfortunately, Tunisian law and the new constitution does not penalize racism. Imagine the frustration of a victim of racism who cannot lodge a complaint over an act of racism,” says Touré.
Tunsia’s Amazigh population has also been critical of the new constitution. Unlike neighboring Morocco, which recognized Tamazight as an official language in 2011, Tunisia’s constitution does not recognize the Amazigh language or identity in any way. “The constitution is a stab in the back. A complete denial to the Tunisian identity,” says Slim Ben Elhaj Bader, who works at the Tunisian association of Amazigh culture.
Of course, these are all long-standing problems that predate the 2011 revolution. But, many members of these groups are frustrated that their situation has not improved significantly after the revolution, as they had hoped it would.
However, others, like Touré, note that “the revolution was a gift” because it has given them the opportunity to speak openly about inequalities in Tunisian society, even if those inequalities have yet to be rectified. Bader is also hopeful; the Amazigh community is now able to openly organize campaigns and events, which would not have been possible under the Ben Ali regime. “We are fighting for youth awakening… We know that consciousness starts with a shock, then awareness comes,” Bader says.