March 26, 2014 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1078

Pan-Arabist Ideology In The New Tunisian Constitution

March 26, 2014 | By Anna Mahjar-Barducci*
North Africa, Tunisia | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1078


On January 26, 2014, Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly (ANC) approved the country's new constitution, three years after the January 14, 2011 ouster of dictator Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. The new constitution had a tumultuous birth. The ANC, elected October 23, 2011 in the country's first free elections, started the process of drafting the new constitution on February 13, 2012.

During these years prior to the adoption of the Constitution, Tunisia endured a lengthy political and economic crisis, marked by political assassinations and rising terrorism. The approval of the Constitution is perceived to be one of the steps to establishing full democracy and a hope for emerging from the crisis.

The ANC passed the text of the Constitution by 200 votes, out of 216. Twelve members voted against it, and four abstained. On January 27, 2014, the ANC held an extraordinary plenary session to sign Tunisia's new Constitution.

The new Constitution was quickly praised, particularly by Western countries, which perceived its ratification as an historic moment[1] and called it the most "progressive" Constitution in the region with regard to gender equality. However, it is not so progressive when it comes to minority rights.

During the drafting of the Tunisian Constitution, the debate on it focused on the Islamism vs. secularism dichotomy (see Appendix). In this sense, the new Constitution appears to be an effort to show that although Tunisia had a government led by an Islamist party, El-Nahda, the country has nonetheless managed to produce a draft that is not drenched in Islamist ideology. Nevertheless, the Constitution fails at inclusiveness, as it completely ignores the rights of the Amazigh (Berber) of Tunisia, the people indigenous to the region.

Ignoring the Amazigh is no coincidence; the new Constitution, though not Islamist, is suffused with pan-Arab ideology. In fact, even though the Amazigh people are Tunisia's indigenous population, and the Amazigh culture is rooted in the country's history, the Constitution stresses only Tunisia's Arab heritage, noting that Tunisia is part of the "Arab Maghreb" (Al-Maghreb Al-Arabi) and that it works towards achieving its unity.

The idea that the Maghreb (North Africa) is only Arab, as the Tunisian Constitution states, effectively denies the existence of the Amazigh people, who have lived in the region encompassing Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and the Sahel since before the eighth-century Arab invasion; today they number some 25 million.

This report will discuss the decision to ignore the Amazigh past of the country in the Tunisian Constitution and to focus only on the Arab identity. The report will also compare the 2014 Tunisian Constitution to the 1959 Tunisian Constitution.

"Maghreb Arab Union" vs "Maghreb Union" In Tunisia's Constitutions

Comparing The Preambles Of The 2014 Constitution vs The 1959 Constitution

The preamble of the new Tunisian Constitution stresses Tunisia's belonging to the Arab and Muslim nation, adding that the country is "working for strengthening the union of Maghreb, considered a stage towards the achievement of Arab unity." It reads in part: "...Taking inspiration from our cultural heritage, fruit of the different periods of our history, of our enlightened reformist movements and relying upon the sources of our Arab and Muslim identity;

"Taking into consideration the status of Man as one of a being endowed with dignity, expressly claiming our belonging to the culture of the Arab and Muslim Nation and building upon our national unity, which is based upon citizenship, brotherhood, solidarity, and social justice;

"Working for strengthening the union of Maghreb, considered a stage towards the achievement of Arab unity, towards complementarity with the Muslim and African peoples, and [for strengthening] the cooperation with all the peoples of the world;

"Keen to bring assistance, anywhere, to all the victims of injustices, to defend the right of peoples to self-determination as well as [to defend] all just causes of liberation, in the first place the Palestine liberation movement, and to be opposed to all forms of colonization and of racism..."

The above paragraphs clearly specify that the Maghreb region is strictly Arab, and hint that Tunisia's role is to politically strengthen the Maghreb Arab Union (UMA), which was created in 1989 as a trade agreement aimed at eventually achieving deeper political integration among Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Mauritania. The UMA has been inactive since 1994, mainly because of the Morocco-Algeria dispute over the issue of Western Sahara. According to the preamble, the goal of Maghreb unity is the pan-Arabist dream of Arab unity. This concept is stressed also in Article 5 of the constitution, which states: "The Republic of Tunisia is part of Arab Maghreb, it operates towards the achievement of its unity, and will take all the necessary measures to make it a reality."

It must be noted that the preamble and Article 5 of the new constitution are very similar to the preamble and Article 2 of the 1959 Tunisian constitution, which was adopted and promulgated June 1, 1959, following Tunisia's independence from France on March 20, 1956.[2] The preamble of the 1959 constitution states:[3] "…To remain faithful to the teachings of Islam, to the unity of the Greater Maghreb, to its membership of the Arab community, and to cooperation with the peoples who struggle to achieve justice and liberty...." and Article 2 of the 1959 constitution states: "The Republic of Tunisia is a part of the Great Arab Maghreb, an entity which it endeavors to unify within the framework of mutual interests."

Clearly, the new Tunisian constitution took inspiration from the 1959 constitution. The new constitution, however, appears to be more influenced by pan-Arabism than the 1959 one. The new constitution adopts all Arab causes the country's own, for example regarding "Palestinian liberation," as mentioned in the preamble; the 1959 constitution does not refer to any country except for Tunisia. Furthermore, while in the old constitution the Great Arab Maghreb is an entity to be unified within "the framework of mutual interests," in the new constitution Tunisia is not looking for "mutual interests," as the ideological goal is to attain pan-Arab "unity," and Tunisia is to "take all the necessary measures to make it a reality."

"No to the pan-Arabist constitution of Tunisia"[4]

The Constitutions Under Current President Marzouki vs First President Bourguiba

The idea of reinforcing unity among the Maghreb countries is very dear to Tunisian Interim President Moncef Marzouki, who defines himself as a "pan-Arabist and not as a nationalist."[5] In contrast to Marzouki, the first Tunisian president, Habib Bourguiba, under whom the 1959 constitution was promulgated, was more of a nationalist than a pan-Arabist. Bourguiba had never been friendly to Egyptian president and pan-Arab leader Gamal Abd Al-Nasser. In 1958, Bourguiba accused Nasser of complicity in a plot to assassinate him. He also became a target of the pan-Arab media, such as the Egypt-based Sawt Al-Arab radio, when he called on the Arabs to accept the division of Palestine into two states in accordance with the 1947 UN partition resolution.

Interim President Marzouki, who founded the center-left Congress for the Republic party (CPR), which is the second political force in Tunisia, was raised in a pan-Arabist political household. His father, who belonged to the Pan-Arab nationalist stream of the Tunisian anti-colonial struggle, which was at that time headed by Bourguiba's political rival Saleh ben Youssef, had visited Egypt in the 1950s and was besotted with Nasser.[6]

In 2012, Marzouki tried to revive the Maghreb Arab Union (UMA). Yet, he was careful to talk about a "Maghreb Union" and not about a "Maghreb Arab Union." During a visit to Morocco, he said, "This year we will work to restore unity with our brothers in Algeria, Morocco, Libya and Mauritania, with the aim of resuscitating the great dream of a Union of the Maghreb, which has been frozen for years."[7] Marzouki also clarified his vision of the Maghreb Union, stating: "It is no longer important whether we are Arabs, Amazighs, or Africans; rather, what's important is that we belong to the Grand Maghreb with all of its richness and diversity. It has now become necessary to solve economic and social problems and create a joint space for our cultural diversity."[8]

However, in 2012, then-Moroccan foreign minister Saad Eddin Al Othmani, who belongs to the Islamist party PJD and is of Amazigh origin, suggested changing the name of the UMA to "Maghreb Union." It was the then-Tunisian foreign minister Rafik Abdesselam who objected to the change. Abdesselam, a member of the Islamist party El-Nahdha and son-in-law of its leader Rached Ghannouchi, said that his objection was based on the cultural, civilizational, and geographical dimension of the term "Arab," as the countries of the Maghreb constitute "the western part of the Arab world."[9] No reaction by Marzouki to these comments was reported.

Pan-Arabism In The Constitutions

While the flavor of the 1959 constitution is less pan-Arabist than that of the 2014 constitution, it is clear from its Article 1 that Bourguiba wanted to give Tunisia an Arab identity. In the aftermath of the independence from France, there was a need to give Tunisia a new independent identity to differentiate it from its French colonial past. To promote national unity, Bourguiba thought that he could unite the entire Tunisian people under a single Arab identity.

Morocco, which like Tunisia gained its independence from France in 1956 (Tunisia gained independence from France on March 20, 1956, and the Constitution of Tunisia was adopted and promulgated on June 1, 1959), chose not to pursue just a national Moroccan identity but an Arab identity, with the two becoming, in the words of former Tunisian minister Rafik Abdesselam, the "western part of the Arab world" rather than the northern part of Africa. The Maghreb countries, including Tunisia, always rejected any African identity – which necessitated the adoption of Arab identity.

Discussing the need for Maghreb countries to stress their Arab identity and to disregard all Amazigh roots, and describing the sentiment on this matter in Morocco, the Moroccan magazine Tel Quel explained this tendency as "deeply rooted racism"; the sentiment, however, is shared across the Maghreb. Noting that if the fact of the region's Amazigh roots was to be accepted, it would mean that the Maghreb countries were indeed the northern part of Africa – a concept repugnant to them and one which they maintained would make it difficult for the world to view them as the "western part of the Arab world." The article stated:[10]

"Is Morocco an African country? When looking at a world map, this question appears to be purely rhetorical: the kingdom is located at the edge of the continent and spreads out, via the Sahara, to black Africa. It is separated from Europe by a stretch of sea which, although it is only 14 kilometers long, is there to remind [Morocco] its status of country which is so close, but at the same time so far away from an economic and cultural citadel called the European Union.

"It is nevertheless important to speak about belonging to Africa, when taking into consideration Morocco's natural linguistic space. It is a country of predominantly Amazigh-speaking people. It shares a language which is common to 20 million Berber-speaking peoples, spread over a territory of about 5 million square kilometers from the Egypt-Libya border up to the Canary Islands and from the shores of the Mediterranean spreading beyond the Niger river. They are all members of the same continent. They are all Africans, whether they are Soussi, Rifi, Kabili, Tunisian, Libyan, Egyptians or Tuareg from Niger or Mali.

"However, geography and linguistics have reasons which are totally ignored by ideology. The fact that Morocco continues to deny its African origins is due to a too-long silence over its millenary Amazigh roots. The original sin dates back to the 1930s, when nationalistic milieus decided that Moroccans had an Arab origin and that they had all descended from the thigh of Jupiter – the conqueror who came from the depths of the Arabian Desert to bring the word of God.

"These arbitrary decisions, aiming at refuting Morocco's Amazigh origins, further produced collateral damage: the denial that the country was first and foremost an African nation. 'Our textbooks insist on our oriental past and our links with the Arabian peninsula to the detriment of Africa. Some still support the pan-Arabist theory which pretends that Amazighs have their origins in Yemen and Syria, refuting at the same time the African origin of the populations that settled in Morocco thousands of years ago,' explains researcher Ahmed Assid.

"[…] In the survey 'Islam in daily life: Inquiry over religious values and practices in Morocco,' Moroccans consider themselves first of all to be Muslims, Arabs, and Moroccans, and, lastly, as Berbers. The African identity only comes in last position for half of the interviewed people. Fewer than one-quarter of them place it in fourth position. It reaches third position for less than 3% [of the interviewees]."

Tunisian Constitution Sets Out Arabic As Country's Official Language – With No Mention Of Tamazight, The Amazigh Language

Tunisian Amazigh activists demanding that Tamazight be included in the Tunisian constitution as an official and national language (source:, February 23, 2012)

In 2012, the Tunisian newspaper La Presse asked Marzouki in an interview whether it would be better for the UMA to be called simply "Maghreb Union," dropping the word "Arab," in order to be more representative of the peoples of North Africa. Marzouki answered that he had nothing against calling the organization Maghreb Union, but stressed that this union should have Arabic as official language and Tamazight, the Amazigh language, as a national language but not as an official one. He said:[11]

"...Everybody knows that I am not an Arab nationalist, because I don't like the word nationalism, in any language. I am a patriot, I am a Union advocate, I am not an Arab nationalist, I am not even a Tunisian nationalist. I am a Tunisian patriot and an Arab unionist advocate. I've always distrusted everything that is nationalist. I may well be an Arab Union advocate, I'm supportive for calling [the UMA] 'Maghreb Union,' as the African Union, as the European Union... Having said that, I am fundamentally convinced that the Maghrebi union should have as the official language Arabic, and that the various Amazigh languages should be national [languages]. I have nothing against that."

Marzouki's words underline once again the unwillingness to officially recognize the Amazigh language and culture as part of the Maghrebi heritage, although the Amazigh people numbers 25 million. While Morocco recognized Tamazight as an official language in its constitution in 2011, and Algeria in 2002 noted in its constitution that Tamazight is a national language, but not an official one, the new Tunisian constitution does not even mention Tamazight even as a national language.

Tunisia's Constitutional Exclusion Of Amazigh Language and Culture – In Contrast To Recognition Of Amazighs By Morocco, Algeria, And Libya

Article 1 of the 2014 Tunisian Constitution states, "Tunisia is a free, independent and sovereign State, its religion is Islam, Arabic is its language and its regime is a Republic. This article cannot be amended.

The intent of Article 1 of the new Tunisian constitution is identical to that of Article 1 of the 1959 constitution, which states: "Tunisia is a free, independent and sovereign state. Its religion is Islam, its language is Arabic and its type of government is the Republic." This shows that in 58 years there has been no development of minority rights in the country.

The new Tunisian constitution lags behind those of other Maghreb countries in matters relating to Amazigh rights. Article 5 of the Moroccan Constitution states:[12] "Arabic is the official language of the State. The State works for the protection and the development of the Arab language and to the promotion of its use. In the same way, the Amazigh [language] constitute the official language of the State, as a common heritage of all Moroccans with no exception. A main law defines the process for officially developing this language, and ways of integrating it in the schools and in the priority areas of public life... The State also preserves the Hassani language,[13] as an integral part of the united cultural identity of Morocco... In the same way, Morocco [stresses the importance]... of learning and mastering the foreign languages most used in the world...."

Similarly, Article 3 and Article 3 bis of the Algerian constitution state, respectively:[14] "Arabic is the national and official language" and "(Constitutional revision dated April 10, 2002...) Tamazight is also a national language. The State works for its promotion and development of all its linguistic varieties spoken in the national territory."

Furthermore, in 2013, in the aftermath of the Libyan revolution, the council of ministers in Libya recognized Yennayer, the Amazigh New Year, as an official holiday.

Amazigh Cultural Revival Following 2011 Jasmine Revolution

The percentage of Tamazight speakers in Morocco, Algeria and Libya is higher than in Tunisia, where they constitute only 1% of the population and live in scattered communities in the towns of Matmata and Tataouine and on the island of Djerba.

Image source: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1996

In 2012, during the first Amazigh Symposium since Tunisia's independence in 1956, held in Tunis and titled "Berber Symposium: Language, Culture and Society in Tunisia and Beyond," Khadija Ben Saidane, president of the Tunisian Association for Amazigh Culture, explained that the Tunisian Amazighs had seen their situation deteriorate, with the constant marginalization and pauperization of Amazigh towns and villages, particularly after Tunisia's independence from France. She said, "Former Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba assimilated Tunisian Amazighs into the dominant Arab culture of Tunisia, which led nearly to the ethnic group's loss of identity in many Tunisian towns and cities." However, Fethi Ben Mimoun, a Djerba Amazigh and a civil servant, stated that since the 2011 Jasmine revolution in Tunisia there had been a revival of Berber pride. "Tunisian Amazighs are becoming aware of their existence," he said. It is a fact that after the revolution, new Facebook pages and associations promoting Amazigh culture and Tunisia's Amazigh historic roots have popped up.

Tunisian Amazighs holding the Tunisian and Amazigh flags. (source: Tunisia Live, March 8, 2012)

The Arab-Muslim Identity

Article 39 of the new Tunisian constitution states that the country will pursue the consolidation of the Arab-Muslim identity; this adds new elements that were not in the 1959 constitution. The first is the pursuit of a "Muslim identity" for the country, which is not mentioned in the previous constitution, and the second is strengthening the Arabic language, which goes against the principle of Arabic-French bilingualism introduced by Bourguiba.

Article 39 reads: "...The State will pursue the consolidation of the Arab-Muslim identity and of the national identity with the young generations; [the State will also pursue] the strengthening of the Arab language, its promotion and the generalization of its utilization and [will also pursue an] openness to foreign languages, human civilization and the spreading of the culture of Human rights."

Tunisian Commentator: Article 39 Reflects Marzouki's Ideology

According to Tunisian commentator Rachid Barnat,[15] the constitution's Article 39 reflects Marzouki's ideology. On December 2013, Marzouki launched an international forum, "World Mihrab for the Arabic Language," for the promotion of the Arab language in all fields, including in the scientific field. Barnat states that the way to modernization is not to bring Tunisia to a point where it speaks only one language, but to continue on the path of bilingualism. He also states that the Arabicization of the country is aimed at holding back the Tunisian elite, which is by and large Francophone.

Marzouki, "Who Pretends To Be A Pan-Arabist But Whose Way Of Life Does Not At All Reflect His Convictions... Has Learned Nothing From The History Of Pan-Arabism"

Barnat wrote: "...[A] meeting was held at the Carthage presidential palace to celebrate the creation of the 'World Mihrab for the Arabic language,' [on] the 'Arabicization' of scientific research!' We are wondering whether Tunisia is moving towards a more widespread use of the Arabic language. At any rate, this is not surprising, since the present occupant of Carthage palace [i.e. Marzouki] is a pan-Arabist, an idealistic and unrealistic fellow, who still believes in 'linguistic identity' and in the possible union of Arabic-speaking countries despite all their ethnic and cultural differences! [He acts] as though he has learned nothing from the history of pan-Arabism and from the failures of the Baathist parties that emanated from this doctrine... Is Marzouki the sort of man [who says] 'do what I say but not what I do?'

"Here we have somebody who pretends to be a pan-Arabist, but whose way of life does not at all reflect his 'political' convictions! He is married to a French woman and he passed his pseudo-exile[16] in France; his children have French citizenship and are fully Francophone... whereas 'his' logic would have dictated that he marry an Arab woman, that he go into exile in an Arab country – preferably under a Baathist regime – and that he send his children to Arab schools!

"[But he did] none of this, and this is just further evidence of the hypocrisy of this man... who over time has sympathized with first the Muslim Brotherhood and later advocated human rights – thus navigating between diametrically opposed doctrines. This proves that he has neither principles nor internally rooted values!..."

"The French Language... Conveys Values And Knowledge"; Bourguiba Used To Say [That] Those Who Rejected [It] Condemned Themselves To Regression And Ultimately Became Prone To Colonization"

"The fact that the French language had such a great success within the German and Russian higher classes... as well as in the European courts, was not only due to the quality of this language, but mainly because it conveyed values and knowledge. French literature and arts occupied a place of prominence, thanks to writers such as Montaigne, Molière, La Fontaine, Bossuet... Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, who came at the beginning of the century of Enlightenment... which, in turn, was at the beginning of the French Revolution, of human rights... of the development of science, medicine and philosophy. The Enlightenment was going to fertilize all the civilizations willing to open themselves to progress! As Bourguiba used to say, those who rejected this language [i.e. French] condemned themselves to regression and ultimately became prone to colonization....

"The expansion of the French language was also the result of [France's] colonial policy, which has been condemned by history. However, as was so well put by Algerian writer Kateb Yacine, 'French was war booty' for the people, who were colonized; and, far from being harmful, knowing the French language was a bonus. Many have not yet understood this as Bourguiba did!...

"There are people who are full of complexes and who mix things up, and who, in their condemnation of colonization, would like to deprive their people of the option of using French along with their vernacular... in order to impose the use of Arabic, and forgetting that Arabic is also a language introduced in North Africa during the [11th-century] Banu Hilal colonization, which stormed over this region and whose language was Berber!

"Bourguiba bet on modernity and progress. He chose bilingualism without any complex, in order to enrich Tunisians with a new culture, with the bearer of values, technology, and new knowledge. But, above all, [he] did this in order to overcome the civilizational backwardness that Tunisians had been experiencing for centuries."

"A Gang Of Embittered Individuals... Is Holding An Entire People Hostage"

"But [now], all of a sudden, a gang of embittered individuals is, because of its undigested historical past, holding an entire people hostage... intending to inculcate this knowledge-loving people with [its own] complexes vis-à-vis the West, which is so far ahead in modernity and progress!

"What is true for French is equally true for English, which is also the bearer of the values of freedom and high-level scientific knowledge. The development of the English language resulted from the fact that this language has for a long time been the language of science and business, from the end of the 19th century...!

"All those who promoted Arabicization, with a political agenda and under the pretext of 'identity,' have seriously penalized their young people. [For these people], Arabicization might also be a weapon aimed at rejecting the Tunisian elite, which is by and large French-speaking, and also as a means to reject their ideological and political rivals who draw on the values of the Enlightenment.

"By doing this, the promoters of Arabism will exclude their youth from the world of business, science, and culture... and this will at the very least impact that part of the youth which can afford neither the Grands Ecoles nor the great Western universities which [these people] reserve for their own children."


In a January 17, 2014 article in the Algerian daily Le Matin, titled "Tunisia: The New Constitution and the Amazigh Dimension," Nassim Said noted that the new Tunisian Constitution is a compromise between rival political forces – that is, radical Islamists and pseudo-modernists. The following is his article:

"The Debate About The New Tunisian Constitution, Prisoner Of The Dichotomy Between Conservatism And Modernism, Has Totally Ignored The Issue Of The Rights Of The Amazigh People Of Tunisia"

"The debate about the new Tunisian constitution, prisoner of the dichotomy between conservatism and modernism, has totally ignored the issue of the rights of the Amazigh people of Tunisia. This is an indigenous people, today a minority due to the multiple policies of repression, of depersonalization, and of assimilation, in open violation of all the rules of the international law.

"Tunisia is on the way to giving itself… a new constitution, [an act] which is being praised, particularly in the West, for its modernity and as unprecedented for an 'Arab' state. Therefore, is it legitimate to ask ourselves why this text, which is receiving so many accolades, should be considered so modern and respectful of human rights in light of international law? What is the originality of this text – which, according to its authors, will be a leading example for the constitutions of the other North African states?

"Here, we do not intend to proceed to establish an inventory of the drawbacks which exist in the draft of the new Tunisian constitution and we do not equally intend to elaborate on matters of comparative law. We will simply point out that this text, presented as 'modern', is light-years distant from the oldest modern constitution of the world, namely the Constitution of the United States of America. Created by the 'founding fathers', it is still considered, to this date, the most successful in the world in terms of public rights and liberties. Yet, it also descended from a revolution, the American Revolution of 1776 (also called war of Independence).

"Moreover, we will avoid to make comparisons, which would have been nonetheless useful, with the constitutions of the great world democracies: Canada, France, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, just to mention a few. This is not the goal of this paper."

"A Modern Constitution Must Be Evaluated In The Light Of International Laws Concerning Civil, Political, Economic And Social Rights"

"A modern constitution must be evaluated in the light of international laws concerning civil, political, economic and social rights. It must include, within its provisions, equality for all citizens, men and women, as well as the recognition of the rights of the indigenous people and the protection of the minorities existing on the territory of Tunisia.

"Although equality between men and women is acknowledged, under the pressure of numerous national and international NGOs such as Al-Bawsala, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, in article 20 of the draft of the constitution: 'All male and female citizens have the same rights and the same duties. They are equal in front of the law without any discrimination,' the issue of national minorities and above all the one of indigenous people was simply ignored! Now, the Amazigh people, an indigenous people which is present in every state of Northern Africa (Maghreb) and whose particularity was brought up on repeated occasion by the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations on the rights of indigenous people, remains a forbidden subject and undergoes again, in a Tunisia which pretends to be democratic and respectful of human rights, a blatant denial of its rights.

"Article 1 of the draft of the new constitution could not be more explicit: "Tunisia is a free and sovereign State, its religion is Islam, its language is Arabic and its regime is a republic." It is practically identical to the article that was present in the constitution of 1959!

"So, what is Tunisia going to do about the Amazigh populations of the island of Jerba and of the towns, of the villages and of the numerous oasis of the south?

"What happened is that the Amazigh people of Tunisia were silenced in the new constitution. Still, its brothers in the other North African States, which are far from being democratic, managed to acquire some more or less substantial rights. In Morocco, in 2011, the Amazigh language received the status of official language. In Algeria, the Amazigh language is already considered, in the constitution, a national language (2002), and its official recognition is at the center of a debate at a time when a new constitutional revision is in sight. Besides, there are the first signs for a future state entity in Kabylia. [...] Libya recognizes the Amazigh component by declaring national holiday the Amazigh new year (Yennayer); also, the region of Adrar N'foussa is claiming its right to self-determination."

"Post-Revolutionary Tunisia Remains Insensitive To Its Amazigh Roots"

"Post-revolutionary Tunisia remains insensitive to its Amazigh roots. This is disheartening! It is almost grotesque... turning its back on [adopting] a truly modern constitution that would be respectful of the international law. There is no doubt that Tunisia has much to gain from the recognition of the Amazigh people as an indigenous people, and to render official its millenary language. The new constitution should be in tune with the international instruments, namely the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous people, which explicitly states, in its Article 3, indigenous peoples' right to self-determination.

"Unfortunately, the dream of a pluralistic society and of the rule of law come up against the hard reality of political archaism. The recognition of indigenous people and of minorities is not synonymous with separatism. On the contrary, in our opinion, it is the best way to consolidate the rule of law and to ensure its durability."

"Tunisia Is Therefore About To Have A Constitution Of Compromise Between The Political Forces In Competition, Namely Radical Islamists And Pseudo-Modernists"

"Today's Tunisia is turning its back on its Amazigh roots, from the times when it was an integral part of Massilya [an Amazigh kingdom under the great king Massinissa, founder of the first Amazigh state (240 BC to 148 BC)]. It also misses the occasion to durably align with the constitution of the great democracies of the world. Tunisia is therefore about to have a constitution of compromise between the political forces in competition, namely radical Islamists and pseudo-modernists.

"At the end of the story, what remains for the Amazighs of Tunisia is a long way to go. It is up to them alone to claim the Amazigh uniqueness as an indigenous people and to implement their rights deriving from international law.

"To further the cause of our Amazigh brothers in Tunisia, we invite all the Amazigh peoples living in North Africa to express their solidarity and to work towards a 'Maghreb' of free peoples."

*A. Mahjar-Barducci is Research Fellow for North African Studies at MEMRI


[1], January 27, 2014.

[2] Tunisia gained independence from France on March 20, 1956, and the Constitution of Tunisia was adopted and promulgated on June 1, 1959. Since then, the Constitution was amended July 12, 1988; June 29, 1999; June 1, 2002; May 13, 2003; and July 28, 2008.


[4], accessed March 24, 2014.

[5] Le Temps (Tunisia), March 26, 2011.

[6] Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt), October 14-20, 2004.

[7], February 8, 2012.

[8], February 14, 2012.

[9], February 22, 2012.

[10] Tel Quel (Morocco), January 31, 2013.

[11], February 29, 2012.


[13] The Hassani language is a variety of Arabic originally spoken by the Beni Hassan Bedouin tribes, who extended their authority over most of Mauritania and the Western Sahara.


[15] Kapitalis (Tunisia), January 16, 2014.

[16] Marzouki was an opponent of president Ben Ali and spent many years in political exile in France.

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