By Mawassi Lahcen
Threats from radical Islamists prevented Tunisian Amazigh associations from holding a conference in the southern region of Matmata.
Six Tunisian Amazigh groups planned their event, which aimed to unite the Tunisian Amazigh movement, to coincide with the 20th Tamezret Festival for Amazigh Culture on August 24 and 25.
But die-hard Islamists protested the use of Tifinagh characters on festival banners and demanded their removal, along with Amazigh flags.
They accused Amazigh militants “of collaborating with foreign entities and of serving a Western and secular agenda hostile to Tunisia’s Arab Islamic identity”.
“We preferred to calm the situation rather than be drawn into acts that could damage our image and our mission,” Nouri Nemri, a Tunisian Amazigh activist, told Magharebia. âIn addition, we wanted to ease the pressure on the organizers of the festival, which was a real success and attracted an audience beyond our expectations. Therefore, we have decided to postpone the conference.
As for the most important issues for the Tunisian Amazigh movement, Nemri said activists are focused on protecting their culture.
âWe demand that the State assumes its responsibility in the protection, preservation and maintenance of Amazigh heritage and culture. We also confirm that the entity that we seek to create has a purely associative, cultural character â, he declared.
Nemri said the Tunisian Amazigh movement is not currently seeking official recognition of Tamazight in the constitution, despite the wishes of some activists.
âHowever, let’s face it: Tamazight-speaking populations in Tunisia represent only 5% of the population, although the percentage of populations of Amazigh origin is much higher,â Nemri said. âWe see what is happening in neighboring countries where there are a lot of Tamazight speaking people. “
He added that the Amazighs of Tunisia have been able to preserve their culture, customs, language and identity throughout history despite restrictions and hostility.
“We resisted the Ottomans, the French, the state of Bourguiba and the state of Ben Ali,” he declared. âToday, there are radical Islamists and nationalists who fight against the Tunisian identity. Despite all of this, we were able to protect and preserve our identity.
Before the revolution, Nemri said that âAmazigh culture was limited to tourist consumption. Other than that, it was forbidden. “
The first attempts to form Amazigh cultural associations date back to the 1980s but met strong opposition from the old regime, he said.
âAfter the revolution, many Amazigh associations were formed,â he added. âToday we are trying to unite their efforts and coordinate their work. However, they are greeted with hostility by Islamists and nationalists. “
Despite the threats, the 20th edition of the Tamezret Festival for Amazigh Culture was a great success, according to the organizers. More than 5,000 people, including Amazighs from Libya and Algeria, attended the event.
Lassad Labouz, president of the Tamezret Association for the Protection of Heritage, said the festival program including seminars on Tamazight language and culture
Tunisian Amazigh musician Lazhar Bin Ouirane has also performed with a Libyan band. The event ended with the Tunisian Amazigh artist Zohra Lajnef.