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Historically, Jews and Christians have been the two main religious minorities in Tunisia. Nowadays, this religious minority is mainly composed of three communities: Tunisian Christians from European migrants who settled in the country at different times and European Christians permanently resident in Tunisia; Christian sub-Saharan migrants; and former Muslim Tunisians who converted to Christianity. In 2007, the Tunisian government, in its submission to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), stated that there were only about 2,000 Christians in Tunisia. However, NGO estimates suggest the total community is around 5,000 to 6,000 people. If foreign nationals residing in Tunisia and practicing Christianity are also included, the total is closer to 25,000, most of whom are of sub-Saharan origin. Most Christians in the country are Catholic, regardless of their national/ethnic identity, but other faiths are also present, such as Protestant and Orthodox.
Djerba is also home to a Christian quarter which was once home to a large number of Maltese and Italian traders who often traveled to the island. There were up to 17,000 people living there until the early 1930s, but only a few thousand remain today. The area is home to an old church, built by Maltese fishermen and then abandoned, which is now used as a sports center by the municipality.
In 1856, there were about 12,000 Christians in Tunis. As most of them were European, they were more closely associated in the minds of the general population with colonialism than other minorities such as the Jewish community.
The perception by many that Christians were tied to colonialism had significant implications for the community following Tunisia’s independence in 1956. While Bourguiba made efforts to ensure that Jewish citizens could practice their faith freely, Christians experienced a series of restrictions formalized in the Modus Vivendi. agreement negotiated by the Catholic Church in 1964 with the Tunisian government, such as the prohibition of the construction of new churches and the ringing of bells. Nevertheless, the agreement also provided a number of protections, and until today, the Catholic Church remains the only recognized Christian denomination in Tunisia.
Although some sources report that the Protestant Church received formal recognition in 1933 through a beylical decree, the Ministry of Religious Affairs said in 2012 that Tunisians belonging to Christian communities had no legislative framework to exercise their religion in public. . CSO Attalaki reports that these congregations operate under foreign tutelage, but Tunisians are not recognized. The Catholic Diocese of Tunis takes care of the main Christian cemetery of Borgel (which adjoins that of the Jews) in Tunis. This means that all Tunisians born with a Muslim name (that is, all those born into a Jewish family) who converted to other religions, such as Baha’ism and Christianity, n do not have the right to be buried according to their faith, with exceptions for the few who have gone through official Catholic baptism.
Although restrictions remain in place to this day, there are signs that the community is able to enjoy greater visibility since the 2011 revolution. On August 15, 2018, for example, the Festa della Madonna began to be held again. celebrated in La Goulette, near Tunis, after decades when this was not possible. The ceremony followed the Catholic rite and was mostly recited in French, with some parts in Italian. At the end of a talk about coexistence in Tunisia, the sub-Saharan African congregation broke into song and dance.
Some civil society organizations, such as the Tunisian Association for the Support of Minorities, report that there are today a growing number of former Tunisian Muslims who have converted to Christianity. While conversion is not criminalized by Tunisian law, social taboos are so widespread that these groups generally prefer to remain hidden. Many face ostracism and even violence from their own families because of the stigma surrounding conversion.
Converts may also be harassed by security forces and officials. In November 2016, nine young Christian converts were arrested in Gafsa by anti-terrorist forces and threatened if they did not renounce their faith. Security guards claimed they were targeted not because of their religion but because of suspicious behavior. In February 2020, a group of foreign missionaries were arrested for reading the Gospel. Although the news was reported by several media, the legal basis on which they were accused remains unclear.
Updated November 2021