Indigenous Amazigh people in Tunisia launch their first political party

TUNIS, Tunisia – The Akal movement was born during the Tunisian revolution of 2011 as a civil force to defend the rights of the native Amazighs of the country and to preserve their cultural heritage. Today, the movement’s founders are turning the group into a political party that will compete in this year’s legislative and presidential elections, according to Akal leader Samir al-Nefzi, who spoke to Al-Monitor.

Members of the movement announced at a May 6 press conference in the capital that they had asked the government to form a party and were awaiting official permission to begin their political activities. There are already 217 parties in the country, but it will be the first of the Amazighs.

Tunisian legislative elections are scheduled for October 6 and the presidential election is scheduled for November 17.

Amazighs have long suffered from a government policy of systematic marginalization that continues today, Nefzi said. In a 2016 report, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights accused the Tunisian government of combating and sidelining the Tamazight language and identity.

The word Akal means “land” in the Tamazight language. “The movement was formed in reaction to the marginalization of the Tamazight language and identity in Tunisia, which is not provided for in the country’s new constitution. The first chapter of the constitution only provides for the Arabic language and Islamic identity, ”which promotes sectarianism and ignores the religious and ethnic diversity of the country, Nefzi said.

He criticizes Tunisia’s civil status law, which prohibits the use of non-Arabic names for newborns. He said the vision and platform of the new party will revolve around the principles of national sovereignty, independent political thought, social democracy and fair distribution of wealth.

Constitutions are not limited to determining the language or religion of a country, he noted, but more importantly, they are designed to describe the political system and defend the rights and freedoms of all.

There are no official statistics on the number of Amazighs in Tunisia, Nefzi said, but unofficial estimates say they are between 500,000 and 1 million, out of a total population of 11.5 million. . Most of them continue to live in towns near the mountains to the south and northwest.

The party plans to open nine offices outside Tunisia, he said, and will have committees led by enthusiastic young Amazighs to promote the political project in the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium and the United States. France, as well as in Asia. These missions will aim to establish links with Tunisians abroad and to defend the Amazigh identity.

He thinks Akal’s transition to a political party with a social and economic program is an important turning point. Akal seeks to rehabilitate marginalized Amazigh villages that lack basic social services and to promote national sovereignty away from Arabization and Westernization, especially with regard to France, “which is constantly accused of continuing to colonize Tunisia politically and economically “, indicates the founding statement of the party.

Nefzi said the party will promote Tamazight culture but will focus on secularism and civilian work and respect the laws of the country, despite reservations on some of them, and will be open to all political, religious components. and social aspects of the country.

Dozens of Tamazight associations were formed in Tunisia after the revolution. The Tunisian Association of Amazigh Culture is one of the most active and important organizations, seeking to promote the Amazigh folklore of the indigenous peoples of North Africa, but does not engage in political activities.

The transformation of the Akal movement is not without criticism. Many people point to a law prohibiting political parties from adopting programs promoting discrimination based on religious, sectarian, gender or regional grounds.

“The creation of political parties is an indisputable constitutional right, but on condition that it is not motivated by sectarian or ethnic conflicts or that it does not seek to further divide the social fabric in Tunisia”, Leila Chraibi, president of Tunisian Association for the Integrity and Democracy of Elections (ATIDE), told Al-Monitor.

She noted that the Akal movement can engage in political work and compete in the elections scheduled for the end of 2019, if it respects the law. She noted that a committee oversees the work of parties during the election period.

Maha Jouini, Tunisian civil activist and defender of the Tamazight identity, is based in China. She wrote on Facebook on May 6 that the Akal movement’s decision to enter the political sphere is completely detached from reality in Tunisia and an idea foreign to those who defend the rights of Amazighs. Jouini warned that the creation of such a party would worsen the division within Tunisian society and even among Amazigh associations.

About Wesley V. Finley

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