Tunisia allows man to drop name linked to slavery

The Court of First Instance of Medenine, in south-eastern Tunisia, ruled on October 14 allowing Hamdan Atig Dali, 81, to delete the term “atig”- which means freed slave – of his name in all official documents.

The justice ministry rejected the same request in 2017, saying there were no competent institutions to decide the case.

Kareem Dali, the man’s 39-year-old son, told Al-Monitor: “For the first time in my life, I feel like a citizen with a lot of duties like any other Tunisian citizen. Justice eventually prevailed, especially since my family suffered a lot of harassment, discrimination and racism from the community.

Kareem called the court ruling historic. “This is a major triumph, not only for the family, but for all those with dark skin in Tunisia.

The term atig is an indication of slavery, although Tunisia was the first Arab and Muslim country to abolish slavery 174 years ago, on January 23, 1846.

Kareem had filed a complaint in the lower court in 2017 on behalf of his father to remove the term from his name as contemptuous and insulting to human dignity. The family appealed to justice again in August, citing a 2018 ruling law to eliminate all forms of discrimination.

Tunisians have the right to change their family name for a period of 1959 law was adopted under President Habib Bourguiba after independence. The law requires all Tunisians to have a family name and specifies: “Every Tunisian has the right to request the replacement of his name, on the instruction of the President of the Republic and on the basis of a request addressed to the Ministry of Justice, if his name is not Arabic or Amazigh or if the meaning of his name or its pronunciation could cause confusion or mockery.

Ziad Rouen, the general coordinator of the anti-racism association Mnemty, called the court’s decision “historic” and added: “Everyone should be happy that Tunisia is on the verge of shedding the last vestiges of slavery”.

He told Al-Monitor the decision is a victory for Tunisia, bringing new hope for others.

Rouen criticized the Tunisian state’s failure to fulfill its duty to protect its citizens by eliminating markers of stigma, humiliation and slavery. He said Atig is not the only last name in Tunisia that refers to slavery, as there is also Mamlouk, Shushan and Abid.

Speaking to private radio station Mosaique FM on October 16, president of Mnemty Saadiya Mesbah called on the education ministry to protect citizens from discrimination based on religion or skin color. She suggested adding a human rights course to the Tunisian elementary school curriculum. She added that Tunisians will only be able to escape the vestiges of slavery when they are educated in human rights.

Slavery has been officially abolished in Tunisia in 1846, long before the United States, which waged a civil war over the issue 20 years later. Yet forms of slavery have persisted in Tunisia for decades, including human trafficking and forced labor on farms and mines.

On September 6, 1841, Ahmed Pasha Bey first put an end to the internal slave trade in Tunisia and his participation in international sales, and ordered the demolition of the places where slaves were sold.

In 1842, the Bey of Tunis declared that anyone born on Tunisian soil is a free person who can neither be bought nor sold. Then, on January 23, 1846, he ordered the release of all the slaves in the kingdom.

The late Tunisian President Béji Caid Essebsi declared in early 2019 that January 23 would be a National Holiday marking the abolition of slavery.

article 21 of the Tunisian constitution prohibits any discrimination based on skin color and affirms: “All citizens, men and women, have equal rights and duties and are equal before the law without discrimination”.

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About Wesley V. Finley

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