They are Tunisians. They are Muslims. They are the original inhabitants of North Africa. However, they utterly refuse the idea of being called Arabs. And recently they are protesting against the Media to stop using “Arab Maghreb”.
Their mother tongue is Amazigh. They never learn Arabic till they go to school. However, they are fluent in Arabic; one of the reasons that made Tunisians think of them as Arabs.
Most Tunisians believe that Amazighs are Berbers who vanished after the colony of Tunisia became the independent Republic of Tunisia. This misleading cock-and-bull story was written by the former regime of Ben Ali whose number one achievement was promoting an Arab country by removing the Amazighs out of the picture.
Going back in the folds of history, Amazighs were given the name of “Berbers” by the Romans because the former viciously stood up against their invasions. Subsequently, they came to be known as “Shluh”. Both “Berber” and “Shluh” have pejorative and offensive meanings. Preferably, they would rather be called either “Amazigh” or “Kbayli”.
“Amazigh” means a free and noble man. Well known Amazighs that are thought to be Arabs by the bulk of Tunisians are: Masinissa, Tariq Ibn Zyad, Ibn Battuta, al- Kahina, al- Khattabi, Hindi Zahra, Karim Benzema, Zinedine Zidane, etc.
Members of Amazigh associations, such as the Tunisian Association of the Amazigh Culture, claim that most Tunisians are clueless about their origins. They believe that they are Arabs while a great percentage of them are originally Amazigh. The main aim of associations like these is ending the confusion and demanding their right to be officially recognized in the post- revolutionary Tunisian Constitution.
Other demands of this particular association are: spreading the Amazigh culture in Tunisia, maintaining the authentic customs and traditions of Tunisian Amazigh, opening an Amazigh language school at the heart of the capital of Tunisia, and seeking a universal and international support.
Nonetheless, claims were made by one Tunisian Amazigh on Fance24 saying that “It’s true that there is an association that is supposed to defend our rights. But, later on everything about it have changed. The association has failed to keep its promises.”
Most likely, the first time that most Tunisians were introduced to the Amazigh culture and civilization was with the “Fee al- Sameem” show podcasted on “al- Toonisia” TV which allocated a whole episode entitled “The case of Amazigh”.
One of their ways of saving their culture and language is getting married to someone from an Amazigh tribe. “Even those who move to the capital for work, they prefer getting married to an Amazigh.”
“We don’t understand why Arab Tunisians are scared of the Amazigh Tunisians and associations? In Tunisia, there are Sufi associations, communist associations, and even Arab Nationalist parties which reference are non Muslim pioneers… Our activities are done under the framework of citizenship. As long we got a legal license from the Tunisian government, we have rights”, said one of the interviewees on the show. “The Tunisian Constitution of 1959 does not state that Tunisia is an Arab country. It just says that Tunisia’s official language is Arabic. And languages do not define one’s identity”, he added.
Another interviewee stated that the main reason behind having difficulties in proving their existence and identity as Amazigh in Tunisia is that “most Tunisians are not willing yet to accept the idea of diversity.”