"Although it used to be forbidden to use Amazigh in daily life, it was employed to promote tourism, in signs, hotels and exhibitions," Azadeh added. This means of promoting tourism persisted, however, becoming an increasing source of income for ordinary people, to the extent that they themselves came to view their own culture, customs and traditions as nothing more than a commodity, as had been the case for decades before. It is this mind-set that AZROU, despite its limited resources, is seeking to change today.

To date, AZROU has taught dozens of students to write Amazigh and has given lectures at higher education institutions in the governorate of Gabes. They are limited only by the modest resources at their disposal. According to AZROʹs president, "Young people and those who donʹt have Arab nationalist, Islamist or Muslim Brotherhood ideologies welcome the chance to learn the language."

Azadehʹs passion (he wears rings adorned with Amazigh symbols), is not constrained by AZROʹs small budget, however. Indeed, he does all he can to educate anyone interested. He even taught a group in Tunis where he worked in a bakery before his retirement. He still helps with translation queries from anyone who contacts him, whether face-to-face or via Facebook.

Have the campaigners achieved their goal?

According to the records of the International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs, Tunisia voted in favour of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007, but few citizens or lawmakers are aware of this, nor has it been applied in the local courts.

Logo of AZROU, an organisation aimed at fostering the Amazigh language and culture in Tunisia (source: AZROU; Facebook)
Under Bourguiba and Ben Ali, mere curios to be exploited: the state wanted the Amazigh to be a ʹcommodityʹ, a ʹTunisian artefactʹ, forgetting that "this commodity is comprised of people who are indigenous to North Africa and who have rights," says Hisham Ghrairi. Since the Jasmie Revolution, things have begun to improve, but Tunisia is still a long way from truly appreciating its mixed heritage

After the outbreak of the revolution and the emergence in public of voices which had hitherto been secret, there are now ten cultural associations in Tunisia aimed at preserving and promoting Amazigh language and culture.

For all that, the most important document in the country, namely the new constitution, which was ratified by parliament in 2014, made no reference to the Amazigh dimension whatsoever. In fact, the constitution specified Tunisiaʹs "cultural and historical belonging to the Arab and Islamic nation". Moreover, it mentioned the Maghreb Union as "a step towards Arab unity", in contrast to the new Moroccan constitution, which states:

"The Kingdom of Morocco is a sovereign Islamic state, enjoying national unity and territorial integrity, maintaining the cohesion and diversity of its national identity and united by the sum of all its component parts, Arab, Islamic, Amazigh, Sahrawi and Hassani and enriched by its African, Andalusian, Hebrew and Mediterranean heritages". Clause 5 affirms that "Amazigh is also an official language, a common asset of all Moroccans without exception".

It is worth mentioning that the writer of this piece tried to contact the Tunisian Ministry of Cultureʹs spokesperson, but without success.

Hisham Ghrairi, who left the country after losing his job as a tour guide, says that the two former regimes stripped the Amazigh people of "their most beautiful possession", namely their culture. Will the coming years see its revival?

Lina Shanak

© Qantara.de 2019

Translated from the Arabic by Chris Somes-Charlton

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