Ending the legacy of slavery in Tunisia

At 81 years old, Hamdane Dali has just won a great victory. The old black man from Medenine, in southern Tunisia, a distant descendant of a slave, will no longer have to bear this historical stigma. The city court accepted on October 14 that the term “atig”, meaning freed – either former slave of the Dali family – be deleted from his identity documents and from all those of his family.

Many Tunisians of the black minority still officially have the terms “atig” or “chouchane” (“slave”) appended to their name, nearly two centuries after the abolition, in 1846, of slavery in Tunisia. “Even today children are born with the name atig”, is indignant Saadia Mosbah, who founded, in 2013, the association for the defense of minorities M’nemty (“my dream”) and supported the Dali family in their efforts.

A very heavy name to bear. “On an exam copy, on a CV to look for a job, etc., it immediately drops consideration towards the person”, she comments. “There were also non-black slaves in Tunisia, but these names remained only for the black minority”, she adds.

“No recognition of the Africanity of Tunisia”

Since its creation, M’nemty has been fighting to put an end to this discrimination and demands the creation of a national commission for surnames. “The authorities have never taken up this issue, there is no recognition of the plurality of Tunisian society, its Africanness, its multiculturality and its multi-ethnicity”, deplores Saadia Mosbah who notes that only Jamila Ksiksi, the only black member of the Tunisian parliament, welcomed this decision.

The historical presence of blacks in Tunisia, independently of the slave trade, is a fact unknown to Tunisians, underlined the ethnologist Inès Mrad-Dali, author of a thesis on black Tunisians. As is the history of slavery and the involvement of Arabs in the trans-Saharan slave trade. ” VShis Tunisian history remains to be written and exorcised ”, considers the anthropologist Stéphanie Pouessel who directed a study “Blacks in the Maghreb. Identity issues ”.

The new law on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination

In 2017, Hamdane Dali’s son, Karim Dali filed a petition with the Ministry of Justice to remove this humiliating “atig” designation. “It was then refused, without any explanation”, Saadia Mosbah reports.

Since then, Tunisia adopted a law on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination in October 2018, which has undoubtedly been a game-changer. The argument for the decision of the court of Medenine, not yet published, will be enlightening on the subject. In any case, this will set a precedent for all families wishing to no longer be stigmatized.

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