Tunisia: The First Arab Country to make Racial Discrimination Illegal - by Darielle Matthews
Imagine a world where racial discrimination is illegal and steps are being implemented in different policies to prevent racism. This world has become a reality in Tunisia. On October 9th, Tunisia’s parliament passed the “Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination” Act, an act that makes racial discrimination a criminal offense.
In Tunisia, black people are often targets of verbal abuse and physical attacks because of their skin color. Black Tunisians have been marginalized socially, economically and politically for centuries. For example, in 2016 there were cases of segregated buses in the country’s south for black school children and white school children as well as an account of several young Tunisian men throwing stones at a pregnant woman because of her skin color. Likewise, “kahlouch,” a derogatory term for black, and “woussif,” which translates to “slave,” are both extensively used to identify black people. This racism is very pervasive in Tunisia and is best shown through the underrepresentation of black Tunisians in the country’s politics and media. The deficiency of black people in public life has led many blacks to view their skin as a burden, and also creates an idea that they are viewed as inferior second-class citizens.
The legislation for this law responded to the assault of a man from the Ivory Coast on a Tunis street in July. The attack triggered negative reactions online as well as public condemnation from anti-racism organizations. The new law defines racial discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, ancestry” or other discrimination that leads to “disturbances, and obstruction or privation.” Under this new law, people who use racist speech face one month in prison and a fine of $350. People who circulate ideas about racial superiority or support a racist organization or activity face one to three years in jail.
Tunisia’s apparent racism has also affected the country’s image and credibility abroad. Tunisia has been a popular place for medical and engineering students from sub-Saharan Africa, however the number of sub-Saharan students dropped by the thousands because of the racial discrimination these students face. For example, students struggle to obtain visas and access healthcare and jobs.
This law is truly remarkable for Tunisia because it is improving the rights of blacks in Tunisia by making it illegal for them to be discriminated against and harassed because of the color of their skin. Racism is deeply ingrained in the Tunisian society, but this act is a step in the right direction because it is not only recognizing the racism in society but taking action to prevent it. Ultimately, this law is revolutionary because it makes Tunisia the first Arab country and the second in Africa to prohibit racial discrimination.