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Art Moves Africa – Retracing Roots and Tracing New Routes: Mobility and Touring in North Africa

A study by Lara Bourdin for Art Moves Africa, October 2019

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84<br />

Country-Specific Information<br />

—<br />

GENERAL INFORMATION<br />

—<br />

Tunisia is both the smallest <strong>and</strong> the northernmost<br />

country of <strong>North</strong> <strong>Africa</strong>, with a long history as<br />

a meet<strong>in</strong>g po<strong>in</strong>t of cultures <strong>and</strong> civilizations.<br />

Its first <strong>in</strong>habitants are the Amazigh. S<strong>in</strong>ce the<br />

12th century BC, it has known several waves of<br />

occupation <strong>and</strong> immigration, beg<strong>in</strong>n<strong>in</strong>g with the<br />

Phoenicians <strong>and</strong> followed by the Romans, the<br />

Muslims, the Ottomans <strong>and</strong> the French. Tunisia<br />

became <strong>in</strong>dependent <strong>in</strong> 1956.<br />

The country’s recent history has been<br />

profoundly shaped by the Revolution of 2011, an<br />

<strong>in</strong>tensive campaign of civil protest <strong>and</strong> resistance<br />

that led to the resignation <strong>and</strong> flight of dictator<br />

Z<strong>in</strong>e El Abid<strong>in</strong>e Ben Ali <strong>in</strong> 2011 <strong>and</strong> the <strong>in</strong>stitution<br />

of free elections <strong>in</strong> 2014. The self-immolation of<br />

Tarek el-Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi <strong>in</strong> Sidi Bouizid<br />

on December 17, 2010 is widely regarded as<br />

the spark for the region-wide wave of protests<br />

referred to as the Arab Spr<strong>in</strong>g.<br />

Today, Tunisia is a unitary semi-presidential<br />

representative democratic republic. S<strong>in</strong>ce <strong>in</strong>dependence,<br />

Tunisia has had a policy of cultivat<strong>in</strong>g<br />

close foreign relations with Europe, <strong>in</strong> particular<br />

with France <strong>and</strong> Italy. Today, the European Union<br />

is Tunisia’s first trad<strong>in</strong>g partner <strong>and</strong> conversely,<br />

Tunisia is one of the EU’s top trad<strong>in</strong>g partners <strong>in</strong><br />

the region. Tunisia is <strong>in</strong>cluded <strong>in</strong> the European<br />

Union’s European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP),<br />

which aims at br<strong>in</strong>g<strong>in</strong>g the EU <strong>and</strong> its neighbours<br />

closer. It has been favoured by European external<br />

cooperation <strong>in</strong>itiatives <strong>in</strong> (<strong>North</strong>) <strong>Africa</strong> s<strong>in</strong>ce<br />

2011, namely <strong>in</strong> the field of culture (see below).<br />

Tunisia has also played an active role <strong>in</strong><br />

<strong>Africa</strong>n <strong>and</strong> regional organizations. It is a member<br />

of the Arab Maghreb Union, the Arab League<br />

<strong>and</strong> the <strong>Africa</strong>n Union (among other <strong>in</strong>ternational<br />

bodies). Diplomatic relations with fellow Maghreb<br />

nations Morocco <strong>and</strong> Algeria have historically<br />

been strong. Trade is currently <strong>in</strong>creas<strong>in</strong>g with<br />

Morocco. Relations with Libya have been more<br />

erratic, but have become essential <strong>in</strong> recent<br />

years as Tunisia works to support reconciliation<br />

between oppos<strong>in</strong>g factions <strong>in</strong> Libya <strong>and</strong> keeps<br />

its borders open to Libyans.<br />

—<br />

T<br />

U<br />

N<br />

I<br />

S<br />

I<br />

A<br />

—<br />

Before it was named Tunisia, the territory’s<br />

name was Ifriqiya (or <strong>Africa</strong>), giv<strong>in</strong>g the presentday<br />

name of the cont<strong>in</strong>ent <strong>Africa</strong>. Tunisia’s diplomatic<br />

<strong>and</strong> economic policies towards the rest<br />

of the cont<strong>in</strong>ent have been more limited than<br />

neighbour<strong>in</strong>g countries such as Morocco <strong>and</strong><br />

Algeria, although Tunisia’s M<strong>in</strong>istry of Economy<br />

recently launched an <strong>in</strong>vestment fund for <strong>Africa</strong>.<br />

—<br />

QUOTE:<br />

[…] We’re now discover<strong>in</strong>g that no, as a matter of<br />

fact, <strong>in</strong> Tunisia there are black people, there are other<br />

types of cultures, there are musical traditions, that are<br />

steeped <strong>in</strong> <strong>Africa</strong>nity. There is a grow<strong>in</strong>g consciousness<br />

around Berberity, <strong>Africa</strong>nity, that is part of this<br />

postcolonial unmoor<strong>in</strong>g. The question today is how to<br />

l<strong>in</strong>k these “identitary” constructions with economic<br />

<strong>and</strong> political considerations; how to l<strong>in</strong>k questions of<br />

belong<strong>in</strong>g to questions of class <strong>and</strong> dom<strong>in</strong>ation.<br />

Many youth want to emancipate themselves from<br />

colonial dom<strong>in</strong>ation.<br />

It seems to me that it may be important to th<strong>in</strong>k of<br />

a sort of Arab-pan-<strong>Africa</strong>nism. The colonial spirit<br />

sought to divide the “<strong>in</strong>digènes” through systems of<br />

hierarchization, but it’s important today to pay attention<br />

to what is happen<strong>in</strong>g at the l<strong>in</strong>guistic <strong>and</strong> cultural<br />

levels <strong>and</strong> to young people’s choices <strong>in</strong> their forms of<br />

expression. We shouldn’t speak <strong>in</strong> their place nor take<br />

away their voices, but listen to them. »<br />

Mariem Guellouz<br />

Dancer <strong>and</strong> researcher, Director of Les Journées<br />

chorégraphiques de Carthage,<br />

Tunis / Paris*<br />

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