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Tunisia Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Tunisia is a small nation at the northernmost point of Africa. So, who lives there? In this lesson, we are going to talk about the ethnic composition of Tunisia, and see how this reflects their history.

Tunisia

The Mediterranean is a major travel destination, and frankly, it's not hard to see why. Culture, food, climate, food, history, it's all there. For the Mediterranean-bound travelers amongst us, one place you definitely don't want to miss is Tunisia. At the northernmost point of the African continent, Tunisia isn't exactly big, but it's had one heck of a history as a major Mediterranean trade center for centuries. It also has one of the highest qualities of life in Northern Africa. Tunisia participates in a dozen international organizations, contains the only truly democratic government of the Arab nations, and contributes heavily to the UN and International Criminal Court that tries war crimes and human rights violations. Oh yeah, and let's not forget their cuisine, which features a characteristic spiciness, based around olive oils, seafood, tomatoes, and other vegetables. Ready to book a trip yet? Well, before you do, let's get to know some of the people who get to experience Tunisia all the time. Let's get to know the Tunisians.

Tunisia (dark green)
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The Arab Ethnic Group of Tunisia

Now, many nations around the Mediterranean contain multiple ethnic groups within their borders, a result of millennia of international trade, conquest, and travel. Tunisia is something of an exception here. Perhaps because it is a smaller nation, the Tunisian people self-identify almost exclusively as belonging to a single ethnic group: Arab. In fact, about 98% of Tunisians claim to be of Arab decent. This makes sense, considering the fact that Tunisia has been the center of Arabic trading routes across the Mediterranean for centuries. However, despite the fact that Tunisians claim to be Arabs, what this means in terms of strict genealogy is slightly more complicated.

The Tunisian people mainly self-identify as belonging to the Arab ethnicity
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The Arab ethnicity is originally based out of the Arabian Peninsula. Over time, Arab empires spread across Northern Africa, and a great number of people across the region can claim Arab ancestry. However, Tunisia was also home to another major ethnic group, called the Berbers. The Berbers were an ethnic group native to North Africa, and these genetic strains compose a substantial portion of Tunisia's modern population. There is a tiny minority of Tunisians, less than a single percent, that still identify as being purely Berber. Beyond that, the Turkish Ottomans contributed heavily to the Tunisian gene pool, as did Andalusians from Spain, a legacy of Berber conquests into Iberia. Overall, the Tunisian Arab ethnicity is a compilation of quite a few ethnic groups, although the fact that most Tunisians simply identify as being Arab indicates which cultural traditions have survived most prominently.

Genealogically, the Berbers are a big part of the Tunisian Arab ethnicity
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Minority Ethnic Groups in Tunisia

98% of Tunisians self-identify as Arab. So, what about the other 2%? These aren't exactly substantial ethnic populations, but they do exist. About 1% of minorities in Tunisia are of European decent. Both France and Italy expanded their empires into Tunisia in the early 20th century, which is largely where this population comes from. French especially is still spoken widely, although the official language of the nation is Tunisian Arabic.

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