An Islamist demand for France to apologize and pay compensation for its colonial presence in Tunisia was rejected Wednesday in the Tunisian parliament after a heated 14-hour debate that confirmed the North African country sought to embrace the future rather than perpetually revisit the past.
Opponents won the day by arguing such a move would spell economic disaster, given France is Tunisia’s top trade partner and primary foreign investor, noting the proposed legislation would do nothing to re-write history. France is also home to one million Tunisians.
The motion’s supporters said an apology is necessary to “turn the page on this dark period” in the relationship of the two countries and give them equal standing.
France occupied Tunisia as a protectorate for 75 years, from 1881 until 1956. French soldiers only left the Muslim-majority territory in 1963.
The AP reports the motion to demand an “official and public apology from the French state for crimes, assassinations, torture, rape, forced deportation and looting of natural resources” was presented by the Islamist nationalist party Coalition Al Karama, which has just 19 lawmakers in the 217-seat assembly.
The call was rejected early Wednesday after 14 hours of debate, with 77 legislators voting in favor, 46 abstentions and five votes against. To be adopted, it needed an absolute majority of 109 votes.
The defeated bill also demanded “compensation to the Tunisian state and to all those who suffered the pain of colonization.”
“We are not animated by any bitterness or hatred, but such apologies will heal the wounds of the past,” argued the president of Al Karama, Seifeddine Makhlouf.
He used the example of Germany, which apologized to France after the Nazi occupation, noting the two countries “are now allies and the leading partners in Europe.”
However, an outcry followed when he attacked the first president of Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba, calling him “the servant of France.”
Tunisia in recent years has sought to re-engage with Europe and move to modernise both its society and culture.
This democratic transition has given Tunisia a new constitution, opened the way to free elections and reinforced equality among sexes — all while Tunisia battled deadly Islamic terrorist attacks, including on tourists at the famed Bardo Museum and at a resort hotel outside the seaside town of Sousse.
As Breitbart News reported, last year Tunisia became the first Arab nation to implement sex-ed in its schools.
The Tunisian Education Ministry joined with the U.N. agency, the Tunisian Sexual and Reproductive Health Association, and the Arab Institute for Human Rights to create a sex-ed curriculum that will be implemented beginning in kindergarten.
AP contributed to this story