Habib Bourguiba

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Habib Bourguiba
الحبيب بورقيبة
Portrait officiel Bourguiba.png
1st President of Tunisia
In office
25 July 1957 – 7 November 1987
Preceded by Office created
(Muhammad VIII as King of Tunisia)
Succeeded by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali
Prime Minister of Tunisia
In office
15 April 1956 – 25 July 1957
Monarch Muhammad VIII
Preceded by Tahar Ben Ammar
Succeeded by Bahi Ladgham
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
20 March 1956 – 25 July 1957
Monarch Muhammad VIII
Prime Minister Tahar Ben Ammar
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by Sadok Mokadem
President of the National Constituent Assembly
In office
9 April 1956 – 15 April 1956
Monarch Muhammad VIII
Prime Minister Tahar Ben Ammar
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by Jallouli Fares
Personal details
Born (1903-08-03)3 August 1903
Monastir, French Tunisia
Died 6 April 2000(2000-04-06) (aged 96)
Monastir, Tunisia
Nationality Tunisian
Political party Neo Destour (1934-1964)
Socialist (1968-1987)
Spouse(s) Mathilde Lorrain (1927-1961, divorced)
Wassila Ben Ammar (1962-1986, divorced)
Children Habib Bourguiba, Jr.
Hajer Bourguiba (adopted)
Alma mater University of Paris
Religion Islam
Signature Habib Bourguiba's signature
Website www.bourguiba.com

Habib Bourguiba (Arabic: الحبيب بورقيبة‎‎ Ḥabīb Būrgība; full name: Habib Ben Ali Bourguiba; 3 August 1903 – 6 April 2000) was a Tunisian statesman who served as the country's leader from independence in 1956 to 1987—first as Prime Minister from 1956 to 1957 and as its first President from 1957 to 1987.

Having worked as a lawyer in France in the 1920s, he returned to Tunisia and started being more active in the country's nationalist movement. In 1934, when he was 31 years old, he co-founded the Neo Destour that spearheaded the Tunisian movement for independence. After being arrested and exiled several times by the occupying French protectorate, he decided to both negotiate and put pressure on the Fourth Republic to put forward his nationalist agenda. Following the country's independence on 20 March 1956, Bourguiba became prime minister. On 25 July 1957, he put an end to the monarchy, declared a republic, and then focused on building a modern Tunisian state.

His main priorities upon taking over power included the improvement of the country's educational system, fighting gender inequality, developing the economy and maintaining a neutral foreign policy, which made him an exception among Arab leaders. However, a cult of personality also developed around him, as he held the title of "Supreme Combatant" and established a twenty-year one-party state. The end of his rule was marked by his declining health, the rise of clientelism and Islamism, which was concluded by his removal from power by his prime minister, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, on 7 November 1987. He was later kept under house arrest in a residence in Monastir, where he remained until his death on 6 April 2000, and was buried in a mausoleum he had previously built there.

Origins and family background

File:Ali Bourguiba.png
Picture of Ali Bourguiba, father of Habib.

Originating in the Ottoman Empire, the Bourguibas are from the nobility class which lived in Istanbul, before leaving the city to reach Sirte in Libya. In 1795, Habib Bourguiba's great-grandfather, Haj Mohamed Bourguiba El Kebir, left Tripolitania to settle in Tunisia because of the conflicts between Libya and the Ottoman Empire. He moved to Monastir, in the "Tripolitarian neighborhood", with his family, goods, doctor and slaves.[1] The newcomers integrated easily into the town, with Mohamed's popularity increasing; he was known as a generous man who helped people in need. In 1805, he had his first son, who was also named Mohamed. When the elder Mohamed died, his son inherited his father's wealth.[2]

Years later, the Husainid dynasty applied expensive reforms to avoid colonization and established new institutions to compete with Europe. This led to tax increases so the state, indebted, could refund foreign states. In 1864, rebellions erupted as a sign of protest and discontent. The bey responded with strong repression against his people. In this contest, general Ahmed Zarrouk was sent to Monastir to bring back peace. He decided to arrest the notables of the city, including Mohamed Bourguiba and his brother, who were imprisoned in a camp in the west of Monastir. They were finally freed on condition that they renounce all properties, jewels and money. Mohamed's youngest child, Ali, who was only fourteen, was charged to take the ransom to the general's base. Zarrouk saw him as a good recruit for the army and decided to enroll him. However, Mohamed Bourguiba died in the same night; Ali then accepted the general's offer.[3]

In 1880, he ended his military career, ranked as sergeant-in-chief, at the age of 30. The army granted him a pension of 11.25 Francs every three months. In the same year, he married Fattouma Khefacha, daughter of Ahmed Khefacha and Khadouja Mzali. In 1881, while France established its protectorate in Tunisia with the signature of the Bardo Treaty on May 12, Fattouma gave birth to her first child, Mohamed. Five other boys (Ahmed, M'hamed, Mahmoud and Younes, who died at the age of 3 months) and two girls (Nejia and Aïcha) followed. Settled in the Bourguiba family house with Ali's siblings (Emna and Hassan), living in poor conditions, many familial conflicts erupted between them, their spouses and children. Ali, whose situation improved by becoming cheikh of the Tripolitarian neighbourhood and then councilman of the city, decided to move out from his childhood house and settle in a modest home called Dar El Kouij, located on Karrayia Hill. The family lived there for a year before moving into their own house.[3][4]

Early life

Childhood years

Bourguiba was officially born on August 3, 1903, although he stated that he was born a year or two before.[lower-alpha 1] He was the youngest son of Ali Bourguiba and Fattouma Khefacha, who was 40 years old at the time. He also stated that his mother felt ashamed of bearing a child at that advanced age and his father wondered if he could raise him well. Despite his financial difficulties, Ali Bourguiba dedicated a great deal of attention to his children's education. This was criticized by his brother Mohamed who reproached him for giving too much consideration to their instruction. But he succeeded in providing good education for his children with his military pension, which led to their ascent in important jobs. His first born child, Mohamed, worked in Tunis as a nurse in Sadiki Hospital. Ahmed and Mohamed worked in the state administration. When Habib was born, his brother, Mahmoud, was pursuing his studies in Sadiki College. In that year, Ali became councilman of Monastir, a job that helped him provide a modern education to Habib.[5]

Habib was raised in a female environment with his sisters, his father being too old and his brothers in Tunis, which helped him notice the inequalities between men and women. He was enrolled in the French-Arabic school of Monastir but his father, concerned by the quality of his son's education, sent him to Tunis so he could pursue his studies in a prestigious establishment. In 1907, he went to the capital, where he settled with his brother M'hamed, in the médina, affected by the separation with his mother.[6] When he arrives, the capital city is facing important protests against the protectorate. It also saw the emergence of the tunisian nationalism and its movement lead by Ali Bach Hamba.

File:Ali Bourguiba and his sons.jpg

Bourguiba settles in the wealthy trading neighbourhood of Tourbet el Bey in the médina where his brother is renting a settlement in Korchani street. M'hamed being very busy preparing his Baccalaureate in the Khaldounia School where he is studying, Habib is left with Dhaouia, M'hamed's servant. This one mistreats Habib, making him her own domestic in his brother's absence and taking him with her whenver she visits families, selecting young girls to marry M'hamed. Habib is enrolled by his brother in Sadiki College, in 1907, where he is told that his brother is turbulent but studious. There, the main lessons taught are Quran learnings.[7] Members of the beylical family being the only persons allowed to eat lunch at school, Habib has to endure the Ratatouilles of Dhaouia, that do not mitigate his hunger. In 1911, M'hamed's pregnant wife dies because of cholera, which ends his surveillance and allows to eat one's fill.[7]

However, Habib spends his summer vacations in Monastir in the company of women who he helps with house chores. At the end of holidays, he goes back to Tunis, living with his brother. Two events have left an important impact on him : Djellaz Cimetery events in 1911 and the death of his mother which occurred in 1913, before he could make her proud of him. In this context, he decides to get serious and involved in his studies and succeeds by earning his Certificat d'études primaires, the same year. Earning this diploma exempts military service under a beylical decree, which relieves his father: Not only does his son avoid military service but he also earns a scholarship and is admitted as an intern in the Sadiki High School.[8]

From scholar failure in Sadiki to Lycée Carnot

File:Bourguiba pupil at the Sadiki College 1917.jpg

After his success in elementary school, Bourguiba left his brother's house to settle in the dormitories of Sadiki, while World War I began. In the same time, his school must face a budget crisis thus, leading to "frightful" food being served, according to Bourguiba. He stated, years later, that squash stew and macaroni dishes were daily served at lunch and that his breakfast consisted in a donut wrapped in newspaper smelling oil. These conditions were disapproved by students who were always protesting against their situation, despite the headmaster's efforts to stop them. Bourguiba, then, decides to report to the headmaster and served as his classmates' spokesperson, stating that they didn't deserve these treatments. Thinking wrongly that he will be sanctioned, he, on the contrary, learns to dare and to speak in the name of others. His studies in Sadiki had an important impact on him. Indeed, one of his teachers taught him the basics of French and Arabic literature and made sure that he would know how write properly. He also met a studious elder student named Habib Jaouahdou who reported to his mates about breaking news in the country, especially related to the nationalist movement.[9]

Slowly, Bouguiba developed patriotic ambitions and ideals. In 1917, he attends the funerals of Bechir Sfar, an important nationalist leader, with his father. Important events occurred in that period such as the arrival of Abdelaziz Thâalbi from exile. On this occasion, Jaouahdou formed a group of students, in which Bourguiba was a member, to welcome the national leader at his home in Pasha street. The young boy must also study to pass his exams and being selected in the following grade, although he is not among the must studious of his class. By the end of the year, among 32 students, only fourteen succeeded in doing that. His conditions got worse when his brother married Memia Saheb Ettabaa, daughter of a former beylical minister. His sister-in-law decides to take revenge in this marriage with a poor family by making Habib's life miserable and neglecting his education.[10] In these conditions, Bourguiba fails his Arabic exam, necessary to access an administrative function, in 1917. Despite being severe, the headmaster allows Bourguiba to repeat his sixth and last year of secondary school, in 1919-1920. But the cold of winter and junk food weaken his health, leading to an hospitalization because of a food infection. Bourguiba is then obliged to drop school.[11]

To get better and heal, the family decides to send Bourguiba in Kef, where he can live with his brother, Mahmoud, married to an Italian nurse, and enjoy natural landscapes. Mahmoud, who was 39 at the time, was very appreciated by the inhabitants and worked as a medical assistant in the local hospital. This one, welcomes Habib properly where he remains 21 months until January 1922. These two years far away from the abuse of Dhaouia, his sister-in-law and the school's terrible conditions, have marked a turning in Bourguiba's life. Indeed, Mahmoud, who is trendsetter and open-minded man helped his brother build his personality. Mahmoud's wife has also played an important role by filling the emotional void of the young boy. Mahmoud introduced his brother to his friends in Kef. These people were very nice with Bourguiba, teaching him how to play cards, talking about military strategies and conveying him the interest of Mustapha Kemal Ataturk. He also got involved in the theatrical activities of the city, which taught him the means of self-insurance.[12]

While in Kef, Tunisia witnesses the creation of the Destourian party, which is known for its militancy against the protectorate. This increases Bourguiba's interest for militancy. In this context, he told his relatives his hopes of pursuing his studies and obtain a law diploma in France so he can defend the ideals of the nationalist movement. Thus, a familial reunion takes place to decide the future of the boy. While his brothers think that he failed his education and are considering putting him as a grocer or farmer's assistant, his sisters-in-law refuse to finance his studies. Only Mahmoud is supporting his ambition and helps him attend school in Lycée Carnot of Tunis, in classe de seconde, judged weak to be admitted in première. In this school, Bourguiba witnesses the differences between Tunisians and French. Indeed, French students have more rights than Tunisians, which shocked Bourguiba at first. He is excellent in his studies and chooses philosophy section after passing the first part of baccalaureate.[13] He is frequently in libraries and spends a lot of time reading books, mainly history and is known for his constant truancy on Fridays where he attends Habiba Msika's shows. In lycée Carnot, he meets Taher Sfar and Bahri Guiga with whom he formed the "threesome Sahelians".[14] He is also promised to his cousin, Chedlia Zouiten by his father.[15]

In Tunis, Lucien Saint's maneuvers to hold off the bey from the Destour are a total failure. Saint orchestrates a trick by spreading the rumors that the bey announced being fully opposed to the Destour Movement and to establishing a constitution, during a meeting with the French population. However, the head of state denies certain parts of the meeting, denouncing these French maneuvers and threatening to abdicate. Therefore, public opinion expressed their support to this nationalist bey by walking to his palace in La Marsa, Bourguiba being one of the protesters. These events lead Saint and French militaries to go to the beylical palace and obliging the bey not to abdicate. Furthermore, he announces the suspending of Essawab newspaper for spreading fake news. But the tensions remain and Bourguiba, with his school friend Jaouahdou are among the protesters. Thus, they miraculously avoid being expelled.[16]

File:Habib Bourguiba bac 1924.jpg

With the arrival of summer, Bourguiba spends his vacations in Mahdia, hosted by his sister Nejia and her husband Ali Bouzgarou. There, he makes new friends with whom he talkes about political and philosophical ideas brought by Al-Mutanabbi but also Victor Hugo, mainly at night.[17] Soon bachelors, Sfar, Guiga and Bourguiba are aware of the role they have to play for the future of their country. Bourguiba has already built his political vision inspired by the French political system : socialism, that he strongly supports. Now, excellent in his studies, the contest to get a scholarship for foreign higher education in Paris gets tighter. However, he has the full support of his brother Mahmoud who encourages him to pursue his vision, by promising to send him 50 francs per month even though he wanted him to study in Alger with their brother M'hamed. In 1924, Bourguiba obtained his baccalaureate with 16 in phylosophy, which ranks him first of his class. Soon after the results, Bourguiba goes to Paris, willing to discover France, on board of an old boat: Le Oujda.[18]

Higher education and life in Paris

File:P1300734 Paris V place de la Sorbonne rwk.jpg

When he arrived in Paris, Bourguiba settled on the sixth floor of Hôtel Saint-Séverin, not far away from place Saint-Michel. He spent his days discovering Latin Quarter but had a critical financial condition. Indeed, his rent raised to 150 francs per month and he constantly wrote letters to his family asking them for monetary help. However, his conditions improved with the involvement of Hassen Chedli, a Monastirian accountant in his former school Sadiki, who got him a scholarship of 1,800 francs, payable in two installments. With this amount, he enrolled in Paris Law School and entered the Sorbonne where he took psychology and literature classes.[19][20]

His interest for politics, specifically third republic political system of government and French civilization grew bigger since his arrival. Thus, he spent a lot of time in Bourbon Palace, where intellectual events were held and got interested in Léon Blum's ideas thanks to Le Populaire newspaper. He also took part in political conversations, mainly between classes, when students gathered in the Jardin du Luxembourg to debate about the latest news, in France or in the world. For example, the death of Lenin and the rivality between Léon Trotski and Joseph Stalin. This is how he slowly built the pillars of his political views : In that context, Bourguiba is opposed to Bolsheviks but has a strong admiration for Gandhi. He also thinks that Nguyễn Ái Quốc's involvement in Tours Congress and his joining of the Communist International to get the independence of Vietnam got him dependant of the USSR. However, in Tunisian issues, he supports his friend Mahmoud El Materi.[21]

After a year in Paris, Bourguiba returned to Tunisia where he spent his vacations between Mahdia and Monastir. When he got back to France, early in September 1925, he was worried about the nationalist movement of his country but began to improve his condition by moving into chamber 114 of the cité universitaire of Jordan boulevard. He also got help from Taïeb Radhouane, a Tunsian sponsor, through Les Amis de l’étudiant association, to take public finance classes in the Paris institute of political studies. Likewise, he enjoyed financial help from his old French institutor in Monastir who converted to Islam.

File:Picture of Moufida Bourguiba.jpg

In the same year, his friends Sfar and Guiga joined him while he was tutoring a young Sfaxian boy, Mohamed Aloulou, sent by his parents to sit for the baccalauréat in Lycée Louis-le-Grand.[22] One day, while tidying his bedroom, Bourguiba found the address of a woman that his sponsor recommended him to visit : Mathilde Lefras, a widow 35 years aged whose husband died in the Great War. The widow, whom he met for the first time in her apartment in XXe arrondissement, was affected by his background and requested a second meeting. Slowly, a relationship settled between the two of them and, after months, she invited him to move in with her. Bourguiba then accepted and gave the keys of his chamber back.[23]

With this new life, Bourguiba got distant with his fellow students and the Zouiten family, supposed to become his family in law, even when they came to Paris as tourists. While there, Habib Zouiten, brother of his fiancée Chadlia, discovered the affair between Bourguiba and Mathilde. He then wrote a letter to Bourguiba saying that he was a contemptible coward. But even in the neighbourhood, his relationship with Mathilde was criticized. To end gossip, Bourguiba set a ruse: He simulated his wedding by wearing a suit and getting home with Mathilde in her car, accompanied by Sfar and Guiga, as if they had just married. With Mathilde in life, Bourguiba got away from the Tunisian issues, as the resident general signed an executive order to suppress freedom of speech and assembly.[24]

Bourguiba in 1927

In summer 1926, Bourguiba returned to Monastir but didn't have any political interest anymore. His father died in September and he received a telegram from Mathilde announcing her pregnancy. Bourguiba got confused and worried by the fact of becoming a parent. When he got back to Paris, he immediately told his friends asking for advice : One of them instructed him to break up with Mathilde so she can raise the child on her own and he would be absolved of parental responsibility. However, Bourguiba refused to abandon the child, stating that he was as responsible as Mathilde for its well-being. But the pregnancy reassured him as he suspected being Infertil, having only one testicle. Despite this, the couple were facing relationship problems and Bourguiba tentatively went back to the Cité universitaire with his friends.[25]

On April 9, 1927, Mathilde gave birth to a boy that they named Jean Habib Bourguiba. With the responsibilities of parenting, they settled in Bagneux, in the Paris suburbs. Their new home consisted of a room that they both used as a bedroom and dining room. Bourguiba, who at the time was ill, had to prepare his final exams and sit for them one month after the birth of his first child.The same year Bourguiba graduated with a degree in Law and Political Science.[26]

Return in Tunisia and professional career

In August 1927, Bourguiba came back to his country with his girlfriend Mathilde and his son Habib Jr. Then 26 years old, he had a deep knowledge of French politics under the Third Republic and admired the secular socialist ideology it has. First thing he did after his arrival was marrying Mathilde, with Mahmoud Laribi being his witness. While Bourguiba was looking for a job, the family settled in Tunis, the capital. Thus, he showed no interest for politics but his priority lied in providing a decent life for his family. In that context, he had to do a three-year internship job under the authority of an experienced lawyer.[27]

For a whole year, from October 1927 to October 1928, Bourguiba chained up internships : First, he work for a certain Maître Ciricier, who discharged him after six weeks, then for Maître Pietra, associated to Maître Scemama, who charged him of writing duties and payed him after two months of work. Bourguiba, who was not pleased by the working conditions, decided to resign and found a job for Maître Salah Farhat, secretary-general of the Destourian Movement until he was engaged by Maître Sebault for 600 francs per month, which favored Bourguiba staying a year after the three mandatory.[27]

File:Bourguiba back in Tunisia 1928.jpg

His family and friends didn't approve his marriage to a French older woman while he was engaged to his cousin, Chedlia Zouiten. Even though opposed to this marriage, his brother Mahmoud invited him to live in his house in Le Kram, which he bought preparing for his eventual own wedding. Bourguiba then settled with his family and were soon joined, tentatively, by his sister Nejia Bouzgarou, whose husband just died, and her four children. Even though he liked being surrounded by his family, he rapidly surrendered to his wife, eager to have her own home. Thus, they settled briefly in La Marsa but soon moved into an apartment in downtown Tunis where they would stay until 1933.[28]

Bourguiba was still not interested in the political issues of Tunisia but had only focused, at that time, on work, housing and family. One of his closest friends stated that his ambition then was to bring stability in his life and get his independence from his brothers. However, the young lawyer felt the inequality of colonialism with the loss of his job. Indeed, he remained unemployed for a whole year and had intense discussions with Tunisian but also French fellows who agreed on the necessity to make Tunisia a country similar to France: Liberal, modern and secular[28]

On January 8, 1929, Bourguiba took part in a conference held by the cultural association L'Essor. One of the speakers was an unveiled woman that defended women's rights. Answering the woman, he defended the wear of hijab, affirming that Tunisia was losing its personality and had to preserve its costumes and tradition that remained the last defences of a lost national identity. His intervention surprised liberal participants such as André Duran-Angliviel, his sister Eve Fichet, journalist known as Eve Nohelle, the unionist Joachim Durel and the lawyer Mohamed Noomane. The controversy that followed opposed Bourguiba, who wrote in L’Étendard tunisien, and Durel in Tunis socialiste, for a whole month. Durel surprised that Bourguiba had married a French woman, this one notified that he aimed to raise his son with the proper education to make him a firm Tunisian.[28]

In 1930, the peak of French colonization in North Africa is reached. Thus, France decided to celebrate the centenary of the French conquest of Algeria by organizing a festive eucharistic congress in Tunisia. Then, the capital was envaded by Europeans who came numbered for the occasion. The festivities, taking place in the Acropolium of Carthage, had known a hudge opposition of the Tunsian people who protested against what they considered a violation of a Muslim land by Christianity. The participants were strongly repressed and arrested. Even though he didn't take part in the protest, Bourguiba served as the lawyer of some of the revoloted. He also shows neutrality when Tahar Haddad is dissmised of his notary functions.[28]

Early political career

Bourguiba returned with his newly formed family to Tunisia where he got immediately involved in political life by joining two newspapers in 1928: l’Étendard Tunisien (The Tunisian Standard) and Sawt At-Tunisi (The Tunisian Voice). In 1931, the French colonial authorities prosecuted him for his alleged "Incitement to racial hatred". Subsequent to this, Bourguiba launched a militant newspaper L’Action Tunisienne, laying the ground for strong action against the colonial power.


As a member of the Executive Committee of the Destour Party, Bourguiba found himself less in tune with the mainstream party vision, which culminated in the Monastir incident of 8 August 1933 relative to the burial of a naturalized Tunisian citizen. Bourguiba was pushed to resign from the committee, which led to the creation of the Neo Destour Party in Ksar Hellal on 2 March 1934 with Bourguiba as the Secretary General of the Political Bureau. From that moment, Bourguiba set out to criss-cross the country to try to enroll the majority of Tunisians from the countryside; and thus create a more popular base for his newly formed party so that he managed in a couple of years to set up more than 400 branches (cells) of the Neo Destour.

Colonial oppression

In September 1934, the colonial representative (Resident General) Mr Peyrouton ordered that Bourguiba be confined to Borj-Leboeuf, a remote place on the border of the Sahara desert, until April 1936 when he was released with most of his companions. After the popular uprising of 9 April 1938, where colonial troops opened fire on demonstrators killing and injuring hundreds of civilians, Bourguiba was once again imprisoned on 10 June 1939 along with a group of militants on charges of plotting against the state security and incitement to civil war.

World War II

At the outbreak of World War II, Bourguiba was transferred to the Teboursouk prison and then in May 1940, to the Haut Fort Saint Nicholas near Marseilles until 18 November 1942 where he was taken to Montluc Prison in Lyon. After which he ended up in Fort Vancia in Ain until the Germans released him and took him to Chalon-sur-Saône. In a manoeuvre by the Germans and Italian Fascist regime to gain Bourguiba's alliance, he was received with full honours in Rome, in January 1943, but to no avail; the Italian Foreign Affairs Ministry tried to obtain a statement in their favour; on the eve of his return home, he accepted to deliver a message to the Tunisian people by "Radio Bari", cautioning them against "all the appetites". In his return to Tunis, on 7 April 1943 he made sure that the message he had sent from his prison in August 1942 reached the general population as well as the militants, that Germany was bound to lose the war and that Tunisia's independence would only come after the victory of the Allies. He emphasized his position by putting it as a question of life or death for Tunisia.

Fighting for independence

Bourguiba giving a speech in Bizerte, 1952

After the end of World War II, Bourguiba, after many sterile efforts to open a dialogue with the French authorities, came to the conclusion that the Tunisian cause had to be brought to the attention of the world opinion. In March 1945, he left Sfax secretly, on a small fisherman's boat, heading to Libya, and from there, on foot and on camel's back, he managed to reach Cairo, which he used as a base for his international activity. He took part in the setting up of the Greater Maghreb Office. He travelled continuously to the different Arab countries, members of the newly born Arab League, Europe, (Switzerland, Belgium), to Asia, (Pakistan, India, Indonesia) and USA to promote the Tunisian aspiration for independence and met with high and influential personalities to help the Tunisian cause. On 8 September 1949, Bourguiba returned to Tunis to reorganise the Party and resume his direct contact policy with the population by visiting small towns and villages throughout the country.

In April 1950, he laid out a seven-point program aiming at ending the system of direct administration in Tunisia and restoring full Tunisian sovereignty as a final step to independent statehood. In 1951, he embarked on a second round of trips to promote his program at the international level. In light of the French Government refusal to concede to national claims, Bourguiba toughened his stance and called for unlimited resistance and general insurrection. This tactic led to his arrest on 18 January 1952 and his confinement in Tabarka, then Remada then in La Galite and finally Groix Island at the Ferte Castle.

Pierre Mendès-France became French Prime Minister in 1954; his positions on France's colonial policies opened the door to Tunisian home-rule. 1 June 1955 saw the return of Bourguiba. The "Internal Autonomy Agreement" was a big step to total independence. After several arduous negotiations, independence was proclaimed on 20 March 1956, with Habib Bourguiba as President of the National Constituent Assembly, and Head of the Government. At the same time, he acted as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tunisia.


On 25 July 1957, a republic was proclaimed abolishing the monarchy and vesting Bourguiba with powers of President of the Republic. Bourguiba's long and powerful presidency was formative for the creation of the Tunisian state and nation. On the debit side, however, his rule was authoritarian. Political democracy in the Western sense was more or less nonexistent. The constitution vested Bourguiba with sweeping—almost dictatorial—powers. Bourguiba himself admitted this when a journalist asked him about Tunisia's political system. Bourguiba replied, "The system? What system? I am the system."[29] Civil liberties were subject to "the limits prescribed by law," per the constitution. The media were expected to practice self-censorship, and opponents were frequently imprisoned. Bourguiba became the focus of a modest personality cult in which he was extolled as the "Supreme Warrior" of the nation.

After a failed experiment with socialist economic policies, Bourguiba embarked from the early 1970s on an economically liberal model of development spearheaded by his Prime Minister, Hédi Nouira for a ten-year period. This led to flourishing of private businesses and consolidation of the private sector.

On the international front, Bourguiba took a pro-Western position in the Cold War, but with a fiercely defended independent foreign policy that challenged the leadership of the Arab League by Egyptian President Nasser. In March 1965, he delivered the historical Jericho Speech advocating a fair and lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis based on the UN 1947 Resolution that proposed two states.

Bourguiba signed an agreement with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to merge nations in 1974.[30] The pact came as a surprise because Bourguiba had rebuked similar offers for over two years previously.[31] Weeks after the agreement, he postponed a referendum on the issue, effectively ending it weeks later. The idea of merging states was highly unpopular in Tunisia, and cost Bourguiba much of his people's respect. The agreement was said to allow Bourguiba the presidency while Gaddafi would be defense minister.

In March 1975, the Tunisian National Assembly voted Bourguiba president for life, as an exceptional measure. In the 1980s Bourguiba made efforts to combat both poverty and a rising Islamist opposition, spearheaded by the Nahda party.

In 1979 Tunis became the headquarters of the Arab League after the Camp David Accords and in 1982, it welcomed the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) leadership in Tunis, after it had been ousted from Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War.

A fall in the price of oil towards the end of 1983 reduced the revenue of the Tunisian state, which was already struggling to meet rising expenses. President Bourguiba agreed to seek a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).[32] The IMF loan was conditional on government spending cuts and other reforms.[33] The government announced an end to food subsidies on 29 December 1983, causing an immediate rise in the price of bread and flour.[32] The Tunisian bread riots started that day in the semi-desert region of Nefzaoua in the south, and on 3 January 1984 a state of emergency was declared after the unrest had spread to Tunis and Sfax.[34] By the time the protests ended on 5 January 1984 more than 150 of the rioters had been killed.[35] President Bourguiba announced on 6 January 1984 that the increase in the price of bread and flour had been cancelled.[36]

On 1 October 1985, Israel launched an attack against the PLO headquarters near Tunis. The Tunisian Armed Forces were unable to prevent the total destruction of the base. Although most of the dead were PLO members, there were casualties among Tunisian civilian bystanders. As a result, Bourguiba significantly downscaled relations with the United States.

Bourguiba had been in ill health from the 1970s onward. As the 1980s wore on, his behavior grew more erratic. He fired the general manager of a major newspaper only 24 hours after appointing him. He also fired the head of the country's United Nations delegation only a few days after appointing him, and forgot about a decree he had signed to appoint new ministers. Matters came to a head in November 1987, when he ordered new trials for 15 Islamists and demanded that 12 of them be hanged by the next weekend. This latest order convinced several opponents and supporters of Bourguiba that he was no longer acting or thinking rationally; one human rights activist said that if the orders had been carried out, it would have meant civil war. After several doctors attending to Bourguiba issued a report declaring that Bourguiba was mentally incapable of carrying out his duties, Prime Minister Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, who had been appointed to the post only a month earlier, removed Bourguiba from office and assumed the presidency himself.[37]

Social reform

The Bourguiba government's reforms included female emancipation, public education, family planning, a modern, state-run healthcare system, a campaign to improve literacy, administrative, financial and economic organization, suppression of religious property endowments, known as Waqf, and building the country's infrastructure.[citation needed].

During the time Bourguiba was president, education was a high priority. Bourguiba also promoted women's rights, setting important legal precedents by prohibiting polygamy, expanding women's access to divorce, and raising the age at which girls could marry to 17 years old. The new Personal Status Code passed in August 1956 expanded women's rights.

Bourguiba was very critical of the veil, on various occasions referring to it as "that odious rag".[38]


File:Tunesien - Moschee.jpg File:Mausolée de Bourguiba 02.jpg Bourguiba remained as President of Tunisia until 7 November 1987, when his newly appointed Prime Minister and constitutional successor Zine El Abidine Ben Ali impeached him. Ben Ali claimed that Bourguiba's old age and health were certified by his own doctors made him unfit to govern. Ben Ali himself was overthrown in 2011 in the first of the Arab Spring uprisings.

Bourguiba lived in Monastir under government protection in the Governor's Mansion for the last 13 years of his life.

Personal life

In 1925, Habib Bourguiba met his future wife, Mathilde Lorrain, in Paris while he was studying law at the Sorbonne. She converted to Islam and chose the name Moufida Bourguiba. She bore him one son: Habib Bourguiba, Jr. in April 1927. In a second wedding, he married Wassila Ben Ammar and adopted a daughter, Hajer Bourguiba.

Bourguiba died on 6 April 2000 at the age of 96. He was buried with national honors on 8 April 2000 in a mausoleum in Monastir.


  1. (French) A strong debate exists over this date, which might have been falsified by some historians to make him younger as certain families were careful not to declare a boy's early birth date in order to avoid conscription according to Samya El Mechat, La Tunisie et les chemins vers l’indépendance. 1945-1956, éd. L'Harmattan, Paris, 1992. He might have been in fact born in 1901 or even in 1898. Bourguiba himself said in 1955: "I was born in 1901. But when I applied to law school in Paris in 1924, the secretary made a mistake and marked 1903. Since I was not a very young student, I was satisfied with this date and I kept it". One of his ministers, Mahmoud El Materi, confirmed this hypothesis in his memoirs.


  1. Pierre-Albin Martel, Habib Bourguiba. Un homme, un siècle, Jaguar Edition, Paris, 1999, p. 12
  2. Sophie Bessis et Souhayr Belhassen, Bourguiba, Elyzad Edition, Tunis, 2012, p. 21
  3. 3.0 3.1 Pierre-Albin Martel, Habib Bourguiba. Un homme, un siècle, p. 13
  4. Sophie Bessis et Souhayr Belhassen, Bourguiba, Elyzad Edition, Tunis, 2012, p. 25
  5. Pierre-Albin Martel, Habib Bourguiba. Un homme, un siècle, p. 14
  6. Pierre-Albin Martel, Habib Bourguiba. Un homme, un siècle, p. 32
  7. 7.0 7.1 (French) Pierre-Albin Martel, Habib Bourguiba. Un homme, un siècle, p. 14
  8. (French) Pierre-Albin Martel, Habib Bourguiba. Un homme, un siècle, p. 16
  9. Sophie Bessis et Souhayr Belhassen, op. cit., p. 39-40
  10. Sophie Bessis et Souhayr Belhassen, op. cit., p. 43
  11. Sophie Bessis et Souhayr Belhassen, op. cit., p. 41
  12. Pierre-Albin Martel, Habib Bourguiba. Un homme, un siècle, p. 16
  13. Sophie Bessis et Souhayr Belhassen, op. cit., p. 47
  14. Pierre-Albin Martel, Habib Bourguiba. Un homme, un siècle, p. 17
  15. Sophie Bessis et Souhayr Belhassen, op. cit., p. 48
  16. Sophie Bessis et Souhayr Belhassen, op. cit., p. 49
  17. Sophie Bessis et Souhayr Belhassen, op. cit., p. 50
  18. Sophie Bessis et Souhayr Belhassen, op. cit., p. 53
  19. Sophie Bessis et Souhayr Belhassen, op. cit., p. 55
  20. Papa Alioune Ndao, La francophonie des « pères fondateurs », éd. Karthala, Paris, 2008, p. 14
  21. Sophie Bessis et Souhayr Belhassen, op. cit., p. 58
  22. Sophie Bessis et Souhayr Belhassen, op. cit., p. 60
  23. Sophie Bessis et Souhayr Belhassen, op. cit., p. 62
  24. Sophie Bessis et Souhayr Belhassen, op. cit., p. 63
  25. Sophie Bessis et Souhayr Belhassen, op. cit., p. 65
  26. Pierre-Albin Martel, Habib Bourguiba. Un homme, un siècle, p. 21
  27. 27.0 27.1 Sophie Bessis et Souhayr Belhassen, op. cit., p. 66
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 28.3 Sophie Bessis et Souhayr Belhassen, op. cit., p. 67
  29. Perthes, Volker (2004). Arab Elites: Negotiating the Politics of Change. Lynne Rienner Publishers. ISBN 1588262669.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. The Palm Beach Post - Google News Archive Search
  31. The Sydney Morning Herald - Google News Archive Search
  32. 32.0 32.1 Guay, Jean-Herman (2015). "29 décembre 1983: Déclenchement des émeutes du pain en Tunisie". Perspective Monde. Retrieved 2015-05-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  33. Prince, Rob (15 April 2013). "Structural Adjustment: Former President Ben Ali's Gift to Tunisia (Part One) Tunisia and the International Monetary Fund". Foreign Policy in Focus. Retrieved 2015-05-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. Associated Press (4 January 1984). "Curfew Imposed Across Tunisia as Riots Spread". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-05-12.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  35. Entelis, John Pierre (1997). Islam, Democracy, and the State in North Africa. Indiana University Press. p. 98. ISBN 0-253-21131-X. Retrieved 2015-05-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  36. Gana, Nouri (2013). The Making of the Tunisian Revolution: Contexts, Architects, Prospects. Oxford University Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-7486-9103-6. Retrieved 2015-05-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  37. Delaney, Paul (1987-11-09). "Senile Bourguiba Described in Tunis". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 December 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. Clement Henry Moore. Tunisia Since Independence: The Dynamics of One-party Government. p. 55.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


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  • Werth, Alexander. The Strange History of Pierre Mendès France and the Great Conflict over French North Africa (London, 1957)

In French

  • Abbassi, Driss; Ilbert, Robert (2005), Entre Bourguiba et Hannibal. Identité tunisienne et histoire depuis l’indépendance (in français), Paris: Karthala, ISBN 978-2-845-86640-9<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  • Bessis, Sophie; Belhassen, Souhayr (2012), Bourguiba (in français), Tunis: Elyzad, ISBN 978-9-973-58044-3<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Bourguiba, Habib (2003), Ma vie, mon œuvre (in français), Paris: Omnibus, ISBN 978-2-259-01536-3<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Camau, Michel; Geisser, Vincent (2004), Habib Bourguiba. La trace et l’héritage (in français), Paris: Karthala, ISBN 978-2-845-86506-8<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Chadli, Amor (2010), Bourguiba tel que je l’ai connu : la transition Bourguiba-Ben Ali (in français), Tunis: Berg International, ISBN 978-9-973-02225-7<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Charfi, Mounir (1989), Les ministres de Bourguiba (1956-1987) (in français), Paris: L'Harmattan, ISBN 2738403980<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cohen, Bernard (1992), Bourguiba. Le pouvoir d’un seul (in français), Paris: Flammarion, ISBN 978-2-080-64881-5<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Caïd Essebsi, Béji (2009), Bourguiba. Le bon grain et l'ivraie (in français), Tunis: Sud Éditions, ISBN 978-9-973-84499-6<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • El Ganari, Ali (1985), Bourguiba. Le Combattant suprême (in français), Paris: Plon, ISBN 978-2-259-01321-5<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Garas, Félix (1956), Bourguiba et la naissance d’une nation (in français), Paris: Julliard<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hajji, Lotfi (2011), Bourguiba et l’Islam : le politique et le religieux (in français), Tunis: Sud Éditions, ISBN 978-9-938-01044-2<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Klibi, Chedli (2012), Habib Bourguiba. Radioscopie d’un règne (in français), Tunis: Déméter, ISBN 978-9-973-70626-3<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Krichen, Aziz (2003), Syndrome Bourguiba (in français), Tunis: Cérès, ISBN 978-9-973-70077-3<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lajili, Chaker (2008), Bourguiba-Senghor, Deux géants de l’Afrique (in français), Paris: L’Harmattan, ISBN 978-2-296-06781-3<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Martel, Pierre-Albin (1999), Habib Bourguiba. Un homme, un siècle (in français), Paris: Éditions du Jaguar, ISBN 978-2-869-50320-5<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • El Mechat, Samya (2000), Tunisie. Les chemins vers l’indépendance (1945-1956) (in français), Paris: L’Harmattan, ISBN 978-2-913-28155-4<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Mzali, Mohamed (2004), Un Premier ministre de Bourguiba témoigne (in français), Paris: Picollec, ISBN 978-2-864-77210-1<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Rous, Jean (1984), Habib Bourguiba (in français), Paris: Martinsart, ISBN 978-2-863-45235-6<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  • Zaghouani-Dhaouadi, Henda (2011), Le pèlerinage oriental de Habib Bourguiba. Essai sur une philosophie politique. Février-avril 1965 (in français), Paris: Publibook, ISBN 978-2-748-36746-1<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Post created
President of Tunisia
Succeeded by
Zine El Abidine Ben Ali