Habib Bourguiba in New York, 1961. Photo courtesy of the United States Federal Government.
(1903-2000) Leader of the independence struggle of Tunisia, and the country's first president 1957-1987.
As president of Tunisia, Bourguiba was a type of North AfricanAtatürk; he reduced the influence of religion on society and he guaranteed the rights of women, economically, in marriage and in social life. The politics of Tunisia became one of moderate, European-like solutions.
The country had in the 1960s good economic growth, but clientilism (the system where the knowledge and allegiance to people in important positions is more important than juridical rights), at the core of Tunisian society, became increasingly destructive to the social and economic development of the country. People with the right friends or relatives came to receive concessions, without having the necessary competence. Monopolies were built around such systems, and in the 1980s it became evident that this choked the Tunisian society.
With a Bourguiba weakened by age, the 1980s saw a leader incompetent to rule, and when he was deposed in 1987, Tunisia was on the verge of civil war, since the Islamists were treated in a random and cruel fashion. Ordinary Tunisians were also becoming increasingly dissatisfied.
History 1903 August 3: Born in Monastir.
Is educated at Sadiki College in Tunis, and the University of Paris, France, where he studies law. He marries a French woman. 1927: Bourguiba returns to Tunisia. 1932: Bourguiba starts the newspaper L'Action Tunisienne. 1934: The Neo Destour Party is formed, with Bourguiba as its leader. Bourguiba demands independence from France, and his party is outlawed. Bourguiba is arrested. 1936: Bourguiba is let out of prison. 1938: After violent demonstrations, Bourguiba is arrested again. In order prove their willingness to act, the French have him expelled to France. 1940: Bourguiba is transferred to Rome, Italy, because the Italians hope that they can get his support in their claim on Tunisia. Bourguiba, on the other hand, supports the Allied countries during World War 2. 1942: Bourguiba is taken to Tunisia in a Italian-German cooperation and put under German arrest. 1945: Despite the support that Bourguiba had given to the Allied countries (which include France), he has to escape Tunis, to avoid arrest by the French. He takes up residency himself in Cairo, Egypt. In the following years, Bourguiba visits many countries, where he conducts speeches about his and his country's cause. With his strong personality, he achieves a large number of diplomatic victories. 1950: The French accept Bourguiba as a Tunisian negotiator. 1952: Bourguiba is exiled to Tabarka in northern Tunisia. 1954: Negotiations between Bourguiba and the French begin. 1955 June: Bourguiba returns to an ecstatic reception in Tunis. 1956 March 20: Bourguiba becomes premier minister in newly independent Tunisia. 1957: Bourguiba deposes the Bey of Tunis, and is elected president. 1975: In 1975 the constituent assembly appoints him president for life. 1987 November 7: Bourguiba is ousted by his newly appointed prime minister, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. He is placed under house arrest in Monastir. 1990s: Bourguiba's health is gradually diminished through arteriosclerosis. 2000 March 5: Bourguiba is hospitalized with a critical health condition, but returns to his home after 8 days.
April 6: Bourguiba dies in his home. A 7 day mourning period all over Tunisia is decreed. He is buried in his mausoleum in Monastir.