• Short Summary

    President Habib Bourguiba, the man who led Tunisia to independence from France in 1956, is still firmly holding the reins of power in the nation of six million people.

  • Description


    SVs & GV Bourguiba is carried through the crowd on the shoulders of his followers; Bourguiba in open cr, being driven through the streets; crowds line the route. (5 SHOTS)
    PARIS, FRANCE, MARCH 20, 1956

    SV French and Tunisian representatives sign independence agreement then shake hands. (4 SHOTS)

    GV & SV People queue to vote; Bourguiba voting. (3 SHOTS)

    Background: President Habib Bourguiba, the man who led Tunisia to independence from France in 1956, is still firmly holding the reins of power in the nation of six million people. The architect of modern Tunisia, a lawyer by profession, Bourguiba has carefully prepared his place in national history - he built and frequently visits his mausoleum on the outskirts of his home town, Monastir, 200 kilometres (120 miles) from Tunis. Bourguiba, known as the "Supreme Freedom Fighter", was proclaimed President for Life in 1974. He has prepared for the post-Bourguiba era in a ruling that, when he dies, the prime minister will replace him until elections are held. His advancing age -- Bourguiba was 80 in August -- and recurring health problems have meant that political pressure groups are jockeying for position in the eventual succession stakes. The political power play at the moment centres on the president, his wife, Wassila Ben Ammarwn, and the Prime Minister Mohamed Mzali.

    SYNOPSIS: United States Vice-President George Bush met President Bourguiba - a staunch US ally - on September 15, as part of a five-day North African tour. After a brief meeting with Prime Minister Mohamed Mzali, Mr. Bush told Tunisian Television that there were "some problems but basically, the relationship (between US and Tunisia) is strong".

    Habib Bourguiba received a hero's welcome in Tunisia in 1955, after three years held in detention by the French, the former colonial power. France was on the brink of granting Tunisia internal self-government. A nationalist leader since the 1930s, Bourguiba had founded the Neo-Destour (new Constitution) party which headed the struggle for independence and has dominated Tunisian politics ever since, as the Parti Socialiste Destourien (PSD).

    For Tunisia, 75 years as a French protectorate ended on March 20, 1956, in Paris with the signing of an independence agreement between France and Tunisia. The recognition of Tunisia as a fully independent state came just ten months after Bourguiba's return to his homeland.

    Elections in 1956 swept Bourguiba and the Neo-Destour into power. A year later, the ruler of Tunis, the Bey Sidi Lamine was deposed. The monarchy had toppled and a republic was proclaimed. In 1959 elections -- the first in which Tunisian women could vote -- the result was once again a victory for Bourguiba. He became president.

    A crisis for the government broke out in 1961, when the President renewed his demands that the French evacuate their naval base at Bizerta. Ten thousand Tunisian troops and volunteers blockaded the base. French troops moved in and fierce fighting broke out. A special session of the United Nations General Assembly called on the French to evacuate Tunisian territory. Negotiations over the Bizerta base continued and the last French troops withdrew in 1963. Arab League support for Tunisia in the Bizerta crisis contributed to the healing of a diplomatic breach between Egypt and Tunisia, which has lasted since 1958.

    Tunisia's relations with the Arab world have not always been cordial - mainly because of President Bourguiba's repeated attempts to get the Arab states to enter into negotiations with Israel. The rift had been mended wit Egypt. The long-standing border dispute between Algeria and Tunisia was resolved in 1970. President Bourguiba and his Algerian counterpart, Houari Boumedienne reached an amicable settlement about the border issue and the joint operation of the El Bourma oil field. A full-scale reconciliation with the Arab sates came with the pan-Arab settlement on the Palestinian issue, at the 1974 Rabat summit.

    The Palestinian issue was to occupy President Bourguiba far more than he could have envisaged in 1974. Two years later, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Yasser Arafat, arrived in Tunis to brief the President on the Lebanese civil war. Arafat was later to make the Tunisian capital his base for PLO operations.

    The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June, 1982, sparked off months of fighting and bloodshed. Hundreds of PLO guerrillas left the city for bases elsewhere in the Arab world. Many went to Tunisia to join Yasser Arafat in directing the PLO cause.

    Libya and Tunisia have differed, in the past on many areas of Middle East politics. But the leader of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriyah, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, has made several trips to see President Bourguiba in the past, to discuss issues such as the Libyan role in Chad.

    Colonel Gaddafi's most recent visit was in August, this year. He was met at President Bourguiba's home town, Monastir, by the President, Mrs Bourguiba and the Prime Minister, Mohamed Mzali. Mzali is the President's "heir-apparent". Prime Minister since 1980, he too, was born in Monastir. The 70-year-old wife of President Bourguiba, is also a moving force in and leadership race. She apparently has no presidential aspirations but favours a "King-maker" role, according to a Reuter analyst. She plays a vital role in Tunisian politics, and favours an election for her husband's successor -- in open opposition to Bourguiba's own plans. Some analysts quoted by Reuter believe this powerful tug-of-war adds spice to Tunisian political life. Others are more wary. They say the delicate balancing act prevents any meaningful reform in a small nation ruled by the "Supreme Freedom Fighter", for the past 27 years.

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