vendredi 7 octobre 2011

Brief contemporary history of Tunisia

This article is addressed primarily to those of you who might not be aware of Tunisia’s history, particularly during recent times.

Until the end of the nineteenth century, Tunisia was under Turkish rule and then in 1881 it fell under French protectorate, which lasted until 1956. In July of 1957, the country became a republic and had its first president, Habib Bourguiba, who governed for 30 years before ceding his place to another dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Habib Bourguiba
President Bourguiba’s rule, however surprising as it may seem, was viewed by many Tunisians as being relatively positive compared to his successor’s reign. Under Bourguiba, the country modernized itself and made significant advances in education, economic development and equality among the sexes. However, Tunisia was to be a one party system, the Néo-Destour party, with Bourguiba in charge. As with many dictators, the president developed a cult of personality and asserted total control over Tunisia. Naturally, political dissidence was no longer tolerated. Radio France Internationale (RFI) made a very complete 2 part documentary (in French) of president Bourguiba. Part 1 can be found here and part 2 here.

At the end of his presidency, during a time of rise in Islamism in Tunisia, Bourguiba fell to numerous ailments that slowed him considerably. This opened the door for his then prime minister, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, to maneuver and fulfill his ambitions for power. At first, Ben Ali promised significant changes such as instituting democracy and giving greater individual freedom to Tunisians. However, it became quite clear to his subjects that the president had no such intentions. A more corrupt and oppressive reign began and state institutions fell under direct control of Ben Ali’s family members. International organizations brand the government as mafia-esque after seeing the stranglehold the president, his family, his wife Leila and her family, the Trabelsis, had on state funds. Read more on Ben Ali here and here. There is also video and text here from Al-Jazeera.

Ben Ali
Eventually, Tunisians revolted and Ben Ali was forced to flee on January 14th 2011. I will go deeper into this in later articles. Following Ben Ali’s flight, Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi became head of a  provisional government. His tenure was short-lived though as protesters demanded and obtained his resignation in late February 2011. Interim president Fouad Mebazaa appointed Béji Caïd Essebsi to replace him. Essebsi has been an active member of Tunisian politics since the days of Bourguiba and he was seen by some as an advocate known for trying to change the system from within.

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