President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia has dominated the life of modern Tunisia for fifteen years.?
President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia has dominated the life of modern Tunisia for fifteen years. Although he deposed the Bey of Tunis, he has been an untypical revolutionary. And today he rules a small North African country committed to the west but sandwiched between the much larger Algeria and Libya, both now turning to Moscow for guidance.
Although President Bourguiba has led his country for fifteen years, he has influenced its affairs for much longer than that. He was a writer for the Destour party newspaper in 1930 and was later among the founders of the Neo-Destour Party which now rules the country.
In the early fifties he was the foremost agitator for Tunisian independence and was jailed by the French for his activities. When he was related in 1955 it was at the end of long negotiations which guaranteed his country's independence after 75 years as a French protectorate.
As he stepped off a ship at La Goulette harbour in Tunis in 1955 he was chaired along the quayside by jubilant Tunisians, rode in triumph through the city and was welcomed by the aging Bey as the saviour of his country.
Two years later he had deposed the Bey of Tunis, declared a republic and was elected its first President. His presidency was confirmed in a new constitution and a general election in 1959.
In 1959 France stopped supplying arms to Tunisia's forces. She accused Tunisia of harbouring Algerian rebels and closed the frontier between Algeria and Tunisia. Relations reached a particularly low ebb when French aircraft bombed a Tunisian village where it was claimed, Algerian rebels were gathering to invade Algeria. Bourguiba demanded that French forces leave their bases in Tunisia. They refused and the Tunisians blockaded the French naval base at Bizerta. When the French broke out of the blockade bitter street fighting followed. The French eventually agreed to withdraw.
Bourguiba was re-elected for a second term in 1964 and for a third term in 1969 - the last term for which he is eligible under the constitution.
Bourguiba has followed a policy of concentrating resources on economic and social development. At first he toyed with farm collectivisation - a task he entrusted to a former minister, Mr. Ahmed Ben Salah. But this policy is now being revised. Industry is demanding more attention including the tourist industry. And there is a little to spare for more sophisticated development including the nuclear research which Bourguiba inaugurated in 1966.
Bourguiba has maintained formal contacts with all the regimes of the Arab world, particularly with Tunisia's neighbours. He co-operated with the former Libyan regime in chemical and cement industries. He has welcomed the other Arab leaders to Tunisia, including King Feisal of Saudi-Arabia with whom he shares less committed insterests in the Middle East.
His outgoing policies have taken him to Europe, both east and west, in the search for knowledge and expertise. He visited Germany to pave the way for trade agreements. He crossed the iron curtain to the Soviet Union and to Rumania in is search for suitable models for Tunisian industry. He made his peace with France and when he fell ill a year ago, he went to France for a long course of treatment and stayed there to convalesce.
He returned to Tunis in June, no longer an active man. His new Government faces the prospect of taking over full responsibility from the man who has made modern Tunisia.