Exactly 20 years ago, on 25th July, 1957, a Constituent Assembly in Tunisia abolished the monarchy, proclaimed a republic and elected the Prime Minister, Mr.
Exactly 20 years ago, on 25th July, 1957, a Constituent Assembly in Tunisia abolished the monarchy, proclaimed a republic and elected the Prime Minister, Mr. Habib Bourguiba, as the country's first President. M. Bourguiba, who will be 75 next month, is still in office. Two years ago, it was decided that he should hold it for life.
SYNOPSIS: Independent Tunisia is virtually the creation of Habib Bourguiba. And much of the story is also the chronicle of his relations with France. Bourguiba himself completed his education in France; married a French wife; was held as an agitator in French goals; won his country's independence from France; and retained an abiding affection for French life and culture.
Under an agreement signed in Paris in March 1956, Tunisia became an independent state, after 75 years as a French protectorate. It was a time of triumph for Bourguiba. Who had been a nationalist leader since the 1930s. After a sweeping electoral victory, he became Prime Minister; the following year, President as well.
By 1961, relations with France were at breaking point. France had retained a naval base at Bizerta. Bourguiba, who was anxious to close it down, called for a blockade. French troops broke out and occupied much of the town. After more than two years of negotiations France finally agreed to evacuate the base for good.
Apart from this, Bourguiba was on good terms with President de Gaulle. He took a hand in the settlement in Algeria. And a decade later, at the time of the Arab-Israeli October war, he brought assurances to President Pompidou that France's oil supplies were not in danger.
Relations between Tunisia and other Arab states has been complicated by President Bourguiba's repeated efforts to get the "front-line" powers talking to Israel. As early as 1965, he suggested that Israel should cede territory for a Palestinian homeland in exchange for recognition. The other Arab states firmly rejected this.
Despite their differences over Israel and other international problems, President Bourguiba and President Boumedienne of Algeria managed to reach agreement on a more local issue. The two former French territories had a long standing border dispute. But they settled it in a treaty of friendship in 1970.
Dr. Hanry Kissinger inspecting some of Bourguiba's collection of photographs of world leaders. He came to consult the Tunisian President during one feu his tours in search of a Middle East settlement.
Standing behind President Bourguiba as he meets a new cabinet is M. Hedi Nouira, Prime Minister for the past seven years. M. Bourguiba has nominated M. Nouira as his official successor, and this has been confirmed by the National Assembly.
In the latter part of last year, President Bourguiba was in poor health and spent three months having medical treatment in Switzerland. There were reports at the time that he might have to give up his office, but in January of this year, he returned home to Tunis, apparently very much better.
The crowd that turned out at the airport to welcome him showed the affection that the people of Tunisia have for Habib Bourguiba. He has wide powers, which will be cut for his successor; but he is rarely accused of being dictatorial. The old anti-colonialist fighter has mellowed into the father figure of his country.