The Era of Habib Bourguiba
In 1957, the Prime Minister Habib Bourguiba (Habib Abu Ruqaiba) abolished the monarchy and firmly established his Neo Destour
(New Constitution) party. The regime sought to run a strictly
structured regime with efficient and equitable state operations, but
not democratic-style politics. Also terminated was the dey, a quasi-monarchist institution dating back to Ottoman
rule. Then Bourguiba commenced to dominate the country for the next 31
years, governing with thoughtful programs yeilding stability and
economic progress, repressing Islamic fundamentalism, and establishing rights for women unmatched by any other Arab nation.The vision that Bourguiba offered was of a Tunisian republic. The
political culture would be secular, populist, and imbued with a kind of
French rationalist vision of the state that was buoyant, touched with
élan, Napoleonic in spirit. Bourguiba then saw an
idiosyncratic, eclectic future combining tradition and innovation,
Islam with a liberal prosperity.
"Bourguibism" was also resolutely nonmilitarist, arguing that
Tunisia could never be a credible military power and that the building
of a large military establishment would only consume scarce investment
resources and perhaps thrust Tunisia into the cycles of military
intervention in politics that had plagued the rest of the Middle East.
In the name of economic development, Bourguiba nationalized various
religious land holdings and dismantled several religious institutions.
Bourguiba's great asset was that "Tunisia possessed a mature
nationalist organization, the Neo Destour Party, which on independence
day held the nation's confidence in hand." It had made its case to the
city workers in the modern economy and to country folk in the
traditional economy; it had excellent leaders who commanded respect and
who generally developed reasonable governmnet programs.
Once a serious rival to Habib Bourguiba was Salah
Ben Yusuf. Exiled in Cairo during the early 1950s he had absorbed the
pan-Arab nationalism associated with the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdul
Yet as a result of his strong opposition to the Neo Destour leadership
during their negotiations with France for autonomy prior to
independence, Ben Youssef was removed from his position as
secretary-general and expelled from the party. Nonetheless he rallied
disaffected union members, students, and others, enough to put 20,000
yusufists into the street during the next congress of the Neo Destour
party. Eventually he left Tunisia for Cairo.
Socialism was not initially a major part of the
project, but the government had alays held and implemented
redistributive policies. A large public works program had been launched
in 1961. Nonetheless in 1964, Tunisia entered a short lived socialist
era. The Neo Destour party became the Socialist Destour (Parti
or PSD), and the new minister of planning, Ahmed Ben Salah, formulated
a state-led plan for agricultural cooperatives and public-sector
industrialization. The socialist experiment raised considerable
opposition within Bourguiba's old coalition. Ahmed Ben Salah was
eventually dismissed in 1970, and many socialized operations (e.g., the
farm cooperatives) were returned to private ownership in the early
1970s. In 1978, a general strike was repressed by the government with
its forces killing dozens; union leaders were jailed.
After independence, Tunsian economic policy had been primarily to
promote light industry and tourism, and developed its phosphate
deposits. The major sector remained agriculture with small farms
prevailing, but these did not produce well. In the early 1960s the
economy slowed down, but the socialist program did not prove to be the
In the 1970s the economy of Tunisia expanded at a very agreeable
rate. Oil was discovered, and tourism continued. City and countryside
populations drew roughly equal in number. Yet agricultural problems and
urban unemployment led to increased migration to Europe.