Tunisia’s recent history includes the Ottoman period from 1574, which was followed by a French protectorate from 1881 and until the country became an independent state in 1956.
Like other parts of North Africa, Tunisia became the subject of a European government that led to the rise of nationalism and the struggle for independence. As in neighboring Algeria and Libya, this was partly led by the use of weapons.
From independence in 1956, Tunisia, like neighboring countries, had long been a one-party state, before an uprising in 2010–2011 led to the introduction of democratic governance. At the same time, this began the so-called Arab Spring.
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The first years after Tunisia was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in 1574, the country was ruled from Algeria, and the ruling pasha deployed by the Turks. An uprising among the Turkish Janitsar forces in 1591 led to the possession of a military leader, Dey, for a time. From 1606, Tunisia was in fact self-governed. The country’s supreme leader was then a governing bey, who was in principle subject to a pasha who was sent from Istanbul. Soon the two functions were merged and Tunisia was ruled by Beyen. To see more information other than history, please visit Abbreviationfinder to learn more about climate, population, government, and economy for the country of Tunisia.
Two long-standing dynasties ruled Tunisia. The first was the Muradid dynasty, which originated in corsars that helped secure Ottoman rule, and came to power in 1640. After internal conflicts, this ended when the last Muradid bey was assassinated in 1702. In 1705, the Hussein dynasty came into being. the power. It ruled until Tunisia – as an independent state – was made republican in 1957, and the bay was deposed. Also during this dynasty, internal strife was linked to succession, with a civil war between 1735 and 1740.
Under the Ottoman rule, the position of Islam was strengthened, and Arabic language was thereby maintained, while cultural impulses came from across the empire, including a post-modern bureaucracy. Especially in the 19th century, trade in the western Mediterranean increased, and thus European influence increased, also in the economic sphere.
Formally, Tunisia was never a French colony, but a protectorate. The country was thus, also under French rule, formally an independent monarchy, with a Tunisian bey as the head of the country. In reality, this had very little power, and the country was ruled by a French envoy, called the resident (actually the resident general; a local representative of the French government).
France invaded Algeria in 1830 and sought to expand its influence in North Africa. Tunisia was then formally a province of the Ottoman Empire, but in reality self-governing. The French invasion of the neighboring country, as well as the Ottoman reintroduction of direct rule in Libya in 1835, created fears in Tunisia. Husayn bey therefore sought cooperation with France, which, insured by the country, had no colonial ambitions in Tunisia. The Tunisian ruler thus had to deal with two great powers as neighbors, and to maneuver politically to preserve the country’s independent rule. The successor, Ahmad bey, sought to prevent French expansion by establishing contact with the United Kingdom. Dissatisfaction with the bey led to the Ottoman sultan in Istanbul in 1840 sent a fleet to Tunisia, which caused both France and the UK to do the same, without any confrontation.
Under Ahmad bey, who ruled in 1837-1855, a comprehensive program to modernize Tunisia was implemented. It included the creation of an army and a navy, and industry related to them. He abolished slavery and introduced other reforms to make Tunisia a modern society modeled on Europe, and not least on France. Under Muhammad al-Sadiq bey, the country was given the first constitution in the Arab world in 1861. This stated that Tunisia was a constitutional monarchy with ministers responding to a major council appointed by Beyen.
The modernization was carried out with the help of French advisers. The connection to France was emphasized by Tunisia contributing military forces on the French – and British – side during the Crimean War in 1855. This brought Tunisia under European, especially French, influence.
The ambition to make Tunisia a modern power exceeded the country’s ability to finance such a development. Modernization imposed a rising foreign debt on the country, and this was sought to be served through increased taxes, which significantly affected the peasants. This led to political and social unrest. In 1864, there was a revolt that threatened the regime, but was defeated. However, the Constitution was repealed. To protect its citizens, France and Britain sent warships to Tunisian waters.
In 1869 the country went bankrupt and was put under the administration of a commission set up by France, Italy and the United Kingdom. The political and social reforms were not continued, but when Khayr al-Din, who sat in the crisis commission, took over as prime minister in 1873, he introduced a new reform program. The economic conditions prevented this from happening, and after French pressure he had to step down.
A major power rivalry between France and the UK ended in 1878 when the British accepted Tunisia as a French sphere of interest. France sought to take direct control of the country, and in 1881 found a pretext for a minor conflict at the Algerian border. France intervened militarily, with forces from Algeria, and the Tunisian Beyi had to join the so-called Bardo Treaty, which approved French military occupation. The agreement recognized Beyen as the ruler of Tunisia, but gave France control over the country’s economic and international affairs; the Tunisian military power was subject to a French general.
The Bardo agreement led to a revolt, whereupon France intervened militarily and occupied the major cities. The subsequent al-Marsa convention of 1883, signed by Ali bey, formally made Tunisia a French protectorate, with a French envoy as governor, but with the Tunisian prime minister. France thereby undertook to pay its debt.
Under French rule, the economy stabilized and changes in central and local government ensured French control. A colonization was gradually implemented, including – especially from the turn of the century – with European immigration. It grew a population of colonialists (colons) who came essentially from France and Italy. In 1896, Italy approved the French rule against respecting Italian rights enshrined in the Italian-Tunisian agreement of 1868. There were about five times as many Italians as Frenchmen in Tunisia; about. 55 000. Another significant immigrant group came from Malta.
Around World War I, there were around 200,000 Europeans in the country. The war strengthened the position of the Tunisians in their homeland, when a large number of Frenchmen had to leave their properties and positions to join the war. Not least, this opened up opportunities for young Tunisians with education, while stoppage in the import of goods promoted local business.
Immigration meant that much of the best agricultural land, especially state property, was taken over by European investors and settlers, and a more modern agriculture was introduced. In the fast-growing cities, other business activities were started. Much of the modernization that took place after the French takeover was in line with the reforms the Tunisian leadership had begun but failed to finance. This included the development of modern infrastructure, largely adapted to the need for European-owned business.
Compared to neighboring Algeria, Europeans in Tunisia had less direct political influence, and the country did not become a settler community like Algeria or Libya under Italian colonial rule.
The colonial government introduced French jurisprudence, while Tunisians (Muslims and Jews) were subject to religious courts. The education system was also expanded, giving Tunisian young people the opportunity to educate. To some extent this also applied at a higher level, and for some also in France. Some schools were open to both Tunisian and European students. From 1921, children born to European parents in Tunisia gained French citizenship; not Tunisians.
Higher education provided more Tunisians with a better understanding of European and French culture and politics, which influenced a burgeoning nationalism in Tunisia. This was strengthened with the launch of newspapers run by Tunisians, such as Le Tunisia and al-Tunisi.
From the 1890s a young Tunisian movement emerged (Jeunes Tunisia), inspired by young, radical Turks; many Tunisian opposites sought refuge in Istanbul after being persecuted by the authorities of their home country. This was a nationalist force pushing for modernization, including political democratization. The connection with Turkey (the Ottoman Empire) led some of the nationalists to end up on the opposite side of France in World War I.
After the war, the nationalist movement returned to the offensive, especially with the founding in 1920 of the Parti Libéral Constitutionnel Tunisia, best known as the Destour movement, from the Arabic name of Destour (dustur; ‘constitution’). This played on the 1861 Constitution, and the party demanded a new constitution with equal rights for Tunisians and Europeans. Muhammad al-Nasir bey supported this policy and asked to abdicate, but withdrew it following pressure from the resident. Elections were held at the local Tunisian Steering Council, which, however, had no power; they also elected representatives to a central consultative council. This had separate chambers for Tunisians and Frenchmen, and the latter, unlike the Tunisians, were chosen directly.
Destour joined forces with other French socialists in Tunisia and formed a liberal political bloc that advocated structural reform. This did not go ahead, and a more radical circle arose around the newspaper L’Action, where Habib Ben Ali Bourguiba was central. An outbreak group led by him formed in 1934 the party Nouveau Parti libéral constitutionnel, known as the Néo-Destour. This quickly became the dominant Tunisian political force. The leadership was arrested but released by the new French People’s Front government led by Léon Blum, which looked favorably at changes in Tunisia, and which the country’s colons and the French military opposed. When the government had to step down in 1937, a number of members of Néo-Destour were arrested and the party dissolved following violent riots.
Another important political force in Tunisian politics, the trade union movement, emerged in the 1920s. In 1924, the Confederation Générale des Travailleurs Tunisia (CGTT) was founded, with the new Party Communiste Tunisia (PCT) a driving force. CGTT attracted most members of the existing French trade union Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT). In 1924–1925, the CGTT organized a strike wave in Tunis, Bizerte and Sfax, after which the authorities in practice crushed the trade union movement, among other things, by arresting its leaders. After World War II, the Union Générale des Travailleurs Tunisia (UGTT) gained significant influence.
The national struggle continued during World War II, but when Tunisia became the scene of war, other considerations prevailed, and it was only after the war that the country moved toward independence. It was a political struggle that eventually also included military resistance, which was influenced by the parallel development in other parts of North Africa, not least in neighboring Algeria.
During World War II, Tunisia came under the control of the French Vichy government, and Italian and German forces used Tunisian port cities to supply their forces in Libya. In November 1942 US, British and Free French forces landed in Algeria and Morocco, from there to capture Tunisia, which was strategically important for the planned Allied invasion of Sicily. Germany entered the Vichy-controlled Tunisia, halted the Allied advance and occupied the country. Tunisia was then liberated by the Allied forces in 1943 after fighting at Cape Bon, and a free French government was introduced.
Nazi Germany’s conquest of France in 1940 was welcomed by many Tunisians, who hoped a French defeat would lead to the country’s independence. Several of the nationalist leaders were therefore suspected of, and partly arrested, for sympathizing or cooperating with the Nazis. At the outbreak of the World War in 1939, the leadership of Néo-Destour was deported to the Vichy government of France. They were released by the Nazis in 1942 and sent to Italy. In 1943 they were able to return to Tunisia. The new free French leadership in Tunisia deposed Muhammad al-Muncif (Moncef) bey, banished him to Algeria and forced his abdication in favor of Amin bey. Habib Bourguiba escaped arrest by fleeing to Cairo, Egypt. Around 4,000 Tunisians were interned in prison camps; most from Néo-Destour.
The struggle for self-government continued after the war and was partly coordinated with the parallel struggle in Algeria and Morocco, including through the Comité de Libération d’Afrique du Nord, which was established in 1948. Representatives of Tunisian organizations advocated the reinstatement of Moncef in 1946. bey and full independence. The political contradictions between the country’s Tunisian and European population were sharpened. The 1949 UN decision to grant Libya independence contributed to increased independence.
In 1951, a French-Tunisian government led by Muhammad Chenik was formed as a first step towards self-government. Militant right-wing forces among the European settlers opposed self-government and carried out several terrorist actions. French military forces were deployed to strike down strikes and riots. Chenik was deposed and nationalists arrested; Bourguiba was arrested in 1953 and then imprisoned in France. While the colonial authorities attacked the Tunisian political leadership, the trade union movement played a leading role in the struggle for independence.
On the nationalists’ side, a militant movement, Fellagha, resorted to violent methods. The group was supported by Néo-Destour and the trade union organization UGTT. They received military training in Libya and in 1954 emerged as a trained guerrilla force. Fellagha actions led to France having to bind large forces in Tunisia, while at the same time the country was on the decline in Indochina.
French Prime Minister Pierre Mendès-France initiated talks with Habib Bourguiba, and in 1955 an agreement was signed that gave Tunisia internal autonomy for a two-year period prior to independence. In return, France demanded the disarmament of Fellagha; the country retained control of foreign and defense affairs. Civil rights were guaranteed. Colon stepped up its armed actions to prevent Tunisia becoming independent, and the European People’s Group demonstrated against the agreement. Extreme forces organized the paramilitary group Présence Francaise.
Tahar ben Ammar formed a government dominated by Néo-Destour, which became the subject of internal power struggle. This was won in 1955 by Habib Bourguiba over the more radical Salah Ben Yusuf, in a situation that threatened to throw the nationalist movement into civil war.
The Néo-Destour Congress in 1955 supported the agreement negotiated with France, which led on 20 March 1956 to Tunisia becoming an independent state, with Bourguiba as prime minister. After the monarchy was abolished in 1957, he became the country’s president and head of state.
The French forces in Tunisia were to be gradually withdrawn, but France refused to make a full withdrawal due to the deteriorating situation in Algeria. After French planes bombed Tunisian border villages, Tunisia severed diplomatic relations and demanded full French withdrawal. France met this, with the exception of the base in Bizerte. In July 1961, with the support of the UN, Tunisia again demanded that France leave the Bizerte base and surround it. This led to fighting action and the French forces took control of the base and the city of Bizerte. Only after the ceasefire in Algeria did France enter the base.