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13. French Tunisia (1881-1956)

 

Crisis Phase (May 12, 1881-June 30, 1921):  The French militarily occupied Tunisia after Muhammad III as-Sadiq, Bey of Tunis, was forced to sign the Treaty of Bardo on May 12, 1881.  Members of the Hammama, Zlass, Methellith, Swassi, and Beni Zid tribes led by Ali Ibn Khalifa rebelled against the French occupation beginning on June 10, 1881.  French military forces captured the city of Sfax (Ṣafāqis) on July 15-16, 1881, resulting in the deaths of seven French soldiers.  Tunisian insurgents attacked the Oued Zergha railway station on September 30, 1881, resulting in the massacre of the French stationmaster and ten (mostly Maltese and Italian) employees.  French troops entered the city of Tunis on October 12, 1881.  Some 800 Tunisian insurgents were killed during a battle with French troops commanded by General Sabatier near Sousse (Sūsa) on October 13, 1881. The city of Kairouan (al-Qayrawan) was captured by French military forces commanded by General Etienne on October 26-27, 1881.  The city of Gafsa (Qafṣa) was captured by French military forces commanded by General Saussier on November 19-20, 1881.  Some 100,000 Tunisians fled the country.  Tunisian insurgents attacked a column of French troops on March 9, 1882, resulting in the deaths of some 100 French soldiers.  French troops finally suppressed Tunisian insurgency in 1882.  Pierre Paul Cambon served as French Resident-Minister in Tunisia from February 28, 1882 to June 23, 1885, and he served as French Resident-General in Tunisia from June 23, 1885 to October 28, 1886.  Ali Muddat ibn al-Husayn, Bey of Tunis, signed the La Marsa Convention on June 8, 1883.  The convention formally established the French Protectorate over Tunisia.

Several Tunisian nationalists, including Bechir Sfar, Abd al-‘Aziz al-Tha‘alibi, Abdeljelil Zaouche, and Ali Bash Hamba, established the Young Tunisians movement and founded the weekly newspaper Le Tunisien in February 1907.  The French government banned the newspaper, Le Tunisien, in 1908.  On November 7-8, 1911, violent riots occurred in Tunis after government police tried to prevent individuals from entering a Muslim cemetery in Jellaz.  Several dozen individuals, including seven government policemen, were killed during the riots.  A Tunisian child was accidentally killed by a French-run tram in Tunis on February 9, 1912.  Tunisian nationalists organized a boycott of the tramway following the accident.  Several Tunisian nationalists, including Ali Bash Hamba, Abd al-‘Aziz al-Tha‘alibi, and Hassan Guellaty, were arrested by French policemen on March 12, 1912 (four of the leaders were later expelled from Tunisia).  In June 1912, some 35 Tunisians were prosecuted for their involvement in the 1911 riots, including seven individuals who were sentenced to death.  The French government declared martial law in Tunisia in 1912.  Pierre Etienne Flandin was appointed as French Resident-General in Tunisia on October 26, 1918.  Tunisian nationalists established the Constitution Party (Destour Party) headed by Sheikh Abdelaziz Tha’libi in March 1920.  The same month, Abd al-‘Aziz al-Tha‘alibi, was arrested in France and imprisoned in Tunisia.  The Destour Party presented nine demands to Resident-General Pierre Etienne Flandin on June 23, 1920. The French parliament rejected the demands in July 1920.  Abd al-‘Aziz al-Tha‘alibi was released from prison, and he was granted amnesty by the Bey of Tunis in June 1921.  The French government lifted martial law in 1921.

Post-Crisis Phase (July 1, 1921-April 9, 1938):   Muhammad V an-Nasir, Bey of Tunisia, died on July 10, 1922, and he was succeeded by his cousin, Muhammad VI al-Habib.  Muhammad VI al-Habib, Bey of Tunisia, died on February 11, 1929, and he was succeeded by cousin, Ahmad II ibn Ali.  Tunisian nationalists established the New Constitution Party (Neo-Destour Party) headed by Mahmoud Materi and Habib Bourguiba on March 2, 1934.  Tunisian nationalists organized a general strike in Tunis on November 20, 1937.  Six Tunisians were killed during demonstrations in Bizerte on January 8, 1938.

Crisis Phase (April 9, 1938-March 9, 1952):  Ahmad II ibn Ali, Bey of Tunis, declared a state of siege in Tunis on April 9, 1938.  French government troops fired on demonstrators in Tunis on April 10, 1938, resulting in the deaths of some 120 individuals.  Habib Bourguiba, Secretary-General of the Neo-Destour Party, was arrested by French officials in 1939.  Ahmad II ibn Ali, Bey of Tunis, died in La Marsa on June 19, 1942, and he was succeeded by his cousin, Muhammad VII al-Munsif.  German troops occupied Tunisia from November 1942 to May 1943.  Allied troops captured Tunisia from German troops on May 12, 1943.  Muhammad VII al-Munsif, Bey of Tunis, was deposed by the French on May 14, 1943, and he was succeeded by his cousin Muhammad VIII al-Amin.  The Free French took control of Tunisia from the Allied troops on May 15, 1943.  Abd al-‘Aziz al-Tha‘alibi died on October 1, 1944.  Habib Bourguiba issued the Manifesto of the Tunisian People, and went into exile in Cairo, Egypt in March 1945.  Government police fired on Tunisian laborers led by Habib Achour in Sfax in August 1947, resulting in the deaths of some 30 individuals.  Habib Bouguiba returned to Tunisia on September 9, 1949.  Louis Perillier was appointed as French Resident-General in Tunisia on May 31, 1950.  The French government provided Tunisia with autonomy within the French Union on February 8, 1951. Tunisian nationalists referred the matter to the United Nations (UN) Security Council on January 12, 1952. Tunisian nationalists demonstrated against the French colonial government in Bizerte, Mateur, Sousse, Teboulba, and Tunis on January 16-23, 1952, resulting in the deaths of 30 nationalists. French police arrested Habib Bourguiba and five other Neo-Destour Party leaders on January 18, 1952. France deployed some 28,000 troops and police in Tunisia between January 26 and February 11, 1952.  French police and demonstrators clashed in Tunis on February 4, 1952, resulting in the deaths of three individuals.  Muhammad VIII al-Amin, Bey of Tunis, requested the release of Tunisian nationalists from custody on February 7, 1952.

Conflict Phase (March 10, 1952-April 21, 1955):  Tunisian nationalists bombed a government police station in Tunis on March 10, 1952, resulting in the deaths of one government soldier.  Tunisian nationalists bombed a railroad station in Gabes on March 12, 1952, resulting in the deaths of eight individuals.  The French colonial government declared a state-of-siege in Gabes on March 13, 1952.  French government police and Tunisian nationalists clashed in Tunis on March 20, 1952, resulting in the death of one nationalist.  Salaheddin Baccouche formed a government as prime minister on April 12, 1952.  The UN Security Council voted against placing the Tunisian matter on its agenda on April 14, 1952.  Tunisian nationalists bombed a post office in Tunis on May 13, 1952, resulting in the deaths of five individuals.  The French government released 450 Tunisian nationalists from custody on May 22, 1952.  Five Tunisian nationalists were sentenced to death by a French military tribunal on June 11, 1952, and the three of the nationalists were executed on December 8, 1952.  Tunisian nationalists attacked and killed two individuals in Sousse on August 2, 1952.  Ferhat Hached, General-Secretary of the General Union of Tunisian Workers (Union Generale des Travailleurs Tunisiens – UGTT), was killed by gunmen near Rades on December 4, 1952.  Tunisian nationalists attacked the police station in Hamma on December 7, 1952, resulting in the death of one Tunisian.  The UN General Assembly appealed for peaceful negotiations between the parties on December 17, 1952.  Pierre Voizard was appointed as French Resident-General in Tunisia on September 2, 1953.  The Council of the League of Arab States (LAS) expressed support for Tunisian independence on September 7, 1953.  Mohammed Salah M’Zali formed a government as prime minister on March 2, 1954.  French government policemen and Tunisian nationalists clashed in Tunis on March 15, 1954, resulting in the death of one individual.  Habib Bourguiba was sent into exile in France on May 20, 1954.  French troops and Tunisian nationalists clashed near Bizerte on May 23, 1954, resulting in the deaths of five Tunisian nationalists and two French government soldiers.  Muhammad VIII al-Amin, Bey Tunis, and Habib Bourguiba appealed for the end of violence on June 1, 1954.  Prime Minister M’Zali resigned on June 16, 1954. French government troops and Tunisian nationalists clashed near Jebel Orvata on July 5, 1954, resulting in the deaths of seven Tunisian nationalists and three French government soldiers.  Some 74 Tunisians and 21 French government police were killed as a result of political violence between March and July 1954.  Tahar ben Ammar formed a government as prime minister on August 8, 1954.  French government troops and Tunisian nationalists clashed near Sidi Bou Zid on October 2, 1954, resulting in the deaths or wounding of 65 nationalists.  French government troops and Tunisian nationalists clashed near Kasserine on October 20, 1954, resulting in the deaths of 17 individuals.  Prime Minister Edgar Faure of France and Habib Bourguiba signed an autonomy agreement in Paris on April 21, 1955.  Some 3,000 individuals were killed during the conflict.

Post-Conflict Phase (April 22, 1955-March 20, 1956): Habib Bourguiba returned to Tunisia from exile in France on June 1, 1955.  Tunisia formally achieved its independence from France on March 20, 1956.

[Sources: Bercovitch and Jackson, 1997, 71; Butterworth, 1976, 137-138; Chicago Tribune, April 10, 1938; Facts-on-File, June 2-8, 1955; Keesing’s Record of World Events, March 24-31, 1951, May 3-10, 1952, August 9-16, 1952, December 13-20, 1952; Langer, 1972, 1291-1292; Ling 1967; Middle East Journal (MEJ), Spring 1952, Summer 1952, Autumn 1952, Winter 1952, Spring 1953, Winter 1953, Summer 1954, Autumn 1954, Winter 1954, Summer 1955, Autumn 1955, Spring 1956, Summer 1956; Rivlin, 1952, 167-193; Weisburd, 1997, 70-71.]

 

Selected Bibliography

Lewis, Mary Dewhurst. 2008. “Geographies of Power: The Tunisian Civic Order, Jurisdictional Politics, and Imperial Rivalry in the Mediterranean, 1881-1935,” The Journal of Modern History, vol. 80, pp. 791-830.

Lewis, Mary Dewhurst. 2009. “Necropoles and Nationality: Land Rights, Burial Rites, and the Development of Tunisian National Consciousness in the 1930s,” Past and Present, no. 205, pp. 105-141.