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Habib Bourguiba

President of Tunisia

Died when: 96 years 247 days (1160 months)
Star Sign: Leo


Habib Bourguiba

Habib Bourguiba (/bʊərˈɡiːbə/;Arabic: الحبيب بورقيبة, romanized: al-Ḥabīb Būrqībah; 3 August 1903 – 6 April 2000) was a Tunisian lawyer, nationalist leader and statesman who led the country from 1956 to 1957 as the prime minister of the Kingdom of Tunisia (1956–57) then as the first president of Tunisia (1957–87).

Prior to his presidency, he led the nation to independence from France, ending the 75-year-old protectorate and earning the title of "Supreme Combatant".

Born in Monastir to a poor family, he attended Sadiki College then Lycée Carnot in Tunis, before obtaining his baccalaureate in 1924.

He graduated from the University of Paris and the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) in 1927 and returned to Tunis to practice law.

In the early 1930s, he became involved in anti-colonial and Tunisian national politics, joining the Destour party and co-founding the Neo Destour in 1934.

He rose as a key figure of the independence movement and was repeatedly arrested by the colonial administration.His involvement in the riots of 9 April 1938 resulted in his exile to Marseille during World War II.

In 1945, Bourguiba was released and moved to Cairo, Egypt, to seek the support of the Arab League.He returned to the country in 1949 and rose to prominence as the leader of the national movement.

Although initially committed to peaceful negotiations with the French government, he had an effective role in the armed unrest that started in 1952 when they proved to be unsuccessful.

He was arrested and imprisoned on La Galite Island for two years, before being exiled in France.There, he led negotiations with Prime minister Pierre Mendès France and obtained internal autonomy agreements in exchange for the end of the unrest.

Bourguiba returned victorious to Tunis on 1 June 1955, but was challenged by Salah Ben Youssef in the party leadership.Ben Youssef and his supporters disagreed with Bourguiba's "soft" policies and demanded full independence of the Maghreb.

This resulted in a civil war that opposed Bourguibists, who favored a stepwise policy and modernism, and Youssefists, the conservative Arab nationalist supporters of Ben Youssef.

The conflict ended with the Sfax Congress of 1955 in favor of Bourguiba.Following the country's independence in 1956, Bourguiba was appointed prime minister by king Muhammad VIII al-Amin and acted as de facto ruler before proclaiming the Republic, on 25 July 1957.

He was elected interim President of Tunisia by parliament until the ratification of the Constitution.During his rule, he implemented a strong education system, worked on developing the economy, supported gender equality and proclaimed a neutral foreign policy, making him an exception among Arab leaders.

The main reform that was passed was the Code of Personal Status which settled a modern society.He set a strong presidential system which turned to be a twenty-year one-party state dominated by his own, the Socialist Destourian Party.

A cult of personality also developed around him, before he proclaimed himself president for life in 1975, during his fourth 5-year term.

The end of his 30-year rule was marked by his declining health, a war of succession, and the rise of clientelism and Islamism.

On 7 November 1987 he was removed from power by his prime minister, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and kept under house arrest in a residence in Monastir.

He remained there to his death and was buried in a mausoleum he had previously built.

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