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Habib Bourguiba

President of Tunisia

Died when: 96 years 247 days
Star Sign: Leo


Habib Bourguiba Habib Bourguiba (; Arabic: الحبيب بورقيبة‎, romanized: Al-Ḥabīb Būrqībah; 3 August 1903 – 6 April 2000) was a Tunisian lawyer, nationalist leader and Dictator who served as the country's leader from independence in 1956-1987. He first served as the second Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Tunisia before proclaiming the Republic of Tunisia in 1957 and thus becoming the first President of Tunisia. Prior to that, he played a major role in obtaining independence from France, ending the 75 year-old protectorate and earning the title of "Supreme Combatant". Habib Ben Ali Bourguiba was born in Monastir into a modest family. He then moved to Tunis in 1907 in order to pursue his studies in Sadiki College then in Lycée Carnot, before obtaining his baccalaureate in 1924. In 1927, he graduated from the University of Paris and worked as a lawyer, after his return to Tunis, in the late-1920s. Bourguiba showed interest in fighting the protectorate from a young age. However, he only joined the national movement in the early-1930s, when he became a member of the Destour party and wrote articles denouncing the regime and the inequality. Bourguiba did not agree with the party's elders whose methods were outdated. Thus, on 2 March 1934, at age 31, he co-founded the Neo Destour that spearheaded the Tunisian movement for independence, during the Ksar Hellal Congress. Subsequently, he was arrested and exiled several times by the colonial administration, which unleashed its harsh repression following the riots he organised on 9 April 1938. Bourguiba was then imprisoned in the fort of Saint-Nicolas in Marseille during World War II. When he was released, he decided to internationalise the Tunisian case and sought the support of the Arab League. Thus, he moved to Cairo, Egypt, where he lived from 1945-49. However, his attempts were in vain as the Arab countries were preoccupied with the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. When he returned to the country, Bourguiba found himself weakened by the ascending of Moncefism and the party's efforts to drive him away, as it restructured around Salah Ben Youssef. He became leader of the nationalist movement and decided to negotiate with France. However, the talks proved to be a total failure and Bourguiba, convinced that the rupture was confirmed, travelled the world seeking support in order to introduce the case to the United Nations. Needing to draw the world's attention, he had an effective role in starting the armed struggle against France, in 1952. Maintaining turmoil, he was imprisoned in La Galite Island for two years, before being released and sent to France, ready for negotiation with the arrival of Pierre Mendès France as Prime Minister. Ending the unrest he started, he obtained internal autonomy agreements and returned triumphant to Tunis on 1 June 1955. However, joy was short-lived as the arrangement did not please Salah Ben Youssef and his supporters who demanded full independence of the Maghreb. This disagreement started a civil war that opposed Bourguibists, who favored a stepwise policy and modernism and Youssefists, the conservative Arab nationalist supporters of Ben Youssef. The showdown ended with the Sfax Congress of 1955 in favour of Bourguiba. He then negotiated independence from France which he obtained on 20 March 1956. Following the country's independence, 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. Subsequently, he was designated Interim President of Tunisia until the enactment of a constitution and the election of a permanent president. His main priorities upon taking power included the improvement of the country's educational system, fighting gender inequality, developing the economy and maintaining a neutral foreign policy, which made him an exception among Arab leaders. His major reform was the Code of Personal Status which settled a modern society. Bourguiba established a presidential system which soon turned out to be a twenty-year one-party state dominated by his party, the Socialist Destourian Party. A cult of personality also developed around him, before he proclaimed himself president for life in 1975, during his fourth five-year term. The end of his thirty year-rule was marked by his declining health, a war of succession, and the rise of clientelism and Islamism, which was concluded by his removal from power by his Prime Minister, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, on 7 November 1987. He was later kept under house arrest in a residence in Monastir, where he remained until his death on 6 April 2000, and was buried in a mausoleum he had previously built there. Today his legacy in Tunisia remains a controversial topic, subject to frequent debates by political commentators. While some view him as a nationalist leader who fought the French, liberated women and promoted education, others (especially after the revolution) regard him less favourably as a dictator who disregarded even basic political and human rights (at least 1000 political opponents died or disappeared during his 30-year old autocracy, including notable revolutionary leader Salah Ben Youssef) and who was economically generally unsuccessful since he left the country with a very high inflation rate, skyrocketing unemployment, low level of industrialization and an extensive bureaucracy which encouraged neither foreign investment nor local entrepreneurship.When he left power in 1987, Tunisia's GDP per capita was similar to those of the subsaharan African countries of Cameroon and Cote d'Ivoire.
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