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The Hegemonic Bourguibist Discourse on Modernity in Post-revolutionary Tunisia

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This article examines the continued resonance of Bourguibist discourses on modernity within Tunisia, how his political legacy continues to serve as a point of reference for diverse political movements, and therefore seeks to question how this conceptualization of modernity remains hegemonic. I posit that the national narrative of “modernity” conveyed by Bourguiba in the post-independence era should be understood as an arena of struggle over power and identity, and accordingly that both serve to shed light on how collective memory is mobilized as a political idiom to legitimise certain ideological agendas and views on what is deemed the “right” Tunisian national identity. With specific reference to Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes, I argue that understanding the prevailing political and social scene of post-revolutionary Tunisia necessitates examination of the social construction of Bourguiba, how he has come to be “mythologised” in order to generate support at a national level, and more importantly how this functions within broader discursive strategies towards power. In seeking to move beyond the current binarism that situates Islamists and so-called “secularists” (supposedly heirs of Bourguibism) in opposition, this study seeks to demonstrate the commonalities within their respective appropriations of the Bourguibist legacy in the post-revolutionary context, and thereby to elucidate how his normative heritage serves as a touchstone for seemingly contradictory ideological currents.

Affiliations: 1: School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) University of London, UK,


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