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The History and Evolution of Independence Movements in Tunisia

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After the establishment of French protectorate in 1881, the role played by the domestic nationalist movements that emerged in Tunisia during the early twentieth century is fundamentally important for any analysis of the long chain of events that ultimately led to the decolonization of the country. The first Tunisian nationalist movement was that of the Jeunes Tunisiens (Young Tunisians) in 1907, which was fronted by two charismatic leaders: al-Bašīr Ṣafar and ʿAlī Bāš Ḥānbah.Al-Bašīr Ṣafar, the undisputed heart and soul of the movement, was among the founders of the Ḫaldūniyyah, a journalist for Le Tunisien, and, after 1908, the governor of Sousse. ʿAlī Bāš Ḥānbah as an administrator at the Collège Sadiki and co-founder of Le Tunisien. After the Great War, another movement emerged demanding the creation of a parliamentary assembly made up of both French and native citizens: the Parti Libéral Constitutionnel, or Dustūr, led by ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz al-Taʿālbī, which founded the Arabic-language newspaper “Sabīl al-Rašād”. Initially underestimated by the French authorities, Dustūr would go on become a legitimate nationalist movement. In 1934, at the Congress of Ksar Hellal, the party line imposed by Dustūr frustrated and disappointed many young nationalist militants, who split away from the group and founded a movement of their own that would go on to become the primary champion of the independence struggle: Néo-Dustūr. Among these young militants were Ḥabīb Būrqībah, the leader of the new party, which radically transformed itself with a cross-class platform capable of winning the allegiance of the Tunisian masses in the fight for greater independence.As we shall see, the origins of decolonization in Tunisia indisputably lay in the creation and evolution of these nationalist groups, which built upon and succeeded one another during the first four decades of the twentieth century.

Affiliations: 1: Università di Padova


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