Young Tunisians

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Tunisian reform movement that championed Tunisian rights during the French protectorate.

The imposition of the French protectorate over Tunisia in 1881 propelled a group of reform-minded urban elites, known as the Young Tunisians, to challenge the traditional order that it blamed for the country's economic and political misfortunes. The Young Tunisians initially acquiesced to French oversight as a practical step toward the modernization of state and society, but they were also intent on reforming native institutions in order to maintain and renew the Muslim heritage and identity of Tunisia, and to this end, they founded the Khaldunniyya School in 1896. The nucleus of the Young Tunisian movement thus included modernists from the religious notability, such as Abd al-Aziz alThaalbi, as well as graduates of French universities or of the European-inspired Sadiqiyya College, such as Bashir Sfar, Ali Bash Hamba, and Hassan Gallati. By 1900, however, growing frustration with their political and economic marginalization was leading many Young Tunisians to intensify their criticism of the protectorate and its various forms of discrimination.

In 1907 Sfar, Bash Hamba, and al-Thaalbi launched French and Arabic editions of the journal Le Tunisien to promote and champion indigenous rights. The movement was radicalized further between 1911 and 1912 by the Italian invasion of Libya, and by the Protectorate's use of disproportionate military force against civilian demonstrators in November 1911 (the Jallaz Incident), and again in February 1912 against striking tramway workers. The authorities accused the Young Tunisians of instigating popular unrest, and deported al-Thaalbi, Sfar, Gallati, and Bash Hamba. Thus, on the eve of World War I, the Young Tunisian movement had been effectively decapitated and driven underground, but its popular anticolonial platform was soon resurrected in the 1920s by the Destour Party and its calls for Tunisian self-determination.

see also bourguiba, habib; khaldunniyya; thaalbi, abd al-aziz;tunisia: political parties in.


Abun-Nasr, Jamil. A History of the Maghrib in the Islamic Period. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

o. w. abi-mershed