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Bourghiba, Habib (1901–2000)

BOURGHIBA, HABIB (1901–2000)

Habib Bourghiba was the most prominent leader of Tunisia's Neo-Destour movement, which led that country to independence from France in 1956. Born into a middle-class family of limited resources at Monastir in 1901, Bourghiba was educated at the prestigious Sadiqi College and at the Lycée Carnot in Tunis; subsequently he earned a law degree at the University of Paris. After returning to Tunisia in the mid-1920s, he became increasingly involved in the Destour (constitutionalist) movement, which was seeking Tunisia's autonomy from France. By the 1930s he broke with its leadership, which he considered too socially and religiously conservative, and founded the Neo-Destour party, which tended toward secular and liberal nationalism.

Once independence came, however, he transformed the Neo-Destour party—later the Destourian Socialist Party—into a ruling single party. This action allowed him to gain and maintain a tight grip over the Tunisian political process for three decades. He was elected three times without opposition to the presidency, ultimately becoming president for life in 1974. In the meantime, the economy stagnated or declined and the gap between the ruling elites and the masses widened, not only materially, but also culturally. Various Islamist groups arose in a protest movement appealing to traditional religious values. In November 1987, with Bourghiba's physical and mental health clearly deteriorating, he was deposed by the sitting Prime Minister Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. Habib Bourghiba died in his native city of Monastir.

See alsoModernization, Political: Constitutionalism ; Secularism, Islamic .


Murphy, Emma C. Economic and Political Change in Tunisia: from Bourguiba to Ben Ali. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

John Ruedy

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