Tunisia in the 1960’s

The agreement of March 1962 between the Algerian Resistance and France facilitated the solution of the Bizerte problem, the base of which was returned to Tunisia in June. But it was a brief improvement: relations between the two states broke down again (to the point of inducing France to suspend economic aid) in May 1963, when the National Assembly, dissatisfied with an agreement reached in March which provided for the transfer to the Tunisia of part of the lands cultivated by French, authorized the expropriation of all lands owned by foreigners. The decision of the Assembly aimed to allow the introduction in the agricultural field of what was called “Tunisian socialism”, according to a choice consecrated with the change of the name of the single party, in the elections of November 1964, in the Desturian Socialist Party. L’ application of a state socialism, however cautious in order not to discourage private initiative, and in particular foreign investments, allowed, through entities and associations, to accentuate the party’s control over all forms of activity, while Burghiba confirmed his position as the supreme leader of the country and the arbiter of political life. The confidence inspired by a fundamentally moderate political line and internal stability allowed Tunisia to attract considerable foreign aid and investment, particularly from Western states, but there was also no lack of contacts with the countries of the Eastern bloc and the People’s China itself, with which they were in 1964 established diplomatic relations; this did not, however, prevent Burghiba from criticizing his African policy. For Tunisia 1999, please check estatelearning.com.

This independent and nonconformist attitude of the president did not fail to cause friction, in particular with other Arab states: in April 1965 his open criticism of the politics followed in the Palestinian problem brought him harsh attacks and the rupture of diplomatic relations with Egypt; the refusal to break off relations with the Federal Republic of Germany, decided by the Arab League, the accusations against Egypt of exploiting this body and other episodes accentuated the tension, which found a pause only on the occasion of the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, and then resumed immediately (May 1968) with a harsh controversy with Syria. Even relations with neighboring Algeria, despite the particular agreements for the formation of a Maghrebi unit, suffered frequent friction due to mutual accusations of meddling in internal affairs; however, these episodes were rapidly composed, just as Tunisia’s substantial solidarity with the other Arab states never really failed. Internally, in September 1969, the failure of collectivization experiments in agriculture resulted in the removal of Aḥmad ben Ṣālih (Ben Salah), one of the main proponents of the application of true socialism, from the post of Minister of Finance and Planning. Passed to the Ministry of Education, Ben Ṣālih was expelled from every office in November, then arrested, tried and in May 1970 sentenced to forced labor (in February 1973 he escaped from prison and took refuge in Europe). The problem of the possible succession of Burghiba, confirmed to the presidency in 1969 but seriously ill, it provoked a struggle for power within the party a few years later.

This moved the Minister of the Interior Aḥmad el-Mestīrīa to ask in 1971 for a liberalization in the government and in the life of the party; the initiative cost him his dismissal (September 1971), expulsion from the party (1972) and from the National Assembly (1973). Despite some opposition, Burghiba’s thesis prevailed and he claimed the designation of his successor to himself: in the meantime, by modifying the Constitution, in December 1974 the National Assembly acclaimed him president for life, accepting the proposal he himself had already advanced in 1971. In January 1974 the sudden announcement, solemnly given by Burghiba to Gaddafi, of the union of Tunisia and Libya in a single state caused a sensation; the coldness with which the project, for which the implementation dates had already been set, was welcomed in particular by Algeria, led the Tunisian president to a rapid change: the Foreign Minister Muḥammed el-Maṣmūdī was accused of recklessness, dismissed and expelled from the party (11 February 1974). Relations with Libya also worsened due to a dispute over the delimitation of the respective continental platforms; submitted in August 1976 to the Higher International Court of Justice, the tension went through a critical moment in May-June 1977, to be resolved with a compromise agreement in February 1978. Even with Algeria, relations became difficult for the support given by Tunisia to Morocco on the Saharan question. The internal situation has also shown signs of instability. A general strike, with serious riots (January 1978), it caused a state of siege and a series of trials with heavy sentences; in June 1978, in opposition to Burghiba, the Movement of Democratic Socialists was formed into a political party.

Tunisia in the 1960's