The youngest of eight brothers and sisters Habib Bourguiba was born on August 3rd, 1903 in Monastir (100 miles south of Tunis). His family was of a modest background where both father and grandfather were severely affected by the injustice at that time.
Through the help of his brothers he went to school in Tunis at the famous “College Sadiki” and then at the “Lycee Carnot”. He obtained his Baccalaureat in 1924 and went to Paris University to study Law and Political Science. While in Paris, the adult Bourguiba met Mathilde Lorain his lodger at that time, whom he married in 1927, and who bore him on the 9th of April 1927 his only son, Habib Bourguiba Jr.
The same year Bourguiba graduated in law and political science, he went back with his newly formed family to Tunisia where he got immediately involved in the political arena by joining two newspapers in 1928 “l’Etendard Tunisien” (The Tunisian Flag) and “Sawt At-Tunisi” (The Tunisian Voice). In 1931, the French colonial authorities prosecuted him for his alleged “Incitement to racial hatred”. Subsequent to this Bourguiba launched a militant newspaper “L’Action Tunisienne” laying the ground for strong action against the colonial power.
As a member of the Executive Committee of the Destour Party, Bourguiba found himself less in tuned with the mainstream party vision, which culminated in the Monastir incident of the 8th August 1933 relative to the burial of a naturalized Tunisian citizen.
Bourguiba was pushed to resign from the committee, which led to the creation of the Neo-Destour Party in Ksar Hellal on 2nd March 1934 and with Bourguiba as the Secretary General of the Political Bureau.
From that moment, Bourguiba set out to crisscross the country to try to enrol the majority of Tunisians from the countryside and thus create a more popular base to his newly formed party so much so he managed in a couple of years to set up more than 400 branches (cells) of the Neo-Destour. In September of the same year 1934, the colonial representative (Resident General) Mr Peyrouton ordered that Bourguiba to be confined to Borj-Leboeuf a remote place on the border of the Sahara desert until
April 1936 when he was released with most of his companions.
After the famous popular uprising of the 9th of April 1938 where colonial troops opened fire on demonstrators killing and injuring hundreds of civilians, Bourguiba was once again imprisoned on June 10 1939 along with a group of militants on charges of plotting against the state security and incitement to civil war.
At the outbreak of WWII, Bourguiba was transferred to the Teboursouk
prison and then in May 1940, to the Haut Fort Saint Nicholas near
Marseilles until the 18th of November 1942 where he was taken
to Fort Montluc in Lyon. After which he ended up in Fort Vancia
in Ain until the Germans released him and took him to Chalons-sur-Saône,.
In a manoeuvre by the Germans and Italian Fascist regime to gain
Bourguiba’s alliance, he was received with full honours in Rome,
in January 1943, but to no avail; the Italian Forein Affairs Ministry
tried to obtain a statement in their favour ; on the eve of his
return home , he accepted to deliver a message to the Tunisian
people by “Radio Bari”, cautioning them against all the appetites”
In his return to Tunis, on April 7th 1943 he made sure that the
message he had sent from his prison, in August 1942, gets across
the whole population in general and the militants in particular
that Germany was bound to loose the war and that Tuni sia’s independence
will only come after the victory of the Allies. He was so emphatic
about his position that he made it a question of life or death
After the end of WWII, Bourguiba, after many steril efforts to open a dialogue with the French authorities, came to the conclusion that the Tunisian cause had to be brought to the attention of the world opinion. In March 1945, he left Sfax secretly, on a small fisherman’s boat, heading to Libya, the on foot and on camel’s back, he managed to reach Cairo, which he used as a base for his international activity. He took part in the setting up of the Greater Maghreb Office. He travelled
continuously to the different Arab countries, members of the newly born Arab League, Europe, (Switzerland, Belgium), to Asia, (Pakistan, India, Indonesia) and USA to promote the Tunisian aspiration for independence and meet with high and influential personalities that could help the Tunisian cause.
On the 8th of September 1949, Bourguiba returned to Tunis to reorganise the Party and resume his direct contact policy with the population through the visit of small towns and villages throughout the country.
In April 1950, he laid out *a seven-point* program aiming at ending the system of direct administration in Tunisia and restore full Tunisian sovereignty as a final step to independent statehood. In 1951, he embarked in a second round of trips to promote his program at the international level. In light of the French Government refusal to concede to national claims Bourguiba toughened his stands and called for unlimited resistance and general insurrection. This tactics led to his arrest on
January 18th 1952 and his confinement to Tabarka, then Remada then to La Galite and finally Groix Island to end at the Ferte Castle.
Pierre Mendes-France became French prime minister in 1954; his positions on France’s colonial policies opened the door to Tunisian home-rule. The First of June 1955 saw the glorious return of Bourguiba with the “Internal Autonomy Agreement” as a big step to total independence.
After several arduous negotiations, the independence was proclaimed on the 20th of March 1956, with Habib Bourguiba as president of the “National Constituent Assembly”, and immediately designated as Prime Minister
On the 25th of July 1957, the Republic was proclaimed abolishing henceforth the monarchy and investing Bourguiba with powers of President of the Republic. While consolidating the independence of the country and setting in motion the struggle for development Bourguiba established during 1956-1964 the institutions and legislation, which made Tunisia a modern nation. He immediately triggered a series of far reaching fundamental changes to Tunisian society through the introduction of several laws
• Women emancipation,
• Free education for all,
• Family planning,
• Free modern healthcare system,
• Literacy campaign,
• Administrative, financial and economic organisation,
• Suppression of the “Waqf frozen propert”,
• Building the country’s infrastructure.
After a failed collectivism experience, Bourguiba embarked from the early 1970 in a modern and liberal model of development spearheaded by Prime Minister, Hédi Nouira for a ten-year period that witnessed the flourishing of medium sized private enterprises and the consolidation of private ownership. The path to a long lasting social transformation was laid down and where a prosperous middle class was shaping up the economic and social Tunisian background.
On the international front, Bourguiba took very courageous positions advocating international legality to solve conflicts among nations culminating in his famous Jericho Speech in March 1965 for a fair and lasting peace between Palestinians and Israel based on UN resolutions.
In March 1975, the National Assembly voted Bourguiba president for life, as an exceptional measure in the constitution for services rendered to the nation.
In the eighties Bourguiba consecrated his energy in combating both poverty and the backward fundamentalist Islamic movement that created a potential threat to the country’s social and economic achievements.
Bourguiba remained the President of Tunisia until the 6th of November 1987 when his newly appointed Prime minister impeached him claiming old age and health reasons.
Bourguiba remained since under house arrest in Monastir for a period of 13 years until his death on the 6th of April 2000. He was buried in Monastir in the family mausoleum on the 8th of April 2000.