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Ideological Change and an Emerging Counter-Culture in Tunisian Politics

  • John P. Entelis

Tunisia A has long been regarded as a model of political development and stability in the Third World. There is no doubt that the charismatic Habib Bourguiba, the aging (71) yet indefatigable leader of an effective nation-wide party apparatus, has helped ensure Tunisia's development from the period of the pre-independence struggle until today. It is not unnatural, therefore, given the critical role of Bourguiba in the operation of the political system, to question the degree of institutionalisation, stability, modernity, and democracy that Tunisia could retain after the passing of its dynamic leader.

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Page 543 note 1 Selected examples of western ‘orthodox’ scholarship supporting the ‘institutionalisation’ principle in Tunisia include: Tessler, Mark A., ‘The Tunisians’, in Tessler, M. A., O'Barr, W. M., and Spain, D. H. (eds.), Tradition and Identity in Changing Africa (New York, 1973), pp. 193302;Moore, Clement H., Politics in North Africa (Boston, 1970);Ashford, Douglas E., National Development and Local Reform: political participation in Morocco, Tunisia, and Pakistan (Princeton, 1967);Moore, Clement H. and Hochschild, Arlie R., ‘Student Unions in North African Politics’, in Daedalus (Boston), 97, Winter 1968, pp. 2150;Moore, Clement H., Tunisia Since Independence: the dynamics of one-partyovernment (Berkeley, 1965);Rudebeck, Lars, Party and People: a survey of political change in Tunisia (New York, 1969);Moore, Clement H., ‘Tunisia: the prospects for institutionalization’, in Huntington, Samuel P. and Moore, Clement H. (eds.), Authoritarian Politics in Modern Society: the dynamics of established one-party systems (New York, 1970), pp. 311–36;Micaud, Charles A. with Brown, Leon C. and Moore, Clement H., Tunisia: the politics of modernization (New York, 1964);Ashford, Douglas E., ‘Succession and Social Change in Tunisia’, in International Journal of Middle East Studies (Cambridge), 4, 01 1973, pp. 2339;Moore, Clement H., ‘The Neo-Destour Party of Tunisia: a structure for democracy’, in World Politics (Princeton), xiv, 04 1962, pp. 461–82;Camau, Michel, La Nation de démocratie dans la pensée des dirigeants maghrebins (Paris, 1971);Hahn, Lorna, ‘Tunisia: pragmatism and progress’, in Middle East Journal (Washington), xvi, Winter 1962, pp. 1828;Micaud, Charles A., ‘Leadership and Development: the case of Tunisia’, in Comparative Politics (Chicago), 1, 07 1969, pp. 468–84;Moore, Clement H., ‘La Tunisie aprés Bourguiba: libéralisation ou decadence politique?’, in Revue française de science policique (Paris), xviii, 08 1967, pp. 645–67;Rudebeck, Lars, ‘Developmental Pressure and Political Limits: a Tunisian example’, in The Journal of Modern African Studies (Cambridge), VIII, 2, 07 1970, pp. 173–98;Prieur, Michel, ‘L'Institutionnalisation du parti socialiste destourien’, in Annuaire de l'Afrique du Nord (Paris), 5, 1967, pp. 121–31;Moore, Clement H., ‘On Theory and Practiceongabs’, in World Politics, xxiv, 10 1971, pp. 106–26;Gallagher, Charles F., ‘Tunisia’, in Carter, Gwendolen M. (ed.), African One-party States (Ithaca, 1962), pp. 1185Hahn, Lorna, ‘Tunisian Political Reform: procrastination and progress’, in Middle East Journal, 26, Autumn 1972, pp. 405–54;Ashford, Douglas E., ‘NeoDestour Leadership and the Confiscated Revolution’, in World Politics, XVIII, 01 1965, pp. 215–31. An American-trained Tunisian social scientist, Elbaki Hermassi, concurs with many but not all of the system-supporting hypotheses propounded by the above scholars; see his Leadership and National Development in North Africa: a comparative survey (Berkeley, 1972).

Page 544 note 1 Examples of the few systematic surveys seeking to test Tunisian attitudinal development include Tessler, Mark A., ‘The Nature of Modernity in a Transitional Society: the case of Tunisia’, Ph.D. dissertation, Northwestern University, Evanston, 1969;Klineberg, Stephen L., ‘Adolescents and their Parents under the Impact of Modernization: preliminary report of a study in Tunisia’, unpublished manuscript, 10 1971; and Camilleri, C., ‘Les Attitudes et représentations familiales desjeunes dane un pays décolonisé en voie de développement: essai sur le changement socio-culturel dane un pays du tiers-monde (Tunisie)’, Doctorat ès Lettres, Université de Paris, 1970. An interesting although brief attitudinal survey of Algerian university students is found in György Széll et al., ‘Situation de classe et conscience de classe chez des étudiants algériens’, unpublished paper, Algiers, 1966.

Page 545 note 1 So named after Salah Ben Youssef, a former general secretary of the Neo-Destour Party and later Bourguiba's chief political rival until his assassination in 1961.

Page 545 note 2 Many of these attitudinal configurations are shared by Arab university students in the Middle East and North Africa; see Entelis, John P., ‘Revolutionism and the Radicalization of University Students in the Arab World: a comparative study of Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, and Lebanon’, 25th Annual Meeting of the New York State Political Science Association, Saratoga Springs, 262703 1971.

Page 551 note 1 This situation is acknowledged by leading members of the national sub-élite, including the Secretary-General of the U.G.E.T., who has stated that student dissatisfaction is a result of la peur: ‘the fear of no employment after graduation as a result of the worsening economic situation. There is particular dissatisfaction with Tunisia's socialist experiment since the events of September 1969.’ Interview with Habib Chaghal, Tunis, 6 06 1972.

Page 552 note 1 The first student demonstration of any consequence against the Government took place on 15 February 1965 in Tunis, when 200 protested about the poor food in the university restaurant and the lack of heat in the dormitories. More serious demonstrations, directed at both the political system and its leadership, occurred in December 1966, in June 1967 during the first days of the Arab-Israeli war, and in 1968 as a consequence of the trials and severe sentences meted Out to the alleged leaders of the 1967 riots. Trouble broke out again in 1975, and in 1972 when portions of the Université de Tunis were closed down for two and a half months. The 1972 demonstrations witnessed for the first time public demands for Bourguiba's overthrow.

Page 553 note 1 Even the head of the student organ of the P.S.D., the Bureau national des étudiants destouriens, has called for the ‘gradual but necessary transfer of national leadership in Tunisia’. Interview with the Secretary-General of B.N.E.D., Tunis, 10 June 1972.

Page 554 note 1 The sudden deposition and eventual imprisonment of the popular administrative head of the co-operative land scheme, Ahmad Ben Salah, has been viewed by many as the turning point in Tunisia's political development, signalling the end of effective charismatic rule and the beginning of competitive and oppositional politics. Accounts, descriptions, and analyses of l'affaire Ben Salah proliferate in both French and English. Among the more noteworthy analyses are: Simmons, John L., ‘Agricultural Cooperatives and Tunisian Development’, Part II, Middle East Journal, 25, Winter 1971, pp. 4557;‘Le Compte-rendu intégral du procès Ben Salah’, in Jeune Afrique (Paris), 492, 9 06 1970, p. 63;Palmiery, Marie-Claude, ‘La Tunisie en crise’, in Politique aujourd'hui (Paris), 10 1969, pp. 98109;Annuaire de l'Afrique du nord, 1970 (Paris), IX, 1971, pp. 271–8;Schaar, Stuart, ‘A New Look at Tunisia: a wave of upheavals reveals flaws in Bourguiba's success story’, in Mid East, 02 1970, pp. 43–6;‘Les Coopérants et la coopération’, in Esprit (Paris), 78, 0708 1970;Jovanic, S., ‘Tunisian Upheavals, Cross-roads and Dilemmas’, in Revue of International Affairs (Belgrade), 22, 2011 1971, pp. 23–5; and Casteran, C., ‘Tunisie: un prisonnier nommé Ben Salah’, in Revue française d'études politiques africaines (Paris), 87, 03 1973, pp. 1012.

Page 554 note 2 ‘By all conventional definitions’, Clement H. Moore has conceded, Tunisia's personalistic regime is decidedly illiberal. Classic constitutional liberties have often been disregarded in Tunisia's bid to modernize… The courts… have often served as mechanisms for settling political scores with the regime's adversaries rather than as impartial instruments of justice. Freedom of association does not exist in practice, for no group is allowed to operate independently of the party or the government.’ ‘Tunisia after Bourguiba: liberalization or political degeneration?’, in Zartman, I. William (ed.), Man, State, and Society in the Contemporary Maghrib (New York, 1973), p. 267. The French version of this article was published previously in Revue française de science polilique, XVII, 08 1967, pp. 645–67.

Page 555 note 1 L'Avant-garde (Tunis), 11 1971, p. 2.

Page 555 note 2 Hermassi, op. cit. pp. 93–7.

Page 556 note 1 ‘We ourselves were fed on and formed by French culture’, Bourguiba stated in a 1961 speech. ‘Through it, we found the principles of humanity, liberty, and dignity. We have always harbored feelings of affection for French culture and the French people and nation.’ Paul E. Sigmund (ed.), The Ideologies of the Developing Nations (New York, edn.), p. 194.

Page 558 note 1 Recent outbreaks of violence in Marseilles, Metz, and Paris between North African Arabs and Frenchmen highlight the unease, apprehension, and suspicion characterising Arab-French relations. For details, see the New Work Times, 11 November 1973, and Sheehan, Edward R. F., ‘Europe's Hired Poor: the immigrés do what the French won't’, in New Tork Times Magazine, 9 12 1973, pp. 36 ff.

Page 558 note 2 On the issue of bilingualism in Tunisian society, politics, and administration, see ‘Quelques aspects du bilinguisme en Tunisie’, in Cahiers du CERES (Tunis), 3, 1970; Letaifa, Said Ben, ‘Utiisation respective de l'arabe et du français dans quelques administrations tunisiennes’, in Revue tunisienne de sciences sociales (Tunis), 9, 03 1967, pp. 5775;Mazouni, Abdallah, Culture et enseignement en Algérie et au Maghreb (Paris, 1969);Brown, Leon C., ‘Tunisia’, in Coleman, James S. (ed.), Education and Political Development (Princeton, 1968), pp. 144–68;Kinsey, David, ‘Efforts for Educational Synthesis under Colonial Rule: Egypt and Tunisia’, in Comparative Education Review (New York), 5, 06 1971, pp. 172–87; ‘L’Enseignement du français en Tunisie’, in Le Monde (Paris), 3 June 1970; Riahi, Zohra, ‘Le Français parlé par lea cadres tunisiens’, in Revue tunisienne de sciences sociales,, 3 03, 1968, pp. 195217; and Micaud, Charles A., ‘Bilingualism in North Africa: cultural and socio-political implications’, in Western Political Quarterly (Salt Lake City), XXVII, 03 1974, pp. 92103.

Page 560 note 1 Zghal, Abdelkader, ‘The Reactivation of Tradition in a post-Traditional Society’, in Daedalus, 102, Winter 1973, p. 229.

Page 560 note 2 An assessment of this changing attitude towards the role of religion in Tunisian politics can be found in Hanna, Sami A., ‘Changing Trends in Tunisian Socialism’, in The Muslim World (Hartford), LXII, 07 1972, pp. 230–40. See also Rosenthal, E. I. J., Islam in the Modern National State (Cambridge, 1965), pp. 316–31 and 362–72.

Page 560 note 3 For an astute assessment of elite integrationist policies via the P.S.D. and other national institutions, see Abdelbaki, [Elbaki, ] Hermassi, , ‘Elite et société en Tunisie: intégration et mobilisation’, in Revue tunisienne de sciences sociales, 6, 03 1969, pp. 1119.

Page 560 note 4 The dangers inherent in authoritarian single-party rule are perceptively analysed by Tunisia's young, moderately oppositional general manager of the Paris-based political periodical Jeune Afrique. The following sharp criticism by Bechir Ben Yahmed of the P.S.D.'s sauthoritarianism, supports the attitudinal preferences displayed by our student samples on the issue of party choice or the lack thereof.‘The single party means an unusual concentration of power in the hands of one man, aided and influenced by a group. What that man and group who monopolize power and the means of expression will do depends almost entirely upon their ideology, their force of character, and their capacity to resist the easy solution. Since they have force at their disposal, they have little need for persuasion. What they think is good for the country, they do. What in the long run is fatal is that even in their own consciences they identify what is good for them with what is good for the country. In the party and in the nation they become an interest group instead of a government.The result is that in the optimal situation the single party and personal power can only be helpful to a country during a transitional period - that of the construction of the State, the consolidation of national unity, and the establishment of new economic structures. After that phase, the single party becomes unbearable, a factor making for sterility of thought, social immobility, and even political disorder.

Once the single party is established in power, it is the last to perceive the need for a change or for its own disappearance. It is practically incapable of democratizing itself or the country. It is accustomed to silencing the opposition and is persuaded that it represents the general interest; it therefore does not understand the need for concessions and is afraid to initiate them.’ Yahmed, Bechir Ben, ‘Pour ou contre le parti unique’, in Jeune Afrique, 166, 131901 1964, p. 5. The English translation is found in Sigmund, op. cit. pp. 199–200.

Page 561 note 1 Some noteworthy descriptive analyses and competing interpretations of what ‘really happened’ at the 18th General Congress of the U.G.E.T., held in Korba in August 1971, may be found in Groupe d'études et d'action socialiste tunisien (G.E.A.S.T.), Mouvement de février 1972 en Tunisie: un nouveau bond dans le combat de la jeunesse intellectuelle (Paris, 1972); U.G.E.T., Comité de section de Paris, L'Etudiant tunisien à Paris: bulletin d'information (Paris), 04 1972;L'Etudiant tunisien [U.G.E.T.] (Tunis), 03 1972;Hebdo [B.N.E.D.] (Tunis), 02 1972;Maghreb (Paris), 50, 0304 1972, pp. 1518; and Egen, Jean, ‘La Tunisie en crise: une question d'hommes ou de régime?’, in Le Monde diplomatique (Paris), 02 1972, pp. 1519.

Page 563 note 1 Interviews were conducted and questionnaires distributed six weeks after the reopening of the Faculty of Law, Economic and Political Science, and the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences of the Université de Tunis. The mass anti.Government student demonstrations had the support of lycée pupils in and around the capital, and were later further backed by the traditionally independent unionist workers in the port city of Sfax.

Page 566 note 1 Even the 1974 Egyptian-Israeli-Syrian negotiations have probably not significantly altered student attitudinal preferences for the ‘de-Zionisation’ of Israel which is tantamount to its liquidation.

Page 566 note 2 See Entelis, op. cit.

Page 567 note 1 See Moore (1970), Rudebeck (1969), and Tessler (1973), previously cited.

Page 567 note 1 Hermassi, op. cit. pp. 214–15.

* Associate Professor of Political Science, Fordham University, Bronx, New York. This is a revised version of a paper presented to the Seventh Annual Meeting of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, Milwaukee, 10 November 1973. The research here reported was assisted by grants awarded by the Joint Committee on the Near and Middle East of the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies, and by the University Research Council of Fordham University.

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