Tunisia Brief History

From prehistoric times to the power of the beys

Human frequentation of the Tunisian territory is attested by the presence of Ibero-Maurusian and Capsian sites, both on the coastal area and inland, near Gafsa. The lithic industry found in the Sidi Zin site (al-Kef) belongs to the final Acheulean, while numerous prehistoric sites have been unearthed in the Capo Bon area, where anthropization reaches up to the 3rd millennium. The Neolithic is attested in the important necropolis of ar-Radayf, while megalithic structures of the protohistoric age are scattered throughout the territory. ● The oldest Phoenician presence in Tunisia is documented at the end of the 12th century. BC, while the first permanent settlements refer to the 8th century. BC Partially dominated by the Carthaginians until 146 BC, after the Roman conquest, it was a province of proconsular Africa. There are numerous testimonies of the Punic and Roman ages: Carthage, Gammarth, Tunis, Utica, Kerkouane, Hadrumetum (od. Sousse) and the entire area of ​​Capo Bon, Timgad, Thuburbo Maius, Thugga. It then belonged to the Vandals and then to the Byzantines, until in 647-648 AD it was conquered for the first time by the Arabs. But decisive for the Arab settlement was the campaign of ‛Oqba ibn Nāfi‛ (669-75), founder of Qairouan, who then went further throughout North Africa as far as the Atlantic. In the following decades, Arab penetration was hindered by frequent Berber revolts and a real pacification took place at the end of the 8th century, with the Abbasid governor Ibrāhīm ibn al-Aghlab, who founded an independent dynasty. In 909 the Aghlabites were overthrown by the Shia dynasty of the Fatimids, who moved to Egypt around 970, leaving his Zirite lieutenants to govern the Tunisia They took advantage of the weakened power of the Zirites in the 12th century. the Normans of Sicily for raids, but soon the Tunisia was incorporated into the Muslim Berber state of the Almohads, whose Hafsid lieutenants, from the beginning of the 13th century. in 1574, they established a solid autonomous state. ● With the first decades of the 16th century. Turkish penetration began on the one hand and Spanish intervention on the other, urged to defend themselves from the last Hafsid sultans themselves. But neither the victorious expedition of Charles V (1535), nor that of 1573 could save the Tunisia from the definitive Turkish conquest. Soon from the hands of the pasha, representative of the Gate, effective power passed to the local leaders of the Turkish and Levantine militias (dey and bey) assisted by a council (dīwān) of the corsair officers. On this military oligarchy it went on to assert itself in the 17th century. the power of the beys who in 1705, with Ḥusein Bey, liquidated their rivals and founded the dynasty that remained on the throne until 1957. For Tunisia religion and languages, please check ezinereligion.com.

From the French domination to the Ben ‛Alī dictatorship

In 1816 the Bey of Tunis signed with Great Britain and then with other States the commitment to abolish the slavery of Christians and piracy, and renewed it in 1830. In the 19th century. the influx from Italy as well as from France intensified. The presence of these colonies and the proximity to both Italy and France, which had conquered Algeria in 1830, paved the way for the Franco-Italian rivalry for Tunisia. Taking occasion from Berber raids in Algerian territory, a French expeditionary force occupied the Tunisia and forced the bey to become the French protectorate (1883). The French authorities were soon opposed by a nationalist and constitutionalist movement from whose ranks the Destūr party (Arab “Constitution”) was formed in 1920. Within the nationalist camp then the more radical positions prevailed, expressed by the Neo-Destūr party, born in 1934; an important contribution to the independence struggle also came from the UGTT trade union organization (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail), born in 1946. Theater of war in 1942-43, in June 1943 the Tunisia returned under the control of the French. Between 1952 and 1954 the contrast became very sharp again and the development of a nationalist terrorism was countered by an anti-Arab colonial ‘counter-terrorism’. ● Beginning in 1954, France changed its policy: the opening of negotiations, which resulted in an agreement on self-government (1955), was followed, in March 1956, by the signing of the protocol by which Paris recognized the country’s independence. After the overwhelming victory of the Popular Front (electoral alliance between the Neo-Destūr, the UGTT and some minor formations), al-Ḥ. Bourguiba assumed the leadership of the government and in 1957 he was appointed president of the newly formed Republic. The government carried out a modernization action in the first years. On the economic level, starting from the early 1960s there was a turning point tending to strengthen state intervention in the economy. In 1964, foreign-owned lands were expropriated, which caused a worsening of relations with France. However, Tunisia adopted a pro-Western orientation, developing cautious relations even with the countries of the communist bloc. In 1970 the new prime minister Hādī Nuwayra promoted an economic policy with a liberal orientation, a turning point that was accompanied by a consolidation of the authoritarian character of the regime; in 1974 Bourguiba was elected president of the party for life and in 1975 president of the Republic for life. ● After a phase of growth, the second half of the 1970s was marked by the emergence of serious economic difficulties, with a long phase of severe social tensions and the establishment of two progressive-oriented formations, the Movement for Popular Unity (MUP) and the Movement of Socialist Democrats (MDS), who joined the Tunisian Communist Party (PCT) in the clandestine opposition to the regime. After the replacement of Nuwayra by Muḥammad al-Mzālī (1980), multi-party elections were held in 1981, but the Popular Front won 95% of the votes. In the following years the political and economic crisis deepened and the clash between the government and the opposition of Islamic fundamentalists was radicalized. ● In 1987, Elder Bourguiba was declared unable to govern for health reasons and removed. His office was assumed by the then minister Zina Ben ‛Alī. The desire expressed several times to start a season of reforms and democratic confrontation was soon denied. The censorship of press freedom, arbitrary arrests and the growing use of torture progressively closed all space for discussion, creating a climate of strong intimidation in the country. After Ben ‛Ali’s electoral triumph in the 1994 presidential elections, the personalization of power intensified. In foreign policy, the launch of the Middle East peace process, Israel. In 1999 Ben ‛Ali was reconfirmed for his third term in a plebiscite manner and he still obtained the same result in the 2004 and 2009 elections, also thanks to the favorable economic situation.In 2011, following violent popular riots, the president fled the country, and was replaced by Fouad Mebazaâ (b. 1933). 81 of the 111 political parties born after the fall of Ben ‛Alī, the most important of the which are the moderate Islamist party Ennahdha led by R. Ghannouchi and the center-left formation called the Progressive Democratic Party. The consultations, in which there was a turnout of over 90%, sanctioned the victory of Ennahdha, which obtained over 40% of the votes. On 10 December the National Constituent Assembly has approved a provisional Constitution that will allow the designation of a new governing body; it will remain in force until general elections, which should take place within one year, and the promulgation of a definitive constitution. A few days later, former human rights activist and opposition leader M. Marzouki became the first freely elected president after the revolution last January; head of the Congress for the Republic party, Marzouki obtained 153 votes out of 217 in the Constituent National Assembly and already in the elections of 23 October his party had finished second, winning 29 seats compared to 89 in Ennahdha. The strong tensions which, despite these attempts to establish new political balances, continued to upset the country and degenerated into open forms of anti-Islamist revolt in February 2013 following the assassination of opposition leader C. Belaid, reaching their peak with the resignation of the premier and secretary general of Ennahdha H. Jebali, who saw his party rejected the proposal to set up a technical government capable of facing the serious political crisis in progress. He was replaced in March by A. Laarayedh, who also resigned in January 2014, leaving the post to the Minister of Industry M. Jomaa, at the head of a technical government.

The legislative elections held in October 2014 with a consistent turnout (about 60% of those entitled) recorded the historic affirmation of the secular party Nidaa Tounes, which obtained 85 of the 217 seats in the Assembly of People’s Representatives, against the 69 awarded by the moderate Islamists of Ennahdha; the third political force in the country is the Free Patriotic Union (UPL) which won 16 seats. The first round of presidential consultations – the first after the revolution of 2011 – held in the following month confirmed this result, recording the affirmation of the party president Nidaa Tounes BC Essebsi, which obtained 39.4% of the votes against 33, 4% won by the outgoing president M. Marzouki, and who won the ballot held in December with 55, 6% of the votes, taking over from him. In January 2015 the new president charged the former Minister of the Interior H. Essid to form a new government, but in July of the following year the Parliament, given the poor efficiency of the executive in accelerating the reforms and in dealing with the serious economic crisis afflicting the country, he denied confidence in the premier, voting in August in the new government of national unity led by Y. al-Shāhed. In the following years, the worsening of the economic crisis and the loss of trust in the institutions generated popular mobilizations that the government tried to repress on several occasions with violent methods, such as the trade unrest of the spring of 2017 and the strikes proclaimed by the unions., and even more from January of the following year, when in many cities of the country the less well-off classes took to the streets to protest against the entry into force of a financial law that aggravated the cost of living, also calling into question the social and economic policy decided by the executive. In the municipal elections – the first after the revolution of 2011 – held in the country in May 2018 with a low turnout (34.4% of those entitled), the Ennahda party obtained 28.5% of the votes, while second political force is Nidaa Tounes (21.2%), followed by the left-wing group Front populaire (5.3%); the female affirmation was significant, with the election to the office of mayor of Tunis – for the first time in the history of the country – of a woman, S. Abderrahim. In July 2019, following the death of President Essebsi in the same month, he was replaced ad interim by M. Ennaceur; the first round of the presidential elections held in the following September for the appointment of the successor recorded the affirmation of the independent candidate K. Saïed, who defeated the entrepreneur N. Karoui in the ballot with 75% of the preferences, while the results of the legislative in October 2019 they awarded the victory to Ennahda which, with 52 seats out of 217, obtained the relative majority, and whose candidate H. Jemli was appointed premier, but in January of the following year the Parliament denied confidence in the government presented by the politician, granting it in March to E. Fakhfakh, who resigned the following July and replaced by H. Mechichi. In July 2021, after clashes and demonstrations against the government and the Islamist party Ennahdha, President Saïed suspended the activities of the Parliament for 30 days, removing Prime Minister Mechichi and assuming executive power; in September, the politician entrusted N. Bouden Ramaḍān with the task of forming a new government, which the politician formally assumed the following month.

Tunisia Brief History

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