Fighting for Freedom in Independent Tunisia

Kamel Labidi considers Tunisia on the 50th anniversary of its independence from France, in Le Monde Diplomatique.

Muhammad Talbi, the historian and former dean of the faculty of literature in Tunis, believes that: “Apart from the many humiliations inflicted on Tunisians, I agree that under the French protectorate political opponents, starting with Habib Bourguiba, were entitled to speak their minds. There were clubs, political parties, unions and newspapers. I wouldn’t think of praising colonialism, but I have to say nowadays we have none of those things.” At the age of 84, Talbi has lost neither his fighting spirit nor his lucidity.

Talbi is one of the few Tunisian intellectuals old enough to have lived under French rule, and he also experienced the excitement about independence on 20 March 1956 and the enthusiastic start to building a modern state, long hailed as exemplary. Fifty years on, it is just another Arab dictatorship. Tunisia’s first president, Bourguiba, tightened his grasp on power, only to be ousted in November 1987 by General Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who has done his best to suppress all political freedoms.