Tunisia’s Uncertain Future

The first months after Habib Bourguiba’s overthrow in November 1987 witnessed an ambiguous honeymoon between the new regime and the Islamists. Bourguiba himself was under a form of house arrest in Monastir, his native town. Squares named after his birthday, August 3, 1903, were renamed November 7, the day of the coup. Some of his statues were pulled down, but many streets were still named after him and his grand mausoleum and mosque were well tended in Monastir. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the coupmaker who had worked as minister of interior and prime minister under Bourguiba, presented himself as a man of “renewal” and called for political pluralism and respect for human rights. He opened a dialogue with the opposition forces, socialist and Islamist.

State and Gender in the Maghrib

Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco constitute a geocultural entity. They all went through a period of French colonization and they became independent during roughly the same period in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Despite the similarities, though, the three countries engaged in markedly different policies in regard to family law and women’s rights from the time of national independence to the mid-1980s. Tunisia adopted the most far-reaching changes whereas Morocco remained most faithful to the prevailing Islamic legislation and Algeria followed an ambivalent course.

North Africa Faces the 1990s

The startling changes that have transformed the political landscape of Eastern Europe in 1989 may have no equivalent in the Middle East exactly, but that region has seen some remarkable developments nonetheless. The Arab versions of perestroika, or restructuring, while less profound in comparison with those of Czechoslovakia or Poland, reflect certain realignments of political forces. No regimes have toppled — yet. But from Palestine and Jordan in the Arab east (the Mashriq) to Algeria in the west (the Maghrib), a phenomenon of intifada, or uprising, is challenging the static politics of repression that have prevailed for many years.

Document: “Deficiencies in the Islamic Movement” (Rashid al-Ghannouchi)

Rachid al-Ghannouchi: "Deficiencies in the Islamic movement"

Although the Islamist movement has realized great accomplishments in its attempts to liberate the Islamic community from the legacy of decay and the remnants of destructive Western invasions, it is still far from realizing its ultimate goal — the establishment of the shar‘a of God on Earth…

“How Can a Muslim Live in This Era?”

Shaikh Hamid al-Nayfar is a leading figure in Tunisia’s Islamist movement. Francois Burgat, who interviewed him in Tunis in 1985, works at the Centre de Recherches et d'Etudes sur les Societes Mediterraneennes (CRESM) in Aix-en-Provence, France.


What is the meaning of the name of your magazine, 15/21?

The basis of our project is to ask how one can be simultaneously a Muslim and live in this era — how to be a Muslim today. Fifteen stands for the fifteenth century of the hegira, the beginning of the Islamic community. Twenty-one signifies the fact that we are living now on the edge of the twenty-first century, with all the problems that poses for the world community.


Portrait of Rachid al-Ghannouchi

Late last September, in the sweltering, heavily guarded State Security Court in Tunis, all eyes were fixed on Shaikh Rachid al-Ghannouchi as he concluded his impassioned defense:

If God wishes me to become the martyr of the mosques, then let it be so. But I tell you that my death will not be in vain, and that from my blood, Islamic flowers will grow.

The Trial of Khamis Chamari

For a few hours on Saturday morning last June 27, a small antechamber in Tunis’s main court building was filled to capacity with a veritable who’s who of Tunisia’s opposition. At any other time and venue, those present would have risked arrest for unlawful assembly. But there — beneath a large discolored print of President Habib Bourguiba in lawyer’s garb — they milled around without restrictions. Also in the room were a representative of Amnesty International, four or five journalists from the BBC and international news agencies, an observer from the International Commission of Jurists and a junior official from the American embassy.

Winter of Discontent

Nineteen eighty-four began in a bloody fashion in the Maghreb. Violent demonstrations erupted in the impoverished southwest and south of Tunisia at the very end of December and spread throughout the country during the first week of January. These followed the Tunisian government’s introduction of measures to remove food subsidies. Bread prices suddenly doubled.

States of Emergency

A crisis had been building in Tunisia for many months. By the end of 1983, the economy was in serious trouble, support-for the regime had been eroding and the International Monetary Fund had proposed austerity measures. Within the government, corruption and personal luxury were rampant. President-for-life Habib Bourghiba was intent on preparations for a lavish celebration of the 50th anniversary of the ruling Destourian Socialist Party, while ministers vied with each other over the succession to the 81-year-old leader.


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