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Between King Abdulaziz and Habib Bourguiba

The solid foundations laid down by Bourguiba enabled Tunisia to stay intact amid crises and difficult problems

Turki Aldakhil

Published: Updated:

Visiting Tunisia means taking a look at history and the future at the same time. The country’s geographic location has granted it the ability to receive the new and the different, comprehend new concepts and stay abreast of the most modern aspects which Europe has produced.

The solid foundations laid down by Habib Bourguiba enabled Tunisia to stay intact amid crises and difficult problems. Even when the revolution erupted there few years ago, Tunisia did not witness turmoil. It grappled with ordinary security problems and quickly restored its strong Bourguiba legacy.

It is as if his spirit appears in state institutions and during popular movements and directs people, advises them as guide for an entire society. As a result, the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet won the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2015.

This enthroned Bourguiba’s legacy which cannot be forgotten as he greatly improved the level of education, raised secular social awareness and took it upon himself to gradually correct religious understanding which requires hundreds of years.

When I sat down with Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi to interview him recently, he spoke about the historical relation between Bourguiba and late Saudi King Abdulaziz. Bourguiba visited Saudi Arabia in 1951, i.e. before Tunisia’s independence, and he said the king financially helped him to achieve independence from French colonization.

During their meeting, King Abdulaziz told Bourguiba: “Walk in a slow speed toward independence. Don’t fall into what Arabs got involved in, from rushing things to clashing and struggling among each other. All’s well that ends well.”

Bourguiba stayed the course on what was beneficial for that era and did not adopt the approach of neutralizing everything which is usually the case with excessively emotional people. He adopted the rule of reason

Turki Aldakhil

The King’s advise

Essebsi said that this was a political meeting par excellence, adding that Bourguiba followed the king’s advice until Tunisia entered a golden age following the establishment of the state following colonization. Bourguiba stayed the course on what was beneficial for that era and did not adopt the approach of neutralizing everything which is usually the case with excessively emotional people. He adopted the rule of reason.

During the famous Le Palmarium speech, Bourguiba sat next to late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. The latter raised his index finger before the entire world, before the colonizer, the American and the imperialist – like he usually did most of the time during his empty emotional speeches. When Bourguiba spoke though, he delivered an immortal lesson in political work.

As Bourguiba put it, it’s not about delivering speeches against America but about building minds and to be able to develop technology as, for instance, we oppose Israel, there’s nothing wrong with that, but the latter has taken from global and western civilizations to develop its capabilities. Israel develops every day but we cannot resolve our ordinary matters.

He gave an example about a defect in the heater in the castle and said only the French were able to fix it as the spare parts and the method to fix it were both delivered from France. This is where we must begin from. This speech showed Qaddafi’s low level of awareness compared to an intellectual and a thinker and a politician such as Habib Bourguiba.

Political institutions

In his book “A journey during Bourguiba’s era”, which he wrote in 2012, Tunisian author Hassouna Mosbahi discussed Bourguiba’s characteristics.

“Tunisia and the Tunisians owe a lot to Bourguiba on the level of establishing the moderate state, which included reforming education and making it mandatory, and issuing laws that grant women liberty and address birth control, and on the level of foreign policy via establishing relations with all countries on the basis of a moderate policy that’s far from extremism and tensions which distinguished Arabs’ policies during his era, such as the case was with late Egyptian leader Gamal Abdelnasser and Baathist leaders in Syria and Iraq,” Mosbahi wrote.

This is the whole point. The policy which Bourguiba adopted, urbanization via phases and establishing work on the basis of independence, enabled Tunisia to tackle the major problems it faced in a critical region.

The country quickly overcame challenges thanks to the political expansion and setting up of institutions. Despite the coup against Bourguiba, his legacy was not absolutely abandoned because the model he established is the most capable.

Bourguiba belongs to the league of prominent historical characters whose legacies live for long through different eras.

This article was first published in al-Sharq al-Awsat on Dec. 20, 2016.
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Turki Aldakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and Alarabiya.net, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies. He tweets @TurkiAldakhil.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.