(Habib Bourguiba, one man, one century)
by Pierre-Albin Martel
On 7 November, 1987, after thirty years of unchallenged power, the first president of the Tunisian Republic was declared unable to perform the duties of his office. Thus ends the career of an exceptional leader whose fate is identified with the history of his country. Born in Monastir in 1901, Habib Bourguiba, in the early 1930s, as a young lawyer, became involved in the national movement. A great orator, he gradually won over and galvanised the Tunisian people. Supporter of the agreement with France, he succeeded in securing domestic autonomy and then independence, proclaimed on 20 March, 1956. Thereafter, undertaking comprehensive reforms, the foremost among them being the empowerment of women, he was determined to make Tunisia a modern country, open to the outside world, especially the West. The ageing leader's last years as head of state were marred by illness and succession struggles as well as increasing social tensions. He last days were spent in his hometown, enjoying the attention of his successor and the respect of his people. No one will forget the charismatic dimension of this extraordinary statesman.