History of Tunisia: French Colonisation

History of Tunisia: French Colonisation Last updated on Monday 26th April 2010

The demise of piracy and the resulting loss of revenue plunged the region into economic chaos. France, Italy and Great Britain all sought to realise their imperialistic ambitions in Tunisia, and in 1881, France wielded the upper hand in the signing of the Bardo Treaty (Treaty of Kasser Said), which acknowledged Tunisia as a French protectorate.

During the late 1880s a group of French settlers colonised the region along the northern coast. They began opening businesses and exerted a strong Western influence on the hitherto Arab culture. Although the bey was still Tunisia's nominal ruler, the country was effectively governed by a French resident general. Despite some unrest by local patriotic movements, Tunisia remained a French protectorate until 1956.

During the Second World War, Tunisia supported the Vichy government which ruled France after its capitulation to the Nazis in 1940. Allied forces landed in Algeria and Morocco and there was fierce fighting between the Allies and the German forces, resulting in Germany's capitulation in north Africa in 1943. Control of Tunisia was immediately handed over to the Free French and the reigning bey was arrested as a German collaborator. This exacerbated bad feeling against the French authorities and eventually resulted in a renewal of nationalist unrest.

Violent resistance to French rule boiled up in 1954. The French premier, Pierre Mendes-France, arrived in July of that year to attempt conciliation and, after lengthy negotiations, France promised the protectorate full internal autonomy under a Tunisian government. France was to retain control of foreign policy and defence, however.

This proposition proved acceptable to the nationalist leaders and the first all-Tunisian government was set up in September 1954. Not all nationalists were content with the new regime, however, and pressed for even greater independence. In March 1956, a treaty was signed in Paris, invalidating the Bardo Treaty of 1881, and recognising Tunisia as a sovereign state, ruled as a constitutional monarchy under the bey.

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