Farhat Hached And The Struggle For Tunisian Independence – 3; 1952 Tunisia’s Year Of Agony
1952 – Tunisia’s Year of Agony
(this is a translation from French of a commentary on the Toulon League of Human Rights website about the situation in Tunisian 1952, the year that Farhat Hached was assassinated. See the note and commentary below the translation)
By the year 1952 Tunisia found itself in the grips of French protectorate imposed by France through military conquest, the parameters of which were defined by the May 12, 1881 Treaty of Kasr Said, further elaborated by the La Marsa Convention of June 8, 1883. Under the cover of legislation defining France as `state protector’ and Tunisia as a `protected territory’, the de facto relationship between France and Tunisia at that time could that of occupier and occupied. Tunisia’s `military security’ was `provided’ by France. France dominated Tunisia legislatively, administratively and judicially, including overseeing that portion of the indigenous legal structure left in tact by France.
The French resident general held the power both to issue degrees and to annul decisions taken at more local levels. Beys challenging the resident general’s views could be stripped of their power and exiled – as was the case of Bey Moncef in 1943. Likewise, the Tunisian prime minister could also be fired, arrested or exiled for opposing the resident general’s decision as transpired in 1952.
None of the reforms undertaken since the Treaties of 1881, 1883 fundamentally modified these mechanisms of control and domination, the essence of which is an occupation. Then in 1951, the French authorities reneged on their prior promises to transfer power and sovereignty to Tunisia in response to demands for independence coming from Tunisian activists. On December 15, 1951, the Council of Ministers (in Paris) adopted a position paper opposing the transfer of powers to the local Tunisian authorities and affirmed `the definitive nature’ (le caractere definitif) defining French-Tunisian relations, as a result of which, Tunisia would continue indefinitely as a French `protectorate’. The paper re-affirmed France’s authority over Tunisia
The December 15, 1951 position paper met with opposition both within Tunisia and beyond. On April 2, 1952, eleven Afro-Asian countries submitted a note to the Secretary General of the United Nations asking that the question of Tunisia be addressed by the Security Council noting that `The military occupation of Tunisia by the French government begun in the last century for what was supposed to be a limited time frame, continues until today’.
Even Vincent Auriol, president of the French Republic at the time, writing in his diary on December 3, 1952 that `Now and for a very long time, Tunisia has been under the direct control of France.’
1952: Fighting and Armed Clashes
As a result of these developments the political situation in Tunisia quickly polarized, deteriorating into open confrontation and armed clashes. On December 24, 1951, Robert Schumann, France’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs appointed Jean de Hauteclocque as the French resident general to Tunisia. Hauteclocque enjoyed the full support of both of Schumann and French prime ministers Edgar Faure and Antoine Pinay throughout 1952. Hautecloque had the leaders of Tunisia’s independence movement arrested, Between January 16-18, 1952 Habib Bourguiba and other leaders of Tunisia’s independence party, the Neo-Destour, were put under house arrest; another 500 leaders of the independence movement, among a larger number thrown in jail, were subjected to torture during their detention.
Protest demonstrations broke out throughout the country which were put down by harsh repression. It was under these harsh conditions that Farhat Hached, head of the General Union of Tunisian Workers (Union Generale des Travailleurs Tunisiens) emerged as the leader of the independence movement as well.
Demonstrations quickly spread throughout northern Tunisia. On January 17, 1952 at Ferryville (now Menzel Bou Raqaybah, not far from Bizerte), three independence demonstrators were killed, 50 wounded. The next day, January 18, in Tunis a demonstrator was killed, and then on the 19th six were shot down in Mateur, 3 in Nabeul and again, one more in Tunis. That same day, south of Tunis on the coast at Sousse, 8 demonstrators were shot down, 8 more machine gunned by the French authorities in Tunis on the following day, January 20. The French government had decided to `set an example.’ It was not simply a question of neutralizing independence activists but to intimidate the entire Tunisian population, and in addition to confiscate the arms Tunisians had collected as Germans withdrew in panic from Tunisia in 1943.
Shortly thereafter, between January 28 and February, French repression intensified and took on an even more brutal quality, so much so that protests were lodged not only in Tunisia but in France and elsewhere internationally. The French Army, and in particular, those serving in the French Foreign Legion, were accused of engaging in mass rape and killing small children on the one hand and in the systematic destruction of homes, furniture, food supplies and theft of private property.
According to Georgette Elgey, historian,
“The campaign of terror (ratissage) conducted on Cap Bon (peninsula jutting out to the south and east of Tunis) between January 28-February 1, 1952 was an example of war in all its cruelty. It resulted in more than 200 deaths, numerous wounded and many homes dynamited. The facts are undeniable. General Garbay, in charge of the Cap Bon offensive, commented that `rape is a part of Tunisian folklore’ and that women so victimized were `proud’ to have been raped’
An on-site investigation done by two members of the MRP, published as `Le Drame Tunisien’ – Cahiers de Temoignage Chretien, (XXXIV, May 1952 pp 37-43) echoed Elgey’s figures, claiming that 200 Tunisians had been killed many more wounded. According to a declaration of the Tunisian government made on March 6 of that year, `a double kidnapping-rape took place in the Maktar region (central mountains) just after the Cap Bon terror campaign. `According to the doctors who treated her, Drs Ben Salim and Materia, one of the rape victims was a 12 year old, pre-puberty girl.’ In response to these provocations, armed attacks against French colonial targets only multiplied.
The situation continued – a virtual state of war between the French colonial authorities and the Tunisian people – on into March. On March 6, 1952, Antoine Pinay was installed as French Prime Minister. On March 27 Tunisian prime minister Mohammed Chenik and other Tunisian ministers were arrested along with several thousand supporters of Tunisian independence, incidents mentioned in a telegram from the president of the [French] republic. An attack on the main post office in Tunis followed, leaving four dead and a dozen wounded. A curfew was imposed on the medina in Tunis (Arab Quarter) after an explosion at police headquarters in that city killed one and wounded several others. On July 2, the `Residence’ (headquarters of the Resident General) announced that more than 2000 Tunisians had been arrested and were in prison. Many were tortured, something as much as admitted by the president of France who commented, `Do you realize that many of the confessions used to indict others were secured through torture? Do you know that proof of torture exists? Do you know that several interrogation sessions resulted in arms’ confiscations?
Countering the denials made by certain French parliamentarians, on June 5, 1952, Robert Verdier commented:
`Let us suppose some of the reports are exaggerated. Still, there are the reports in the French media, also from the French military authorities that the destruction of homes on Cap Bon were not accidental, to the contrary that they were one of the goals of the operation. It is admitted that the heart of the matter was the intimidation of the inhabitants of these regions (Cap Bon and the northeast). These allegations cannot be contested because they are found in the French military reports. Beyond that there were a series of actions whose purpose was to neutralize the voices of the unions and political parties. Mass arrests and police raids continue. There are widespread indications of confessions won through torture. Someone arrested for no reason (par surprise) is kept imprisoned for several weeks, two months, in what are referred to as small jails (petites geoles) which are police prisons. During his imprisonment all contacts with the outside world are forbidden, including with his family, with a lawyer. A system of collective punishment is promoted against the small towns and villages. I insist that all that is true and it harkens back to recent harsh times here in France (during the Nazi occupation).’(From the Official Journal of the National Assembly of the French Republic – firstmeeting – June 15, 1952. p. 2654)
`The situation [in Tunisia] has deteriorated day by day; it is the brutal measures [of the French colonial authorities] that provoke violence and assassination attempts and then the assassination attempts provoke reprisals on our [the French] part. Haven’t we already had enough of this in Indochina?’
(Note: The Toulon Chapter (France) of the League for Human Rights has written a brief description the situation in Tunisia at the time of his Farhat Hached’s assassination by the French authorities (La Main Rouge – the Red Hand) at the end of 1952. A link to their remarks is found at the Toulon Human Rights League website from where I copied it. It is in French, but it is possible to get an English translation on line. Unfortunately I found the translation somewhat weak and so I did my own translation which I include above. There were a few sentences I had difficulty coming up with an exact translation, otherwise, it is – in my own modest estimate – not bad as translations go. The French original is included for those interested. 1952 – Tunisia -Hached Fr
In my previous entry on Hached, I eluded to the tense situation that existed in Tunisia at the time of Farhat Hached’s assassination. What is written there is, actually, something of an understatement. The country was through most of the year 1952 engaged in full armed conflict with France pursuing a policy of repression similar to what it would soon engage in against the partisans in Algeria. French policy included collective punishment , mass arrests, pervasive use of torture, mass rape (in the case of the French offensive on Cap Bon [the peninsula jutting out into the Mediterranean south and east of Tunis) and extensive house demolition. Targeted assassination was a part of the plan as well. Most of these features are similar to Israeli tactics against the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, so much so that – minus the mass rape – one has to wonder if French actions in Algeria and Tunisia didn’t provide the basis for Israeli occupation policies and tactics against the Palestinians there. Nor is it accidental that French actions in North Africa – specifically the film the Battle of Algiers - are used today in the US military as examples of how to `combat terrorism’, although it was the terrorism of the French - pervasive and widespread - in Algeria and Tunisia that needs to be studied.
As one probes the movement for Tunisian independence of which the life and assassination of Farhat Hached was such an integral part, another myth explodes: that, in contrast to the agony of Algeria, the path to independence in Tunisia was relatively smooth, that France gave up Tunisia `easily’ and that it was `a peaceful’ transition. True, the levels of violence in Tunisia were not as unspeakably intense, nor was the time frame of the armed struggle as long; still, the process through which Tunisia won its independence from France was one of blood and tears in which its finest sons and daughters gave their lives. It was only after such harsh armed clashes, that France made the decision – based upon a cost-benefit analysis – that holding on to Tunisia was not – after a decade of war in Indochina – worth the effort. Tunisian independence did not come easily. )