THE French Union, the successor to the French Empire, is composed under the Constitution of 1946 of France and four categories of overseas dependencies. There are the overseas departments (Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana and Réunion) which are completely assimilated to the administrative units of metropolitan France. There are the former colonies, now overseas territories. There also are two types of communities with a separate existence recognized in international law: the associated territories, or trustee areas, under the control of the United Nations (Togo and Cameroun); and the associated states, possessing their own political governments. Viet-Nam, Laos and Cambodia have requested and obtained membership in the French Union as associated states. But the Protectorates of Tunisia and Morocco are voluntarily remaining apart.

These two protected states, the subject of this article, do have a place in the French Union, but they can acquire the status of associated states only by special acts of adherence to the Constitution. Now the French Parliament voted this Constitution without consulting the Bey of Tunisia and the Sultan of Morocco, and certain of its democratic and lay principles are not compatible with the theocratic basis of power of these two Moslem sovereigns. As a result, the Tunisian and Moroccan nationalist parties which are now demanding independence contemplate a future alliance of their countries with France, but not integration into the French Union.

French relations with the two states in question are regulated by the treaties of El Bardo and La Marsa, signed with the Bey of Tunis in 1881 and 1883 respectively, and the treaty of Fez, signed in 1912 with the Sultan of Morocco. The treaties, imposed by force, kept the reigning dynasties on their thrones but deprived them of actual power. The French Residents-General, charged with counseling the sovereigns, in fact assumed the duties of the rulers, while functionaries set up direct administration. It thus can be said that the protectorate system has been perverted in spirit as well as practice, so much so, indeed, that although independence may be the supreme aim, local opinion in fact welcomes any reform correcting the wrongs that have grown up.

Tunisian and Moroccan nationalists today earnestly solicit the replacement of existing treaties with new texts, which would be the product of discussions between France and the local sovereigns and freely accepted by the latter. But the Quai d'Orsay rejects the idea of revision and will permit reforms only within the framework of the protectorate. This is a difficult position to support. The protectorate system flourished at a time when the West was talking in an authoritarian manner to Turkey and Egypt and the "Tunis question" was reviving Franco-Italian rivalry. How could provisions applicable in those days remain workable after a war which has liberated Pakistan, Syria and Egypt and stirred the nationalism of all the non-autonomous Moslem peoples? And tomorrow independence for Libya will accentuate the paradoxical contrast between the status of that area and the Barbary protectorates. Whether one likes it or not, the problem is there and cannot be by-passed.

The problems of the two protectorates are not identical in detail. In Tunisia a third of the population lives in cities and small market towns; there is no tribal structure, no native feudalism, but instead an important urban middle class which gives the lead to opinion in the countryside. Tunisians are not very combative and only rarely indulge in city riots, as happened in 1938. In Morocco, on the other hand, the rural Berbers remain the dominant body. The French administration, while supporting the Sultan's authority, has upheld the powerful feudal system of the lords of the Atlas mountains. The last and most powerful of the grand caids, El Glaoui, could, if the occasion were to arise, revive the old Berber secessionist spirit. According to his followers, he could raise some 300,000 rifles against the Sultan.

It is in Tunisia, where fresh Western influences are strong, that public opinion has demanded substantial reforms most forcefully. The principal nationalist party, the Neo-Destour (Constitutional), is campaigning effectively for its claims under the leadership of an able lawyer, Habib Bourguiba. His stay in Cairo not only put him in contact with the leaders of the Arab League, but has enabled him to judge France's rôle in proper perspective. The party man has given way to the statesman.

During the course of a visit to Paris in April 1950 Habib Bourguiba formulated a seven-point program. It included the revival of the Tunisian executive as the trustee of sovereignty; the formation of a homogeneous Tunisian government responsible for public order and headed by a Tunisian prime minister designated by the sovereign; the suppression of the general secretariat, which is directed by a French functionary with control over the prime minister and, in actual fact, full administrative authority; the suppression of the civil inspectors who have replaced the caids; the elimination of the French gendarmerie which is responsible to the Ministry of National Defense and supports the military occupation; the establishment of elected municipal bodies, with French interests represented, in all areas with French minorities; and finally, the creation of a national assembly elected by universal suffrage, to be charged with drawing up a democratic constitution defining future Franco-Tunisian relations based upon respect for the legitimate interests of France and for Tunisian sovereignty.

The realization of such a program would mean complete Tunisian independence. France would have no guarantee, but she would have the virtual certainty of coöperation based on geographic necessity. The Neo-Destour leader had no illusions as to the immediate acceptance of the program, though it makes his final objective plain. In fact, he declared his willingness to have the plan given effect gradually, on condition that the Resident General and the Bey agree upon the nature and duration of the stages.

The plan gained important support when the French Socialist Party approved a resolution voted by the Socialist Federation of Tunisia in December 1949. This resolution demanded negotiations between the French Government and qualified Tunisian representatives to set the date when the Protectorate will end and fix the successive steps toward sovereignty and independence. It also called for agreement upon needed social legislation, and for a treaty of association to coördinate national defense, foreign policy, and economic and cultural relations on a footing of equality. Thus for the first time a leading French Party, with members in the Government, publicly accepted the idea of Tunisian independence.

The result was that the Tunisian situation, which had more or less been ignored by French opinion, became a question of the day. The Government instructed the new Resident General, Louis Périllier, a man of much ability, to work out with the Bey how to increase the number and authority of the Tunisian members of his Cabinet and develop internal autonomy. The program announced by Périllier on June 13, 1950, was received with general favor in Tunisia. The local French population, however, reacted against it strongly. The French section of the representative assembly--the Grand Council--resigned, and the union of French civil servants voted a formal protest. As in the past, the attempt at reform ran up against the blind egoism not only of the rich colonials with preponderant influence but even of lesser people who in one way or another saw their prerogatives threatened.

This atmosphere was not favorable for the negotiations. Nevertheless, the Bey, in agreement with the Resident, agreed to replace the Cabinet of M. Mustapha Kaak, which had been imposed by the French administration, by a united Tunisian Cabinet presided over by an able businessman, Sidi M'Hamed Chenik. The new team had once worked with Bey Mohammed Moncef, who had been dethroned by order of General Giraud in May 1943 and who had died in exile five years later, in Tunisian eyes a martyr.

The new Cabinet for the first time was made up of as many Tunisian ministers as French directors. It was to negotiate, in the name of the Bey, "institutional changes which were to bring Tunisia by successive stages to internal autonomy." The terms of the understanding were defined in a communiqué of the Resident General of August 17, 1950. France agreed to the final objective, the Tunisians to the stages. The matter assumed added historical importance when the Neo-Destour party authorized its Secretary-General, M. Salah Ben Youssef, to take the portfolio of Justice. Though M. Habib Bourguiba did not participate he signified his concurrence.

On his arrival in Tunis in June 1950 M. Périllier had announced three structural reforms: priority for Tunisians in access to administrative offices; a democratic communal régime; and restoration of the personality of the government. Despite the importance of the first two provisions, which are indispensable for any evolution toward autonomy, Tunisian opinion set its heart most of all on the establishment of governmental status as a matter of prestige. French opposition to this, however, was intense. Foreign Minister Schuman saw the need for major reforms, and had the support in the Cabinet of the Socialists and of his friends of the M.R.P. But he clashed sharply with the Radicals and various conservatives. Thus encouraged, the opposition elements in Tunisia stiffened and sent their friends in France into action. A cry was raised for the defense of "French interests." Valuable support came from General Juin, who was hostile to any change in Tunisia which might encourage similar claims in Morocco and thereby compromise, in his view, the military security of North Africa. There ensued a debate concerning the Atlantic Pact and its bearing on the problems we have been considering.

This campaign in France affected M. Périllier in Tunisia. His zeal slackened, and his Secretary-General, whose powers were at stake, let the Tunisian ministers know in humiliating, bullying terms that he would not tolerate any question of his supremacy. Former Prime Minister Kaak, who was most obnoxious to the Destour, was appointed to the French delegation to the United Nations without consultation with the Prime Minister. A certain caid received the Legion of Honor just when his minister was preparing to reprimand him for breach of trust. The whole Tunisian administration was paralyzed.

Four months had passed and no effective solution had appeared when the Resident-General announced on October 7 that it seemed to him "time to give politics a pause," and to accord priority "to human problems of economic and social reconstruction." Each time the Administration wants to block political reforms it invokes the priority of economic and social matters. The Tunisians made their bitter disappointment clear by keeping at a distance from the Resident-General during the course of his trip through the country.

M. Bourguiba meanwhile multiplied his contacts with political groups and official personages in Paris, pointing out to them the inconsistencies and dangers of the policy being pursued. A serious incident that took place at Enfidaville supported his view. On November 20, contrary to the Administration's promises, the police force was called to bring some striking farmers back to work. When the strikers stoned them the police opened fire; seven were killed, about 50 wounded and about 100 arrested. Passers-by far from the scene of the conflict were machine-gunned. At the funeral services the Tunisian Minister of Labor denounced the action as an inadmissible attack in connection with "a legitimate strike."

The Destourians pointed out that whenever a policy of reform was begun outbreaks of violence would offer a convenient excuse to interrupt it. The Quai d'Orsay saw the need for concessions, and the pourparlers were resumed. They proceeded slowly, however, and it was feared that the Neo-Destour executive committee would force M. Salah Ben Youssef to resign. At this point the Secretary-General, M. Vimont, decided to resign his post, apparently disavowing his chief, the Resident-General. Fortunately, M. Périllier and M. Bourguiba kept their heads, and this unusual action of a career diplomat had only limited consequences. Just when the situation seemed most serious agreement was reached.

The agreement was ratified by the French Government on February 7, 1951, and received the seal of the Bey the next day. The Council of Ministers is not to have a greater number of Tunisian ministers than French representatives, in spite of the wishes of the Neo-Destour Party; but the Resident-General will henceforth give the Presidency to the Prime Minister. The Council's decisions will be submitted to the Bey for his seal as decrees. Thus the sovereignty of the Tunisian state has been affirmed, in accordance with the basic claims of the nationalists. In exceptional circumstances, however, such as war, the Resident-General will have the right to convene a High Committee which will consult with the government on the measures to be taken. Thus though the Resident-General will not preside over the Council of Ministers, even in times of crisis, his authority will have substantial safeguards. He will also preside over a budgetary committee charged with arbitrating the differences between French and Tunisian sections of the Grand Council regarding financial problems. The creation of these two bodies, to function beside the Council of Ministers, reconciles the assertion of permanent Tunisian sovereignty with the effective intervention of the Resident-General in critical situations.

In addition to presiding over the Council, the Prime Minister may propose laws and decrees for submission for the seal of the Bey; coördinate the activities of ministries, directorates and commissariats; and keep general administration "under his authority." The big question was the rôle of the Secretary-General. Would he continue to exercise independent control of personnel and expenditures or would he be under the Prime Minister's authority? A compromise was reached. The Secretary-General is placed "beside" the Prime Minister and will assist him in all his activities as head of general administration, keeping him informed of all his activities. He becomes the "highest functionary of the Tunisian Government" and assistant to the Prime Minister; but the Prime Minister remains the head. The main axis of Tunisian sovereignty is thus clearly affirmed. The Secretary-General will no longer sign administrative decisions--a prerogative which the Tunisians much resented as placing them under his guardianship. The Resident-General will have the controlling hand.

The powers of the French civil servants will not be altered, but in the future "top" posts will be shared equally between Frenchmen and Tunisians, and the Bey's subjects will have a right to two-thirds of the "intermediate" positions and three-quarters of the "subordinate" positions. French candidates for employment in the two latter categories can be confirmed only after giving evidence of a knowledge of Arabic sufficient to enable them to carry on simple conversation on subjects of everyday life concerned with their work. Thus Tunisians will have wide access to positions in the administration and the Arab language will have the basic place it always should have had.

These reforms have great significance. As the Resident-General has declared, "by a substitution of guarantees Tunisian aims will receive satisfaction while at the same time French interests are fully safeguarded." Beyond doubt the agreement will please neither those who have held preponderant power in Algeria, to whom the news came as a disagreeable surprise, nor the intractable Pan-Arabs of the Old-Destour Party; nor will it please the Communists who are hostile to any Franco-Tunisian understanding. But M. Salah Ben Youssef has not hidden his satisfaction, and it is shared by enlightened Frenchmen who are convinced that if this arrangement is loyally accepted the evolution toward Algerian autonomy can proceed amicably.


In Morocco the situation is brutally clear. General Juin, who is being mentioned for a leading rôle in NATO, was still, as these lines were written, Resident-General there. Born in Algeria and trained in Africa, General Juin looks on the Moroccans as agitators and feels that France should maintain her prerogatives in North Africa unimpaired even if she must use force to do it. He has clashed with the Sultan, Mohammed Ben Youssef, an intelligent and able man about 40 years of age, who makes the best use he can of the limited powers left to him by the Protectorate by refusing to sign the dahirs--decrees having the force of law--or in delaying signing them. Without his signature they are valueless. Although the Sultan refrains from demonstrations, it is known that his sympathies and those of his son, Moulay Hassan, spokesman for the youth of the country, are with the nationalist group, the Istiqlal (Independence) Party, which demands the freedom and unity of Morocco as "a constitutional and democratic monarchy guaranteeing democratic and individual liberties, notably freedom of religious belief."

But though the Sultan has proclaimed that "the time of democracy has come," the kind of democracy he seems to have in mind would be founded on concessions granted to the people, in the name of Islam, by a theocratic monarchy. "Islam," the Sultan has declared, "will continue to be the guide of our conscience and will require us to discharge our duties toward humanity. Is that not true democracy?" The Istiqlal, which is recruited mainly from the upper bourgeoisie, has pointed out that the democratic régime which it demands will be "comparable to the governmental régimes adopted in Oriental Moslem countries." This is not very reassuring.

The Moroccan nationalists have neither sought contacts with the French nor admitted the possibility of gradual progress toward autonomy. They are intransigent and aloof, and confine themselves to ineffective opposition. Some have even condemned the conciliatory position of M. Habib Bourguiba in Tunis. But they have finally realized that the Tunisian leader's campaign in Paris widened popular interest in the problems of Morocco as well as Tunis and they admit that certain partial reforms would be welcome.

Morocco in fact lives under a truly dictatorial régime. Labor has no rights to organize in unions, as in Tunisia, and there is no freedom of assembly. The press is subject to strict censorship. General Juin recently forbade the publication of a declaration by M. Schuman and even suppressed his photograph. Newspapers of the metropolitan area are seized if they contain comments considered unorthodox, whereas the Residency can spread news of the most questionable nature in its own press without fear of contradiction. Direct administration, explicitly condemned by Lyautey, is widely practised. There is no truly representative assembly, and the State Council is peopled by creatures of the Residency. The power of the French element is much greater than in Tunisia. If a Resident-General moves toward a democratic policy, as did General Juin's predecessor, Ambassador Eirik Labonne, the coalition of colonials, officers and civil servants provokes such a furor that his position becomes untenable.

General Juin's policy has put relations between the Palace and the Residency under a severe strain. The soldier, accustomed to give orders, has been irritated by the Sultan's tenacious resistance. There are signs that he looks on the overthrow of the Bey Moncef, which he helped bring about, as a salutary precedent. The occasion for such a step has not arisen, though the situation became tense after the Sultan's trip to France in October 1950. In conversations with the President of the Republic, the sovereign demanded the abrogation of the Protectorate; and on its own authority the Quai d'Orsay created a mixed commission to study the problem at Rabat. But an inquiry "at Rabat" would be under the control of the Residency and cloaked in silence--in other words, powerless. Nevertheless the question had been put; it could not be banished as long as the Istiqlal continued to exist and the Sultan continued to reign.

General Juin carried on the fight on two fronts. The Communist Party, profiting by the timidity of the Socialist Federation of Morocco, had taken up the nationalist claims to advance their own ends. The press said this showed collusion between them and the Istiqlal, even though the Istiqlal repudiated the Communist support. The legend that the Istiqlal is "Communist" has been carefully spread in France and other countries, especially the United States. At the same time, the Moroccan newspapers denounce the nationalists as bourgeois and feudal. At the opening of the Moroccan session of the State Council on December 6, 1950, General Juin replied sharply to M. Lyazidi, a former French army officer and President of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce representing industry and the workers, who had spoken out strongly against the way the Protectorate was functioning, and requested him to desist from further criticism there. A week later he expelled from the Assembly a prominent merchant of Fez, M. Laghzaoui, without permitting him either to read his report on public works or to request an adjournment to settle the incident. The nine other members of the Istiqlal then also left the hall.

General Juin still had to deal with the Sultan, a more difficult task because of his great prestige and the religious character of his office. The Residency decided to call upon the old guard--the grand caids. El Glaoui was brought into the dispute to prove to Mohammed Ben Youssef that, if need be, a Sultan from the south could be used to replace him. El Glaoui, the pasha of Marrakech, is under great obligations to the administration, which allows him a free hand in levying forced "presents" and collecting taxes. This feudal lord, much hated in Morocco, was called the champion of the Berber and Moslem traditions against the impious innovations of the Sultan. On December 21 he vehemently reproached the Sultan for connivance with the Istiqlal. Sidi Mohammed replied by forbidding El Glaoui access to the Palace, with the timehonored formula of disgrace. In the incident El Glaoui received support only from caids and pashas whose power would crumble if the Residency withdrew its favor--as would his own. The Oulémas, doctors of law who have the prerogative of electing the Sultan, resisted official pressure and remained loyal to Sidi Mohammed. A few days later, General Juin, in company with the Pasha of Marrakech but without any representatives of the Sultan, presided over a great assemblage of Zaiane Berber tribes, giving the appearance of official support for a caid in revolt against his sovereign.

The move did not produce the expected results. The conservative press of France suggested that the Sultan could avoid forced abdication only by condemning the Istiqlal. However, the Quai d'Orsay did not want another "Moncefist" incident and bloodshed. The newspaper of Foreign Minister Schuman's own party expressed its opposition to such a course in forthright terms --and was promptly banned in Morocco. To make the Government's position clear, the Foreign Minister declared on February 2 that the conversations between the French and a sovereign who had always rendered great services to France were continuing, that they must continue, and that there was no question of abdication. The disavowal of the Resident-General though circumspect seemed nonetheless formal. But the matter did not end there. General Juin persuaded President Auriol to address a letter to the Sultan advising him that the General had the full backing of the Government. On February 25 the Sultan capitulated, issued a declaration condemning the Istiqlal, and signed some 40 decrees. For the time being, at any rate, the attempt to liberalize the French rule in Morocco had been defeated.

These events have made plain that even a Resident-General who desired to do so could not chart a liberal policy for Morocco unless the political status of the country were radically altered. There is another consideration. Islam, as Marshal Lyautey said, is a "sounding board" from which news is amplified throughout all the area from Morocco to Java. The Moslems of the world feel a solidarity with the threatened Sultan. The Arab League and the congress of Karachi have proclaimed this sense of solidarity. France, the Christian Power whose territory contains the largest number of Moslems, has nothing to gain from such a state of affairs. Nor will the problem be solved, as some pretend, by merely considering it against the background of the Atlantic Pact.

The North African theater is certainly vital strategically. But it will not be made secure by repressive measures against nationalist agitation there. The United States must not be persuaded to overlook questions of principle and signify its support for the elimination of troublesome elements, conveniently baptized Communists. A people's loyalty cannot be imposed by sanctions but must be won by needed reforms. The example of the agreement reached in Tunis will have a better effect in Morocco than calling in El Glaoui as a counterweight to the sovereign. France's strength will depend upon the boldness with which she leads the former colonial peoples toward federalism. Their bonds with her are mainly cultural, but these are so strong that she has no reason to fear that if they are free they will desert her.

With the lessons of Syria and Indo-China before it, French opinion understands this better perhaps than do the politicians. On the day Tunisia and Morocco realize that a close relationship with France is completely compatible with their autonomy, the legal obstacles on which the nationalists now lay so much stress will have no further importance. This will mark the advent of a true French Union.

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  • CHARLES-ANDRÉ JULIEN, Professor of History at the Sorbonne, Counsellor of the French Union; author of "Histoire de l'Afrique du Nord"
  • More By Charles-André Julien