Several thousand Tunisians gathered on Habib Bourguiba avenue today to celebrate Tunisia’s 56th independence day. Parents brought children, politicians came out to greet supporters and political groups rallied their messages up and down the avenue which a little more than a year ago was the site of major protests that led to the departure of former Tunisian President Zine El Abddine Ben Ali.
Independence day brings mixed feelings for many Tunisians. While the day officially marked the end of the French colonial period, and the beginning of an era where Tunisia was recognized as a modern state, it also began an era of authoritarian rule. One political group was out distributing signs with photos of Tunisia’s first President and leader of the independence movement, Habib Bourguiba. “This is your worst nightmare,” the signs read.
Mohammed, a restaurant owner, said that even after Independence and the Tunisian Revolution he doesn’t feel like Tunisia is a truly independent country. “I don’t believe that Tunisia is really independent, before the Revolution I knew we were controlled by France. Now we are controlled by Qatar or America– I don’t really know and it does not matter, we are not really independent,” he said.
For Emna Mnif, one of the founding members of the left-leaning Afek Tounes Party and a leader of the Kolna Tounes movement, Independence day has greater significance. ”This is a symbolic day for all Tunisians and should not be celebrated by just a fraction of the people,” she said. “We are also here to defend the state’s civil character, our democratic values, the values of the republic, and the rights and duties of all of us,” she added.
On March 20th, 1956 the then leader of the Tunisian Independence movement, Habib Bourguiba, signed a protocol with the French government annulling the 1881 and 1883 agreements of a protectorate with France. This protocol marked the end of the French colonial period in Tunisia.