Bourguiba’s statue symbolically reinstalled in Tunis

Sunday 05/06/2016
Habib Bourguiba’s statue after it was reinstalled on avenue bearing his name

TUNIS - The statue of Tunisia’s first president Habib Bour­guiba was restored to its original pedestal on June 1st, the 61st anniversary of his return from exile in France.
Bourguiba loyalists cried as they witnessed the twist of destiny near­ly 30 years after the statue had been moved from the centre of Tunis to a suburb. Others, however, saw the transfer of the statue as a bid by Tu­nisia’s leaders to promote unity as the country faces high unemploy­ment, jihadist threats and regional upheaval.
“Bourguiba is the father who gave me the freedom to go to school, to live free and divorce the man I do not like. God bless his soul,” shout­ed a young woman with tears in her eyes.
Asked her name, she said: “A Tu­nisian daughter of Bourguiba”.
Mohamed Bejaoui, 32, however, said he was disgusted with the cer­emony. “The authorities wasted Tunisia’s money for a nonsensical move,” he said. “The money spent on this statue would have been bet­ter gone on job creation or equip­ment for hospitals in remote areas.”
When asked about those tearfully admiring the statue, Bejaoui said: “I do not understand that. I cannot feel their strong emotions.”
Tunisian President Beji Caid Es­sebsi, who often says he is a disci­ple of Bourguiba, unveiled a marble plaque on the statue that said: “The statue of Habib Bourguiba was re­turned to its place on June 1, 2016.”
Bourguiba returned from France in 1955 after talks on Tunisia’s in­dependence and was welcomed by huge crowds in central Tunis to de­clare Tunisia a free country. June 1st is now celebrated as Victory Day in Tunisia.
“I was a small schoolboy when he came back. A sea of Tunisians wel­comed him. People joined hands and moved him across this street where his statue is erected now. It gave me some confidence and trust in the future to see his statue back here,” said Mohamed Jouini, a trader at the Kasbah, the old city of Tunis.
“After they moved away his stat­ue, I felt its absence like a black hole on my mind. All this must teach all of us a lesson: Nothing remains ex­cept what is essential to improve hu­man situations,” he said.
Bourguiba was replaced by his prime minister, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, on November 7th, 1987, after doctors declared him, at 82 years of age, incapacitated. His statue was removed from Habib Bourguiba Av­enue in central Tunis to the port city of La Goulette, 10km from Tunis.
The statue was returned to the street where thousands of people gathered on January 14th, 2011, to chant “Game over” hours before Ben Ali left the country for exile in Saudi Arabia.
“Habib Bourguiba came to power a humble man and was gone with­out any money. He owned eight olive trees at the beginning of his presidency in 1956. He had no penny beside that when he died in 2000,” said Makthri Salah, 78, a retired mil­itary officer.
“He is not like the leaders of Tu­nisia now. Bourguiba was a man of strong values. If our current lead­ers own one-tenth of his values, the country would be more stable and prosperous.”
Not everybody among the crowd surrounding the statue agreed. “If Bourguiba did not hoard money, it is just because as a dictator he be­lieved he owned the whole coun­try,” said Slim Agrebi, 34-year-old accountant, as he joined the im­promptu debate about the former president.