Revolutionary Papers

Revolutionary Papers is a transnational research collaboration exploring 20th century periodicals of Leftanti-imperial and anti-colonial critical production. Read More


Student Union Autonomy

Life at the University: radical counter-culture

Student Political Demands

Opposition and Repression




Presented by

— Idriss Jebari
Idriss Jebari is an Assistant Professor in Middle East Studies at Trinity College Dublin who researches North African cultural history and Arab thought. (more…)

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27 February 2022

The Perspectives Tunisiennes movement was intimately linked to youth throughout its history. Founded in 1963 by Tunisian university students in Paris, it presented itself in opposition to the gerontocratic regime of the Parti Destourien Socialiste of Habib Bourguiba. In turn, it espoused the concerns of the country’s youth, which came to represent an open future and an alternative. Across the different stages of its history, the notion of “youth” (jeunesse or étudiants in French) was associated with different meaning attached to the vision of the group for the country and where it stood in confrontation with the authorities. These changing applications and meanings are explored in the following articles drawn from Perspectives’ periodical from 1963 to 1970.

Note: The full collection of the Perspectives Tunisiennes periodical was digitized by the “Association Perspectives El Amel Ettounsi” ( and made available on CDs in January 2014. They are also held at the National Library in Tunis.

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    Student Union Autonomy

    Where does the Tunisian Student Union stand?

    Born in the dorms of the Maison de la Tunisie, the Tunisian student quarters in Paris in 1963, the Groupe D’Etudes et d’Action Socialiste, ancestor of the Perspectives Tunisiennes movement was created following the rigged election of the student representatives to the Paris cell of the student union, UGET, engineered to prevent the election of leftist students to leadership. UGET had been created in 1952 to support Tunisian nationalist demands and had provided an entry point into politics for most of the Tunisian political class, many of whom studied in Paris in the French colonial era before the establishment of national universities. In 1963, UGET was at a cross road: after independence, a growing chorus of students invested this platform to challenge the authorities, which in turn sought to maintain their strong hold over the institution. The GEAST/Perspectives challenge took charge of the student union’s lack of autonomy from the Tunisian regime.

    This article was written after UGET’s 11th Congress in August 1963 during which it stated the group’s “complete satellitisation to the regime”. In this founding issue of their journal, taking on this issue as a leading topic highlights the closeness of their movement with youth questions, but also that Tunisian youth’s desire to “contribute to national development” cannot find fulfilment within regime-affiliated party structures, thus making the existence of Perspectives Tunisiennes a necessity. A year later, for the 12th UGET Congress in August 1964 in Monastir, Perspectives came back with another article reiterating their message and demanding a right to define the country’s future choices thanks to a stronger student union. 1“A propos du XIIème Congrès de l’U.G.E.T.” Perspectives Tunisiennes n.5 [1964]

    They announce their arrival on the scene with the following call for action:

    As an avant-garde, we have to choose between the following two attitudes: mission or stepping down. We are resolute in our choice for the first… in this spirit, we shall elaborate our plan of action that we shall lead within our organization to recover a life and a dynamic that have been missing of late
    — Translated extract from the article

    ▴ “Où en est l’U.G.E.T.?” Perspectives Tunisiennes n. 1 (1964)

    1. “A propos du XIIème Congrès de l’U.G.E.T.” Perspectives Tunisiennes n.5 [1964]

    On the Importance of Student Unions and Nationalism

    The critique of UGET from Paris in 1963 was a significant historical event which threatened to splinter the united national front which delivered Tunisian independence from France. The student union worked in tandem with the workers trade union (UGTT) and the nationalist political party (neo-Destour) to pressure the French authorities. Among the three countries of North Africa, Tunisia was arguably the country with the greatest alignment between the three actors while offering a clear progression path for students from the union to nationalist leadership, which then turned to official state responsibilities after independence. As Clement Moore writes: “Virtually all of the neo-Destour’s top leadership were educated in French universities” and it played its support role brilliantly from its creation in 1953 to when negotiations for independence began in late 1954 (p. 24-5). The criticism of 1963 needs to be understood in its context and for its significance: it came from the heart of Tunisian power, and in reaction to the state take-over of all independent institutions and their autonomy.

    Clement Moore explores this process in greater detail in his book: Tunisia since Independence: The Dynamics of One-Party Government (1965).


      Demanding Co-Management at the University (1964)

      Perspectives Tunisiennes was made up of students, but it drew its growing popularity by embracing issues and concerns of university students, especially those at the growing university of Tunis. As the crown jewel of the Tunisian state’s development agenda, the national university increased its student ranks every year to train the future managers of the economy and administrative elites. Through public scholarships, higher education was now accessible to Tunisians outside of the usual social groups. In his public speeches, Bourguiba spoke highly of the responsibility of the country’s educated youth. In practice, the university students felt marginalized from decision-making and infantilized by state paternalism and by the university administration. Perspectives chose to take-on the proposal for co-management at the university, in a nutshell, including student representatives as part of tripartite commissions (with the administration and faculty) to take decisions that concerned them. The keyword of co-management was to swap the “tutelage” of students “treated like minors” to one of democracy and to “train them for practical duties” and “toward responsibility”.

      In the article below, the issues proposed for co-management were: “ Scholarships” ; “Housing”; “University Dining”; along with questions of overall management of the university, such as “statutes” and “direction”. These proposals were not considered seriously by the authorities, all the white student numbers continued growing exponentially.

      ▴ “La cogestion universitaire” Perspectives Tunisiennes n. 2 (February 1964)

      ▴ “La cogestion universitaire” Perspectives Tunisiennes n. 2 (February 1964)


        “Regarding UGET’s 12th Congress” (1964)

        In light of this congress, it appears clear that we must continue to be active within this institution […] The theme of the “renaissance of UGET” was the campaign-slogan of this so-called minority [of activists] whether in Tunis or France, amid the recent elections or committees. The results are encouraging, even surprising, recorded here and there, proof that our cause addresses the aspirations of a growing number of activists within our union
        — Translated extract from the article indicating the group’s position toward the student union

        ▴ “A propos du XIIème Congrès de l’U.G.E.T.” Perspectives Tunisiennes n.5 (1964)


          “The Hour of Truth” (1967)

          At the 15th congress of the Tunisian student union, could the growing ranks of the Perspectives movement translate into better representation? The movement denounced UGET repeatedly for failing its duty toward the nine repressed students forcibly incorporated into the army. This congress was similar in many regards, and the periodical noted the atmosphere on the day of “the dictatorship of the majority” and “silence on the important questions” of interest to the student body, save for the interventions of left-wing delegates expressing a concern for “more practical matters” rather than “abstract speculation”.

          Perhaps, the most important take-away from this congress was to reaffirm the characteristics that defined the alternative to the regime-control over youth structures: the opposition was “dynamic” and “uncompromising”. They vowed to continue the struggle as this was “the only way to restore the avant-garde role for the students on the tip of the struggle for progress in Tunisia”.

          “L’U.G.E.T. à l’heure de la vérité” Perspectives Tunisiennes n. 15 (October 1967)


            “Ideological Change and Emerging Counter-Culture in Tunisian Politics” (1972)

            In 1972, the American political scientist John Entelis carried out an extensive survey among the Tunisian students in Paris and Tunis studying for law, humanities, or politics – deemed to be the future political elite of the country. Historically, the Paris cell of the Tunisian Union was a “school for nationalist politics” and an entry-point into responsibilities for the ruling party the neo-Destour. Instead, fifteen years after the country’s independence, the Entelis survey revealed that the official ideological project was losing ground to that of opposition groups. He found a general “malaise… manifested among the elites” (p. 549). These future elites were turning away from the state’s French-inspired modernization model to draw inspiration from other models: pan-Arabism and a pride in being Arab, a distrust of western imperialism and support for the Palestinian cause, or Marxist modes of thinking about the economy and society. They represented “nearly three-quarters of the general sample, and over half of the ideological sample, indicated support for a non-Destourian socialist alternative, ranging from Ba’thist socialism on the left to Islamic socialism on the right (p. 565). This important study tells us that the Perspectivistes were not alone, and they tapped into a growing feeling of discontent in the country that they could accentuate with the right leverage and tactics.

              Life at the University: radical counter-culture

              “Calling Out Ignorant Statements” (1966)

              Then came a sharp reaction to Bourguiba’s speech on the Tunisian population where he lamented that the rate of birth in the country of 2.3% risked turning Tunisia “into a country of old people” and recommended for each household to have four kids to fulfil the country’s development plan.

              Nonsense, replied Perspectives, first by revisiting the figures to dismiss the worrying assessment of poor population growth, and second, by arguing that Bourguiba’s real fear here was that of a national bourgeoisie and qualified elites would be outnumbered as they decline their rate of birth compared to the working class and rural populations.

              The question of youth today would in the long term “lead to a reversal in order for the regime’s future” as it would “bring more sons of workers and poor peasants to take up responsibility posts” away from “the sons of the bourgeoisie and privileged groups” that would advocate for policies that “serve better the real interests of the country”. Had Perspectives called out the regime’s socio-demographic engineering or over-reaching in their attacks against the regime?

              “Halte à l’inconscience et à l’irresponsabilité” Perspectives Tunisiennes n. 10 (November 1966)


                “What is the situation with the students in Tunis?” (1966)

                Few events illustrate the revival and growing political conscience of the student body in Tunis, and Perspectives’ role in it, as the conferences given by the famous French agronomist and development expert René Dumont at the faculty of humanities in February 1966. On this occasion, the students “led a large debates and took the opportunity to express themselves freely and reclaimed confidence in themselves” while giving “the Tunisian left to intervene and have its opposition applauded by the majority of students”. It served to affirm the growing ties between a youth thirsty for involvement and the Tunisian leftists as the only possible actors of their emancipation, and a growing rift with the regime’s “Destourian Socialist” line. Then, Perspectives warned the risks of keeping student voices bottled up, and the urgency of debate:

                The state’s silencing enterprise only succeeds in preventing the externalization of discontent without suppressing it. What is worse, is how this discontent accumulates and risks one day to explore without anyone being capable of controlling it, thus serving any reactionary [actor] searching for adventure
                — Translated passage from the article

                This warning turned into prophecy a few months later: on 14 December, two students fought with a bus driver after refusing to pay their tickets on their way back to campus . The “bus fare” troubles followed when their comrades protested in front of the police station. The police made fifty additional arrests. The two “trouble-makers” were incorporated in the army by suspending their military service exemption as a means to discipline them. Trouble was brewing on the horizon between youth and the regime.

                ▴ “Où en sont les étudiants de Tunis” Perspectives Tunisiennes n. 9 (May-June 1966)


                  “Ben Salah and the Government’s Education Reforms” (1968)

                  ▴ Front Page of the weekly magazine Jeune Afrique: “Ben Salah: Quelle Education?” (23-29 September 1968)


                    “The authorities set up student internships” (1970)

                    Two years go by as Perspectives struggles to recover from the Tunis trials, the jailing of their leaders, and pro-regime bands of students hounding pro-leftists on campus alongside the authorities. Perhaps the greatest threat to their presence on campus was the efforts deployed by the government to entice the student body with reforms that address their growing concerns over future employment prospects after their studies. Ahmed Ben Salah, the powerful minister and father of the “Destourian Socialist” plan, younger than most his colleagues, frequently came to engage with students directly, while explaining his reforms and drawing away support from the surviving Perspectives cells. One of his proposals for “student internships” in state factories or cooperative farms was attacked here by Perspectives, as marred by palace intrigue between various camps, but also a policy that could backfire on the regime because: “it could establish and consolidate solid ties between students and poorer classes, allowing the first to expose the objectives of the struggle they have already started against exploitation and injustice, and for the second to be part of their legitimate demands and aspirations”.

                    ▴ “Quand le pouvoir organise des ‘stages étudiants’” Perspectives Tunisiennes n. 22 (January 1970)


                      “On the ‘Privilege’ of Tunisian Students” (1970)

                      In response to student protests over their conditions of life and study, Bourguiba and the older generation of leaders of the party-state would frequently dismiss them as “privileged kids”. They accused them of being ungrateful in contrast to the older generation’s struggles to achieve the right to study at the university under French colonialism, all the while enjoying stipends and opportunities to study. Here, a student named Bechir A. (a pen name) pushes back against this accusation. Were the students truly enjoying a privilege? Instead, the student dismisses it as an orchestrated “propaganda campaign” meant to divide the students from the workers (especially the dockers) and prevent the two group from building solidarity links. Finally, the urgent task is to continue “informing the public” about the conditions of the students through a “vast explanation campaign led by everyone of us… touching all the sectors we can reach: family, neighborhood, high-school, faculty, administration, factory etc.”

                      “Qui parle du privilege des étudiants” Perspectives Tunisiennes n. 23 (April 1970)


                        Dining hall at the university of Tunis in the seventies

                        ▴ Picture shared in the Facebook group “La Tunisie d’Antan”. Direct link


                          Fethi Ben Haj Yahia’s Memories of the University (2009)

                          Book cover of Fethi Ben Haj Yahia’s memoirs al-habs kadhab wa-l-hay yrawah: waraqat min dafatir al-yasar fi al-zaman al-burqibi [papers from the book of the left in the Bourguibian era] (2009)

                          In his memoirs al-habs kadhab wa l-hay y-rawah (2009), Fethi Ben Haj Yahia describes his arrival at the humanities faculty in Tunis during the late 1960s and the coed atmosphere consistent with the atmosphere of sexual liberation. At the university, male and female students studied side by side and fought together as well within the Perspectives movement in the name of progressive ideals.

                          In fact, several married couples formed within the organization over the years such as Nourredine Ben Khedher and Dalila Ben Othman, Simone Lellouche and Ahmed Othmani, or Mohamed Charfi and Faouzia Rekik


                            On the atmosphere at the University in Tunis

                            Not more than most of my contemporaries, I did not see coming the main events of the 1960s…. I danced with joy the rock’n roll, which I considered, without seriously posing myself the question, a music of black people in continuation with jazz which I really loved, but I had no sympathy for Elvis Presley and understood nothing of the rock phenomenon […] I ignored the psychedelic fashion and the hippie phenomenon, which deserved more attention from someone who, instead of immediately rushed to change the world, was constantly trying to understand it: in this phenomenon, I did not perceive the immense component of revolt from the youth of privileged youth who were shouting to their world their refusal of their parents’ values and tried to shape a new identity, breaking from all that came before. I also welcomed with skepticism the miniskirts and smiled with condescending benevolence at what struck me as a sartorial extravagance, without seeing how feminism would start with the liberation of the body, a rejection of past modesty: on this point, I remained a bit macho, like the young man a decade earlier who was shocked to see skirts above the knee
                            — Extract from Gilbert Naccache in Qu’as tu fait de ta jeunesse? Itinéraire d’un opposant au régime de Bourguiba (1954-1979) (2009)

                            ▴ Nourredine Ben Khedher, Gilbert Naccache, Ridha Smaoui, Leyla Ben Othman, Dalila Ben Othman, Fethi Ben Haj Yahia. Picture shared by Dalila Ben Othman. Picture shared by Dalila Ben Othman. Direct link


                              Michel Foucault at the University of Tunis, 1966-8

                              As part of a cooperation agreement between France and Tunisia, the French philosopher Michel Foucault was dispatched to the University of Tunis during the escalation of youth rebellion. According to testimonies of former students, his classrooms were dynamic and eye-opening on the roots of repression and symbolic domination. He would offer testimonies in support of the arrested leftists in court, to no avail.

                              ▴ Picture shared by Le Nouvel Observateur (06 May 2021) Direct Link

                                Student Political Demands

                                “When Tunisian youth holds its meetings” (1966)

                                What were the chances and balance of power in the student movement, especially the face-off between the Perspectives leftist movement and the regime’s line? This was the underlying question of this issue’s article checking in with student politics in the summer of 1966. While providing an overview of the various political meetings and organizations representing Tunisian students, Perspectives sought to reaffirm the considerable road ahead:

                                Rhetoric and paternalism from the leadership’s side, a lack of preparation and lack of political culture from the students, those are the main features of these seminars, which will condition their impact
                                — Translated extract from the article: “Lorsque la jeunesse tunisienne tient ses assises” Perspectives Tunisiennes n. 10 (November 1966)

                                Throughout these meetings of UGET, of regional gatherings, and other institutional meetings by the regime, the objective of the authorities was clear to Perspectives “to give youth the impression they are part of the country’s march forward and convince them of the existence of some democracy” and to convince them to join the ruling party as soon as they set foot at the university.

                                From this article, three years into its existence, Perspectives appeared clear about its status as a minority actor compared to the authorities, both competing over the support of Tunisian youth. Despite their minority status, Perspectives found hope in the strength and validity of their ideas “which will triumph once the country’s whole situation would allow it” and they are “far from being defeatists”. Their objectives, as a program of action, were reiterated by the end, and their alliance with the student body stood high on the list:


                                  The “Student Question” (1966)

                                  Translated extract from the political program contained in the periodical which envisaged the passage from student issues of autonomy to emancipation and the National Revolution of the whole Tunisian people:

                                  • To struggle to achieve the effective autonomy of the student movement;
                                  • To support the working masses in their struggle for a better life;
                                  • To defend the material and moral interests of all students;
                                  • To cooperate with national organization on equal footing while respecting the political personality of each organization;
                                  • working to install a larger democracy in the country and associate the masses to the establishment of an authentically socialist society

                                  ▴ Extract drawn from “Lorsque la jeunesse tunisienne tient ses assises” Perspectives Tunisiennes n. 10 (November 1966)

                                  For more see: Idriss Jebari, “’Illegitimate Children’: The Tunisian New Left and the Student Question, 1963-1975” International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (2022).


                                    The Group Communicates after Student Protests

                                    The student body and the authorities finally came head to head over “three glorious” days in December 1966. Following the case of the “bus ticket”, two male students were arbitrarily enrolled in the army. Their comrades protested in front of the police station and the court where they were being sentenced. The whole issue of the journal was devoted to the rumbling and growing anger within the student movement. Khemais Chamari, Abdelaziz Krichene, Abdelhamid Hermassi, and five others were condemned by military courts, “their crime was to have demanded democracy”. Perspectives echoed statements of solidarity from abroad, be it sister organizations in France, Maghribi student unions, Vietnamese students, and famous personalities – including the philosopher Edgar Morin, Committed writer Daniel Guerin, or mathematician Laurent Schwartz.

                                    With the GEAST communiqué, they hoped to show the communion they now enjoyed with the student body against the repressive regime, as evidenced by the arbitrary military enrolment:

                                    Today, the left and its ideals are present in the university and will remain so. They raised among the most enlightened and aware members of this country their passion for social justice and freedom that no amount of repression can vanquish. The authorities’ attempt to present students as having been taken advantage of by a few provocateurs, and to hastily judge nine students, among them the comrade Khemais Chamari, one of the founders of “Perspectives”, to whom we have tried to officially ascribe the responsibility of these events, these attempts have been foiled by the many students who have attended their trials. Neither the strong contingent of police, nor the attempts to disperse students from the audience could prevent them from expressing their solidarity with their arrested comrades
                                    — Translated extracted from the communiqué

                                    The battle was just starting.

                                    ▴ “Communiqué du Groupe d’Etudes et d’Action Socialiste” Perspectives Tunisiennes n. 11 (January 1967)


                                      “Seasons in the History of the Tunisian Left” (2009)

                                      In this study, the Tunisian historian explores the political thought and action of the Perspectives movement at the intersection of multiple traditions of the left and the nature of their political programme in Tunisia.

                                      ▴ Abd al-Jalil Bouguerra, fusul min tarikh al-yasar al-tunisi: al-shuyu’iyun wa birsbiktif wa-l nidham al-burqibi (1963-1981) (2009)

                                        Opposition and Repression

                                        “Their crime, was not being well behaved.” (1967)

                                        Text attached to a petition: “we demand 1) the immediate release of our comrades drafted [in the army] and their reintegration at the university ; 2) the official recognition of students’ right to military service reprieve, a right based on university criteria”

                                        ▴ “Leur tort, c’est de n’avoir pas été sages. Ils ont été jugés et arbitrairement enrôlés dans l’armée” Perspectives Tunisiennes n. 13 (April 1967)


                                          The Tunisian “1968”

                                          Poster of an event organized in 2019 in Tunis to remember the Tunisian Left and 1968. Direct Link

                                          June 5th, 1967, news of the Israeli surprise attack over Egypt, Syria and Jordan reaches Tunisia. The defeat of the Arab armies sparks riots in the downtown area in Tunis that then turns to attack symbols of the “complicit states” – the British and American embassies – and then, carries antisemitic attacks in the Jewish neighborhood of the Tunisian capital. Bourguiba is incensed by these events, which he denounces on television, calling protesters “scum” for embarrassing him with foreign allies (Tunisia maintained close diplomatic alignment with the West during the Cold War despite adopting “Destourian Socialist” policies in the sixties). He then demanded from his minister of interior and chief of police to carry out mass arrests for anyone involved in the day’s protest movement.


                                            “Who is Ben Jennet?” (1967)

                                            Perspectives and the student movement bore the brunt of the regime’s repression, which became encapsulated by the figure of Ahmed Ben Jannet, for what he stood for more than how he acted during the June 1967 protests. Ben Jannet came from the province and had studied at the Zitouna, the theology university in Arabic, before moving to the university. This was enough to associate him or draw a tenuous link with the events of the Arab East or even suggest his membership to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Ben Jannet became the scapegoat in official media and bore the brunt of a campaign to externalize the events of June 1967. He received an expedited sentence of 20 years of forced labor for being the supposed ringleader of the protests.

                                            This article served two purposes for Perspectives: to counter the regime’s accusations by building another profile for this student that emphasizes his activism within UGET in the previous years; and then to shift the focus back to Tunisian foreign policy under Bourguiba and his alliance with the imperial camp at the expense of the Arab and Palestinian causes.

                                            Bourguiba had stood in opposition to the Arab consensus on the Palestinian question during the 1960s. During an Arab official tour, he stopped in the city of Jericho, under Jordanian control, in March 1965 and pronounced a famous speech to the Palestinians calling on them to take up arms rather than having the Arabs take up the cause, while displaying more realism toward Israel. It lead to Egyptian president Nasser calling on Tunisia’s expulsion from the Arab League, and a diplomatic crisis between the two countries, and an isolation from the region.

                                            For Perspectives, the June 1967 riots in Tunis revealed that a significant portion of the population disagreed with Bourguiba’s policy toward the Arab East.

                                            ▴ “Qui est Ben Jennet?” Perspectives Tunisiennes n. 15 (October 1967)


                                              “On the 10th and 11th of January at the University” (1968)

                                              The events of June 1967 let the genie out of the bottle, and members of GEAST worked to maintain this climate through protests, demonstrations, and sit-ins at the university. One of such events came in January 1968, when they called on a protest against the visit of US state department chief Humphrey chanting “No to Imperialism” “Humphrey Go Home” “Free Ben Jannet” despite a heavy police apparatus and scores of arrest:

                                              The movement was a total success, proving… that students were not scared of the authorities, but that it was scared of them. So much so that the student forcibly drafted in the army on 24 December 1966 were freed on 01 February. As such, only the struggle can achieve victories
                                              — Translated extract from the article

                                              ▴ “Les journées du 10 et 11 Janvier à l’Université” Perspectives Tunisiennes n. 17 (February 1968)


                                                “The Student Struggle” (1968)

                                                The optimism and growing presence of the Perspectives-student alliance was short lived before the Bourguiba regime launched the harsh crackdown known as the Tunis trials of March 1968. This special court was set up to judge “crimes against the internal and exterior safety of the state” and it delivered heavy prison sentences ranging between 6 months and 14 years in prison to dozens of members of Perspectives left and later to Baathist pan-Arab cells who were also active at the university. By targeting a select group of leaders, they had hoped to neutralize these groups and drive a wedge with the student body. Bourguiba dismissed the “trouble makers” who, when they become “communists or Maoists, we have to fight them”, while ridiculing these “Revolutionaries in rabbit’s fur… freshly disembarked from the Latin quarters, these zealots of anarchy… remind us of our old opponents with their rough conducts, their fanaticism, their attachment to ready-made slogans and their impossible dreams). By contrast, Bourguiba opened the door to the “good ones” or the “hard working students” and to guide the lost spirits back. Only the others, the troublemakers and their leaders, were but a small group who had to be disciplined. Alongside the March 1968 Trials and repression, he put his strongest political asset on the case of a university reform: Ahmed Ben Salah, his “super-minister” who was overseeing the economy, now set out to address long-standing student issues. It was a carrot and stick, and it placed Perspectives in a delicate situation toward youth.

                                                This article signed off by “S. Adel” (usually, articles are anonymous and this would likely be a pen-name) took place after the summer break, on the eye of a new academic year. It was also the opportunity to reevaluate after a significant setback. While the article sought to display optimism by claiming that this episode revealed how “the regime feared student”, it sought to scale down expectations by stating that “we should not believe that the student movement can become an independent force and assign it general instructions and autonomous objectives”. In fact, this “error of appreciation” comes from the different revolutionary roles they have played around the world, “capable of the best and the worst, because they do not constitute a separate social class let alone an objectively revolutionary group, and can easily be integrated to the bourgeois system… in reality, students do not have their own politics: they have to choose between two: that of the bourgeoisie or the proletariat. They have to chose between two enemy camps: reaction or revolution”.

                                                Coming out of their isolation, thinking critically about the nature of power in Tunisia, were both necessary issues for the student movement to think about at this crucial juncture of the movement.

                                                ▴ “La lutte des étudiants” Perspectives Tunisiennes n. 19 (November 1968)


                                                  “Calling the Students” (1970)

                                                  The Tunisian regime underwent a significant crisis in early 1970: after another wave of protests in the countryside against the state’s collective farm reforms, members of the regime pressured Bourguiba to dismiss Ben Salah, who had overseen these policies. Clearly intended as a move to target a political opponent, Ben Salah was arrested and tried by a special court, accused of having “deceived Bourguiba”. So did his “Destourian Socialist” policies collapse, and the country turned back to a liberal economic agenda. Bourguiba faced frequent health issues and was often abroad for medical treatment leaving a vacuum of power. The “liberal group” of Ahmed Mestiri within the Destourian regime oversaw a gradual relaxation of the repressive machinery, which benefit those jailed at the 1968 trials: in January 1970, a significant section of those imprisoned were released (though then kept under strict surveillance or relocated to remote parts of the country.

                                                  For the youth movement, this could be an opportunity for a revival. Now lead by Othman Ben Othman, a student-leader who was jailed in 1968, but feigned repentance and was freed by presidential amnesty, only to continue his struggle alongside his wife Simone Lellouche. Perspectives and the student saw a growing radicalization and a call to confrontation in 1970.

                                                  The tone in this article was harsh: “this suffocating regime does not cease to declare its new liberal face! This regime does not cease to pretend that it enjoys the support of the masses yet deploys all the military and police arsenal which it has assembled with the help and assistance of imperialist countries, America, against a popular protest!”

                                                  The message to the students was a reminder of the regime’s continued paternalism toward the youth, and its “golden rule: all that do not share its reactionary policy… are not adults, it will only award them a limited freedom. Unable to make them believers, without valid arguments, the regime ties their hands, prevents them from spreading their ideas”. Instead, this call reiterated that having opinions on foreign policy matters, and against American imperialism and solidarity with the Palestinians, was quintessentially the mark of “being adults”: “they are adults because they have true positions; they do not want to limit themselves to knowing how to do mathematics or be eloquent, instead they follow their ideas through… true ideas, when they penetrate the masses, become an invincible force”.

                                                  And so, the call ends, the “Comrade Students” should continue protesting against American officials visiting Tunis, displaying solidarity with the Palestinians, the Vietnamese, and all others fighting against the forces of imperialism and bourgeois regimes. All the while, identifying and weeding out “reactionary students who are lackeys of the regime, who hope to safeguard their current and future privileges… we must unmask them and their maneuvers”, to fight for the country’s social emancipation. Ultimately, the struggle was calling the student body, “faced with the fierce regime repression, we must unite, close ranks, because the more the regime weakness, the more it becomes aware of its approaching end, the more it sees the popular masses uniting, the more it becomes ferocious, and it will try to divide and separate”. This call for “a labor of agitation and propaganda to unmask the Destour everywhere” was a sign of the group’s radicalization in 1970.

                                                  ▴ “Appel aux étudiants” (A Call to the Students) Perspectives Tunisiennes n. 23 (April 1970)


                                                    “A New Struggle at the University” (1970)

                                                    “Nouvelle Lutte à l’université” [A New struggle at the University of Tunis] Perspectives Tunisiennes n. 25 (December 1970)

                                                    Tucked in the bottom corner of an unrecognizable format for the journal Perspectives was short article reporting on yet another instance of confrontation between the authorities and protesting students on campuses. It all began with a decision to move a bus stop, to which the students object, launch a protest against “the collusion of capital and repressive machinery”, leading to arrests and more strikes and arrests. There was nothing new nor any of the earlier passion into youth and student matters in this issue of the newspaper, only a series of rhetoric statements “the student movement once again launches into the struggle” “its objective is to overcome its isolation and link with the masses” “the popular masses are the best defense against repression”.

                                                    In reality, the locus of the Perspectives movement had moved away from youth and student matters to explore how to escalate the confrontation and operate a junction with the working class. Students would continue providing support and “professional revolutionaries”, but this issue marked the shift of the group’s priorities. In fact, December 1970 was the last issue of the French stage of the journal.


                                                      Korba 1971: The Afterlives of the Student Movement

                                                      Event announcement shared on the blog of the Tunisian historian Kmar Bendana. Direct Link

                                                      Despite the repression that befell the student movement from 1968 to 1970, and the end of the French period of the journal Perspectives, the question of youth and students lived on through the early 1970s. At the 18th UGET congress in the seaside town of Korba in August 1971, surviving Perspectives delegates struck an alliance with communists and Baathist students and briefly won a majority of votes. On their return to Tunis, the authorities cancelled their victory. Nonetheless, they planned for another wave of protests which culminated on the 5th of February 1972. More than four thousand students took part in the protests at the faculty of law and were joined by high schoolers from Tunis and across the country. This event, which has been recently commemorated in Tunisia on its fortieth and fiftieth anniversary, spoke to the continued life and vitality of the questions of youth. The francophone periodical Perspectives had subsided, but its influenced remained alive and felt on the student body.


                                                        Black Saturday in Tunis (1972)

                                                        On their return to Tunis, the authorities cancelled their victory. Nonetheless, they planned for another wave of protests which culminated on the 5th of February 1972. More than four thousand students took part in the protests at the faculty of law and were joined by high schoolers from Tunis and across the country. This event, which has been recently commemorated in Tunisia on its fortieth and fiftieth anniversary, spoke to the continued life and vitality of the questions of youth. The francophone periodical Perspectives had subsided, but its influenced remained alive and felt on the student body.

                                                        ▴ Adel Ben Youssef, حـركـة 5 فـيــفــري 1972: انتفاضة جامعة أم أزمة نظام؟ [The Movement of 5 February 1972: University Protests or Crisis of the Regime?] (22.02.2019)



                                                          The Perspectives Tunisiennes movement was intimately linked to youth throughout its history. Founded in 1963 by Tunisian university students in Paris, it presented itself in opposition to the gerontocratic regime of the Parti Destourien Socialiste of Habib Bourguiba. In turn, it espoused the concerns of the country’s youth, which came to represent an open future and an alternative. Across the different stages of its history, the notion of “youth” (jeunesse or étudiants in French) was associated with different meaning attached to the vision of the group for the country and where it stood in confrontation with the authorities. These changing applications and meanings are explored in the following articles drawn from Perspectives’ periodical from 1963 to 1970.

                                                          Note: The full collection of the Perspectives Tunisiennes periodical was digitized by the “Association Perspectives El Amel Ettounsi” ( and made available on CDs in January 2014. They are also held at the National Library in Tunis.