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Habib Bourguiba
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World Leader
    (August 3, 1903-April 6, 2000)
    Born in Monastir, Tunisia
    Imprisoned for advocating Tunisian independence from France (1934-36,1938-40,1952-55)
    First president of Tunisia (1957-87)
    Named President for Life (1975)
    Overthrown in a bloodless coup on the grounds that he had become too senile to rule
    Asked to describe Tunisia's system of government, he replied, 'The system? I am the system.'
    He tried to create a political union with Muammar Gaddafi's Libya (1974).
    He let the PLO set up headquarters in Tunis after they were forced out of Beirut.
    His rule became increasingly erratic as his health deteriorated.
    He appointed two men simultaneously as UN ambassador, and fired a minister of culture after only 30 minutes in office.
    When his wife opposed one of his appointments, he divorced her.
    He rejected an attempt by Germany during WWII to convince him to lead Tunisia into the Axis camp.
    He improved women's rights in Tunisia, banning polygamy and making marriage a contract in which both wives and husbands had rights.
    He also established free education and health care and launched campaigns to promote literacy and family planning.
    He was one of the first Arab leaders to call for a 'just and lasting peace' in the Middle East in which Israel's right to exist would be recognized.
    He was compared to Kemal Ataturk for his pro-Western stance and modernization efforts.

Credit: C. Fishel

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