Collection of 14 illustrations from French periodicals on Tunisian and colonial life under the French, 1891-1918. T
Note: In the nineteenth century, Tunisia became mostly autonomous, although officially still an Ottoman province. In 1861, Tunisia enacted the first constitution in the Arab world, but a move toward a republic was hampered by the poor economy and political unrest. In 1869, Tunisia declared itself bankrupt, and an international financial commission with representatives from France, Great Britain and Italy took control over the economy.
Following the defeat of France by Prussia in 1870, German diplomacy with France had been centered around encouraging France to expand its colonies, as a form of catharsis for the national humiliation of losing the provinces of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany. Britain also encouraged this in return for French support in giving Britain a freer hand in sorting out its problems in Egypt.
In the spring of 1881, France invaded Tunisia, claiming that Tunisian troops had crossed the border to Algeria, France's main colony in Northern Africa. Italy, also interested in Tunisia, protested, but did not risk a war with France. On May 12 of that year, Tunisia was officially made a French protectorate.
The French progressively assumed the most responsible administrative positions, and by 1884 they supervised all Tunisian government bureaus dealing with finance, post, education, telegraph, public works and agriculture. They abolished the international finance commission and guaranteed the Tunisian debt, establishing a new judicial system for Europeans while keeping the sharia courts available for cases involving Tunisians, and developed roads, ports, railroads, and mines. In rural areas they strengthened the local officials (qa'ids) and weakened independent tribes. They actively encouraged French settlements in the country - the number of French colonists grew from 34,000 in 1906 to 144,000 in 1945, and the French occupied approximately one-fifth of the cultivable land.