Tunisia in the Imperial Mediterranean
There was never supposed to be a protectorate. Or at least the bey of Tunis did not think so. After all, he already had a protector in the Ottoman sultan-albeit one from whom he had long asserted his independence and whose ability to protect any of his regents had been compromised by the Crimean War and its aftermath. In part because of that war (and the cost of raising a Tunisian army raised in defense of the Ottomans), Muhammad al-Sadiq Bey had found his finances under international receivership for over a decade. Nonetheless, he clung to what remained of his autonomy.1 In fact, the bey was caught between two imperial systems that clashed in the late-nineteenth-century Mediterranean: the Ottoman Empire and the New Imperialism.
Claiming autonomy from the Ottoman sultan, the beys had cultivated relationships with Western European governments and their consular representatives for decades, even negotiating separate capitulations treaties with them.2 Similar to agreements by the same name that the Ottoman sultan had entered into with European states in other parts of the empire, these treaties granted European governments the right to judge their subjects under their own laws and thereby avoid their subjection to Islamic law, which was perceived to be prejudicial.3 By brokering these arrangements, the bey had deliberately sought the support of European powers as counterweights to the sultan. In the late nineteenth century, however, as Western powers scrambled to divvy up the African continent in a "new" phase of imperial acquisition, older forms of empire such as Ottoman suzerainty began to look more attractive to the bey.4 The trouble was that the sultan, like the bey, increasingly confronted challenges from those same Western European powers and struggled himself to maintain control of his many provinces. In an effort to capitalize on these dynamics, French leaders had tried to convince Muhammad al-Sadiq Bey that the Ottoman sultan was scheming to install a pasha in Tunis, as had been done in Tripoli. Arguing that the bey's independence would be better safeguarded by France, the Quai-d'Orsay had offered to "protect" the bey in February 1881. In reply, the bey repudiated the charges and declined the offer as unnecessary.5 Later that spring, when the French used the Khmirs' activities on the Tunisia-Algeria border as an excuse for intervention, the bey protested French military encroachment on his territory, even sending his own troops to try to quiet the Khmirs himself.6 But nothing he did could satisfy the French, who forced his hand on 12 May; the resulting Treaty of Ksar Said (Bardo Treaty) established the protectorate without mentioning the word.
Like the bey, top officials in the British foreign office also had not regarded a formal protectorate as necessary, even though they had made clear to the French for some time prior to the spring 1881 invasion that Queen Victoria's government harbored "no jealousy" with regard to French interests in Tunisia.7 That did not prevent her majesty's government from expressing dismay at how the defense of French interests had mushroomed from a quick securing of the Algerian border into a full-scale occupation of Tunisia and its placement under French protection. Meanwhile, the advent of the protectorate was so upsetting to members of the Italian parliament that it helped bring down the cabinet of Benedetto Cairoli, who had served as Italy's premier and foreign minister during the Tunisia crisis. For a while, it even looked as though the French parliament, too, might oppose the occupation-cum-protectorate, since debate in the Assembly called into question the wisdom of an endeavor supported by Bismarck just ten years after France had lost Alsace and Lorraine to Germany.8
The Tunisian crisis accompanied the dawning of the "Age of Empire" or the "New Imperialism," in which the acquisition of colonial territory was viewed as a zero-sum game, where one nation's gain was another's loss. In North Africa, this territorial competition helped set in motion the gradual dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire.9 Yet, as the case of Tunisia exemplifies, this game was played not only on a purely geopolitical level, with sparring over boundary lines on a map. It was also about human beings and the boundaries of their allegiances. That this was so explains why Italy and Great Britain, both of which had substantial subject populations in Tunisia, were more exercised than other European powers about France's establishment of a protectorate. Yet alongside this early phase in the "Age of Empire" coexisted the notion of a "Concert of Europe." Whatever their misgivings, neither Italy nor Great Britain found France's conquest of Tunisia worthy of upsetting European peace. Nor, evidently, did the Ottoman sultan, who, confronted at the same time with Western European powers encroaching on territory closer to his imperial center, did not raise an army to defend Tunisia-partly because France threatened him with war if he did.10 Nonetheless, even as Western European powers acquiesced to the expansion of territory falling under France's influence, they remained concerned about what the conquest meant for their ability to defend their commercial interests and the rights of their own subjects or citizens who lived there, as well as what impact it would have on international relations in the Mediterranean more generally.
Once the protectorate over Tunisia was a fait accompli,France's imperial rivals quickly became invested in ensuring that it never became an annexed colony. To this end, they defended a set of premises they saw as distinguishing the protectorate form of governance from outright annexation: first and foremost, the maintenance of the bey's sovereignty and the recognition of the beylical state in international law and, second, as a corollary, the continued recognition of all treaties and agreements the bey's government had hitherto negotiated with foreign powers. France's imperial rivals thus became staunch defenders of beylical sovereignty, since their own rights and those of their subjects hinged on his. The ongoing impact of the bey's treaties with a variety of European nations, particularly Italy and Great Britain, was manifest in countless dimensions of Tunisian life-from property rights and taxation to criminal and civil law-and so ensued incessant jockeying with regard to issues large and small. This everyday maneuvering by residents of Tunisia will be examined in detail in the following chapters, but in order to understand how and why such behavior could affect Mediterranean politics more generally, it is worth considering the state of that politics at the time the protectorate was established, as well as what this form of governance meant for France, the bey, and the European governments maintaining interests in Tunisia.
When France launched an invasion of Tunisia in April 1881, the stated casus belli was the threat posed by the activity of the Khmir tribe of northwest Tunisia to France's colony in Algeria.11 At the outset, the French government pledged to begin its expedition on the French side of the Algeria-Tunisia border, which French soldiers would cross only if "military operations required it." As the British ambassador to France recalled his conversations with the French foreign minister, Jules Barthélemy-Saint-Hilaire, the latter had spoken "of the operations as if they would be confined to the neighbourhood of the frontier, and . . . directed only to the punishment of the lawless frontier tribes."12 But as the invasion quickly extended beyond Khmir lands, Muhammad al-Sadiq wrote to inform the French that he regarded the invasion as "contrary to the rules of international law."13 Several days later, he made his second plea for foreign aid in two weeks. In his letter to the British and Italian foreign ministers, he complained that instead of merely punishing the Khmirs, as the Quai-d'Orsay had continually promised both the bey and Europe was its sole intention, French troops had continued on to Le Kef, which they occupied, were marching on Béja, and had destroyed and occupied the forts at Tabarca. (See Map 1 in the Introduction.) A French garrison had even been stationed in the port of Bizerte, "on whose citadel," he protested, "the French colors fly." Under these circumstances, and claiming that he had tried to convince the French government of his good graces, the bey continued, "I leave my fate and that of my country in your hands and those of my Suzerain [the Ottoman Sultan] . . . to take whatever measures of mediation will stop the scourge of war experienced by the peaceful inhabitants of my Regency."14 Muhammad al-Sadiq's invocation of the sultan's protection was consistent with the Husaynid beys' tendency to draw on their relationship to the Porte for legitimacy when necessary.15 But with the sultan also weakened vis-à-vis Western Europe, this proved a rather futile gesture.
The bey was not the only one astonished by the French occupation of Tunisia; the British foreign office, too, had misjudged French ambitions. To be sure, it was no secret that in private discussions at the Berlin Congress of 1878, convened to settle disputes over the Balkans arising from the Russo-Turkish war, Britain's foreign secretary Lord Salisbury had assured the French that Queen Victoria's government had no interest in opposing future French preponderance in Tunisia. Benedetto Cairoli even had suspected at the time that France had acquiesced to the granting of Cyprus to Britain with these conversations in mind.16 Perhaps, then, it was disingenuous of Britain to claim surprise at the advent of the protectorate: France's premier and foreign minister during the Berlin Congress, William Henry Waddinon, recalled explicitly mentioning that France would want "formal recognition" of a "protectorate," but Salisbury would only confirm the general thrust of the conversation and claimed not to remember if Waddington correctly recalled the "precise words" exchanged.17 Whatever was actually said in 1878, the British foreign office felt compelled to remind France as its invasion unfolded a few years later that her majesty's government regarded Tunisia as a regency under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Porte, a position consistent with Britain's desire (Cyprus excepted) to maintain an intact Ottoman Empire to counter Russian ambitions in the region.18 With some displeasure, the foreign office concluded that
proceedings of a military nature such as have been instituted by the French, the occupation of Bizerta, and the destruction of the fort at Tabarca seem to be directed to some object beyond the mere chastisement of disorderly Arab tribes on the frontier, nor can [the British government] affect to misunderstand the intimations which have been given to your Excellency by M. Barthélemy St. Hilaire, that, although the French Government did not seek to establish a Protectorate, the new Treaty which would be imposed upon the Bey would be in the nature of one.19
The matter was of concern because the foreign secretary in 1881, Lord Granville, "had no wish to see France get an 'overwhelming preponderance in the Mediterranean.'"20 More specifically, Lord Granville contended that "any measures which would affect the existing state of the African provinces on the Mediterranean could not be matter of indifference to the European Powers, many of whom, like Great Britain, have special Treaties with Tunis, entitling them to most-favoured-nation treatment in the Regency."21 Tunisia itself was therefore less important to the British than what it symbolized: French control of the narrowest part of the Mediterranean after Gibraltar and of territory stretching from Algeria to the border of Tripolitania. And yet, despite these concerns, when the Ottoman sultan complained of the French invasion, the British prime minister, William Gladstone, told him that maintaining "the Concert of Europe" was his first priority.22 The interest in the "concert" also meant that Britain rebuffed Italian suggestions that they respond together to check the French advance in Tunisia; it simply was not worth the risk of alienating France. Britain was not playing a double game so much as it was trying to balance many different interests, including its own designs on Egypt.
The Italian take on the French invasion of Tunisia was understandably less phlegmatic. For one thing, Italians outnumbered all other Europeans in the Regency by a wide margin; at the time of the Bardo Treaty, Italians numbered at least 11,200, whereas the French settlement was as small as 700. British subjects from Malta, around 7,000 in number, also substantially outnumbered the French.23 The relative dominance of the Italian population, which persisted for most of the protectorate's existence even as the French population grew, produced the oft-repeated remark that Tunisia was "an Italian colony administered by French functionaries."24 Italy also had significant capital investments in the country, including the Tunis-Goletta rail line, owned by the Compagnia Rubattino. Moreover, as has become apparent by the migratory waves occurring in the wake of the overthrow of Tunisia's authoritarian government in January 2011, only 140 nautical miles or so separate Tunisia from Sicily. Thus, if France established a military port at Bizerte, Italian leaders were bound to feel their nation's security threatened. Italian politicians also were angered that Cairoli apparently had believed French leaders when they had assured him, in the wake of the Berlin Congress, that France would make no move in the Mediterranean without first consulting Italy.25 What "consultation" there had been was decidedly unequal. When the Italian government suggested, in 1879, that there should be an equal division of influence over Tunisia between Italy and France, the Quai-d'Orsay was intransigent in its refusal.26 Had Italy been a bigger player in world politics, it might have tried already to take Tunis for itself. Instead, it was a newly unified nation that joined the imperial game late. Much ink was also spilled recounting that Tunisian territory had been part of the Roman Empire and that many other historic, geographic, economic, and strategic interests bound the region to Italy. For Italian nationalists, especially those later writing during the fascist era, Tunisia could be regarded as a "prolongation of the Peninsula," while the loss of it to France in 1881 had been a "humiliation."27
Since no concerted action against the French invasion was taken by European powers, they were obliged to make peace with the fait accomplionce the Bardo Treaty was signed. Britain's foreign office did so by sugarcoating its reproach of France: As important as friendly relations with France were to them, they would be "wanting in frankness" if they allowed the French foreign minister to believe France's actions in Tunisia were well received in Britain. Moreover, Lord Granville added in his dispatch to the French ambassador in London, Paul-Armand Challemel-Lacour, whatever reason the French government offered for its action in Tunisia, "first as protection against the alleged designs of the Sultan for the Bey's deposition, and secondly for the punishment of turbulent frontier tribes," it nonetheless "can hardly be doubted that the Treaty with Tunis goes far beyond any question of security of the frontier, and amounts practically to a Protectorate, which they understood to have been disclaimed." Even if Tunisia were now "practically" a protectorate, the British foreign office insisted that the "status quo" of their relations with the country be maintained. Lord Granville went on to enumerate the rights associated with the maintenance of that status quo, "in order that there may be no misapprehension hereafter."28 The Italian Consulta, too, sought to avoid direct confrontation with France in the wake of the Bardo Treaty. The new foreign minister following Cairoli's resignation, Pasquale Mancini, informed Consul General Licurgo Maccio in Tunis that it was "essential that nothing in your acts or language imply, for the King's government, direct or indirect recognition of the faits accomplis and agreements between the Bey and France regarding which we have received no official communication from either party." At the same time he also warned Maccio not to provoke conflict or do anything that could trigger "inopportune incidents" with France.29
As the Quai-d'Orsay saw it, since "all of Europe knew" that French designs had not been limited to the chastisement of the Khmirs, this hand-wringing on the part of Britain and Italy was disingenuous.30 The day after concluding the Bardo Treaty, Barthélemy-Saint-Hilaire informed the French diplomatic corps-but not "all of Europe"-that France's objective always had been to "render impossible in the future any reprise of such acts of barbarity." The establishment of the protectorate would, in his view, guarantee that.31 By "barbarity," Barthélemy-Saint-Hilaire was referring to the killing of some French soldiers during Khmir incursions across the Algerian border in April. But this was hyperbole, since the few hundred forays made by Khmirs in the past year did not prove their "barbarity" so much as their irreverence toward a border they regarded as arbitrary and their willingness to defend themselves against Frenchmaneuvers. Whatever assurances the French foreign minister had given the bey and European powers about the limited scope of the invasion in the past, he now retroactively suggested that no one should be surprised by the advent of the protectorate. Of course, he was partly right: France's interest in Tunisia was hardly spontaneous. The impetus for French imperial expansion throughout North Africa considerably predated the 1880s, as France had long been concerned to protect its position in Algeria, where a state of rebellion continued on and off for decades following the 1830 invasion. At mid-century, as Julia Clancy-Smith has shown, the increasing reliance of Algerian rebels on Tunisian support had brought the French to intervene more directly on the Tunisian-Algerian border. Indeed, according to Clancy-Smith, "Tunisia's open-door policy toward Algerian émigrés was one element, among several, that eventually brought its forced incorporation into France's expanding empire."32 That being the case, why not simply annex Tunisia to Algeria? This was what the European powers, once faced with the fact of the protectorate, were determined to prevent.
Of all Barthélemy-Saint-Hilaire's preinvasion promises to the bey and the European powers, the one he and his successors kept was that France would not annex Tunisia. As already suggested, this was due to both self-interest and international politics. The Bardo Treaty, which had established the protectorate without calling it one, was a carefully crafted compromise. In exchange for the bey's consent that the French "military authority would occupy all areas deemed necessary for the reestablishment of order and security of both borders and coastline," the French government agreed to protect the bey's dynasty and to guarantee all preexisting international agreements between the bey's government and other powers. In this way, France recognized, tacitly, both the bey's sovereignty and the interests of other governments in Tunisia-most notably those of Italy and Britain.33 Specifically, the treaty provided, in Article IV, that the French government would "guarantee the execution of existing treaties between the Government of the Regency and diverse European powers."34 For both Great Britain and Italy, Article IV became an article of faith, invoked repeatedly over the course of their subsequent relations with France in Tunisia.
What rights did the bey's "existing treaties" with European powers grant them? The most important probably were those that stemmed from the "capitulations" European governments had negotiated with the bey. In Tunisia, as in the Ottoman Empire more generally, the capitulations had originally been understood as revocable acts of generosity on the part of the grantor; over the course of the nineteenth century, they increasingly became the basis for expanding the extraterritorial rights held by European states on behalf of their subjects and protégés.35 Consuls operated their own police services, but Tunisian authorities could arrest a European foreigner or protected person only in the presence of a consul's janissaries or if caught en flagrant délit ("in the act"). Even then, the accused was supposed to be turned over to the appropriate consul immediately for adjudication by the consular justice system. If such foreigners were named in a civil proceeding, the Tunisian justice system served that person's consul with an acte judiciaire. It was then up to the consul to follow up on the matter and summon or arrest his subject and encourage him or her to appear in native court. Any ruling by a native court finding against a European, meanwhile, required the exequator ("written authorization") of his or her consul before it could be carried out. Consuls and consular courts, therefore, had considerable powers, including the power to ignore entirely the actes judiciaires with which they were served by the bey's government. Since the capitulations provided the basis of foreign privilege vis-à-vis Tunisia's native Muslims and Jews, European governments naturally wanted to make certain that these rights remained in place under the protectorate. Within days of the Bardo Treaty, the British government, in its eagerness to make clear the maintenance of its interests in Tunisia, issued an "Order in Council" that replaced those sections of the Ottoman Order of 1873 pertaining to Tunis with a new Order that explicitly asserted Britain's continued extraterritorial jurisdiction in Tunisia (as manifested in the institution of the consular court), irrespective of Tunisia's changed relationship to the Ottoman Empire.36 As long as other European nations claimed extraterritorial rights in Tunisia, France was the preponderant but arguably not the only imperial power in the protectorate.37
The other main guarantee was the "most-favored nation" status that treaty beneficiaries were granted with regard to duties on commerce and virtually any matter implying a fiscal obligation to the bey on the part of Europeans. European governments guarded these very jealously, even though Tunisia never became a trading powerhouse to the extent that some other European colonies did. There were fishing and navigation rights to be protected, as well as exemptions from duties for both export commodities (e.g., esparto/alfa grass, phosphates, dates, olives, grapes) and imports of finished products from Europe.38 Most-favored nation status and exemption from native justice were the pillars of European prestige in Tunisia, and they were what European powers continually insisted were guaranteed by the recognition of beylical sovereignty that was built into the protectorate system. No wonder, then, that the British and Italian governments became staunch defenders of the bey's independence.39 Although foreign consuls had long since ceased honoring the bey by kissing his hand, they defended his autonomy in the wake of the Bardo Treaty by insisting that their independent relationships with him should be guarded from French interference. Their own prestige was intimately intertwined with that of the bey.40 If his power waned, so might theirs.
The Italian consul was particularly attuned to the relationship of his own dignity to that of the bey. Less than a month after the conclusion of the Bardo Treaty, Consul Maccio wrote to Rome complaining of the new powers that Théodore Roustan, hitherto French consul general, had assumed. Roustan had informed the consular community that he had assumed the new title "resident minister" and would serve simultaneously as France's representative in Tunis and the bey's foreign minister.41 For Maccio, this was a legal impossibility: Roustan could not represent two countries at once, and he was clearly trying to establish himself as the "absolute master of the country" by undermining the personal authority of the bey and his ministers. Along with consuls from other countries, Maccio vowed to "abstain from responding" until he received further instructions from his home government.42 Although Foreign Minister Mancini offered him little immediate direction, the notes he jotted down suggest that he, too, wondered how it was possible, given that France and Tunisia were two distinct countries, that the "same individual can" represent both "debtor and creditor."43
The announcement that Roustan was to serve as the "sole intermediary" between the bey and foreign governments took the British government "by surprise" as well.44 Noting the lack of "known rule or precedent" for the French behavior, British Foreign Secretary Granville feared that if a friendly understanding on the question of consular representation were not reached with France, "complications may hereafter arise which it would be better to avoid."45 Yet, however loudly Granville proclaimed that the French move was unprecedented, surely it could not be lost on him that Roustan had just assumed the same title as that held by British administrators in India's Princely States. General Menabrea, Italy's ambassador in London, wasted little time in pointing out such comparisons to the British foreign office, underscoring that the title denoted the "vassalage of the power that received the resident in relation to the one sending it."46 Perhaps it was this awkward parallel that prevented her majesty's government from pressing the issue, much to the chagrin of Italian authorities, who cautioned Granville that the
government of the Bey was becoming more powerless [esautorato] each day, such that one could predict the moment, perhaps not very distant, when the French felt compelled to take on the administration of the Regency themselves and so complete, in this way, an annexation if not in name then certainly in fact, like that which took place of Bosnia and Herzegovina by Austria [sic].47
The British foreign office hardly wanted annexation (though Granville pronounced it preferable to "anarchy"), but its instructions to the British consul in Tunis remained the same despite Italy's pleas to join it in formal protest: Consul General Reade was to continue dealing with the bey as usual, but when referred by the bey's government to Roustan, the consul could "communicate with him accordingly." Consenting to treat Roustan as the bey's delegate, however, was in no way to "preclude . . . taking any course which they may deem most advisable in case of an infraction of Treaty rights." To this end, the British foreign office would prefer that the role of beylical foreign minister and French representative not be conjoined in the "same officer."48
At the Italian consulate, Maccio's successor, Annibale Raybaudi Massiglia, was dissatisfied by the British solution. Granville's approach ignored, according to Raybaudi Massiglia, the fact that communications to the consuls from the bey's government already were written by Roustan, who invoked his "dual role" [doppia qualità]regularly by signing the letters "The French resident and delegate [to the bey] for external affairs."49 Since the resident minister was also effectively the French consul general, this also violated the principle that all consuls should have equal standing vis-à-vis the bey. The solution France soon offered-to name a figurehead consul general, André Lequeux, to serve alongside Roustan-also was deemed unsatisfactory as long as Roustan retained the dual role of resident of France and beylical representative, for, as Mancini put it, this did nothing to satisfy the "dignity of the other governments."50 Nonetheless, the Italian daily Il Diritto spun the French appointment of Lequeux as an "incontestable satisfaction" of Italian and British interests and hoped that "good relations" could now be restored between the powers.51
Restoring friendly relations was easier said than done. Consul Raybaudi Massiglia, for his part, still preferred to communicate directly with the bey, particularly when he was frustrated by French management of the protectorate. When the French army entered the capital city of Tunis on 11 October, for instance, Raybaudi Massiglia complained personally to the bey.52 When Roustan subsequently notified all consuls that the occupation of Tunis had military, and no political, objectives, Raybaudi Massiglia refused to sign in receipt of the circular, rejecting Roustan's signature as "the bey's delegate for foreign relations."53 The Consulta suggested a different strategy: acknowledge receipt but respond only to the bey,54 a solution that proved unworkable after the consul received word that "any note addressed directly to His Highness [the bey] would be rejected without a doubt."55
On the first anniversary of the Bardo Treaty, Raybaudi Massiglia reported on "the path taken by France in Tunisia in the space of a year" and the extent to which it was "diametrically opposed to [France's] official declarations." The original treaty, he recalled, had affirmed that the military occupation would be "temporary and circumscribed" and had limited the role of France's representative to that of an "intermediary [between] the French government and the Tunisian authorities for all affairs common to the two countries." This treaty, he contended, effectively "no longer exists." Instead, the French resident had "elevated" himself above the other foreign representatives in Tunisia; the military occupation had been extended from those areas "necessary for the reestablishment of order on the borders and coastline" to all the regency including the capital, and, although the occupation was supposed to have been temporary, "the French government recently decreed the formation of a permanent army."56
The symbolic dimension of this new regime particularly bothered Raybaudi Massiglia. Following the death of Muhammad al-Sadiq bey in the fall of 1882, he wrote a long dispatch about the many protocol violations that had occurred with regard to Muhammad al-Sadiq's funeral and the investiture of his successor, Ali: Raybaudi Massiglia had received the summons to the investiture only two hours before it took place; at the event itself, the French resident condescended to present him to the new bey ("the moment was not right to create an incident regarding the abnormal procedure"); the new bey showed little "deference" to the foreign representatives by wearing "humble attire" to receive the consular corps, who were "in grand uniform"; and, finally, after the investiture, the bey accompanied the French resident to his home, an act the consul characterized as an "abdication of prestige and of authority." Concluding his dispatch, Raybaudi Massiglia wrote that the relationship of the French resident to the bey was now one of "master to slave," and, as a result, "we will not tarry to see most aspects of local government suppressed."57
Raybaudi Massiglia's dispatches were prescient in some ways and exaggerated in others. He rightly ascertained that the French government would seek to reform Tunisia's internal as well as external affairs, though local government would not, in fact, be abandoned. Yet even if it was in some ways true that the bey had already abdicated a great deal of authority in allowing Roustan to represent him, French authorities still did not have free rein in the protectorate. The Bardo Treaty, which Raybaudi Massiglia had pronounced dead in May 1882, actually formed the basis for Italy's ongoing influence in Tunisia for many years to come. Indeed, France's first order of business after forcing the bey to sign the Bardo Treaty and putting down major rebellions in Sfax, Kairouan, and Gabès was not to undermine the bey's power so much as to end the extraterritorial sovereignty of European governments. Such an endeavor turned out to be much more difficult than French leaders had anticipated.
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