772.00/4–252: Telegram

The Consul General at Tunis (Jernegan) to the Department of State1


140. Tunisians currently have virtually no opportunity demonstrate [Page 713] their reaction to recent polit events (re Deptel 70, March 31,2 recd here April 1, 3 p.m.). All newspapers are under Fr censorship. Radio is French operated. Public mtgs are forbidden. Virtually all nationalist leaders are either in prison, in forced residence in southern desert (where they seem no longer to have privilege of communicating with outsiders), or outside Tunisia. Consequently, our estimate of situation must necessarily be based on deduction, local rumor and minimum of hard info. These bases may be summarized as fol:

All major nationalist orgs have protested against French actions and refused to recognize legality of any new cabinet. Groups signing these statements have included conservative Tunisian Chambers Commerce and Agriculture led by moderate Tahar Ben Ammar. (mytel 137, March 31 [April 1])3 Under present conditions, however, it is impossible be sure leaders these orgs accurately reflect attitude majority their members.
Chenik and other exiled Mins insist they are still legal cabinet and represent will of Tunisian people. Reject appt of Baccouche and Bey’s capitulation to French demands as brought about by coercion. (See Homer Bigart story NY Herald Tribune March 31) claim new French reform program is merely another French stall and means no more than previous French reform promises.
Baccouche was most reluctant accept appt as PriMin and has obviously had great difficulty persuading reputable individuals join cabinet. This may be partly due to fear of physical violence by natlists and partly to patriotic feeling. Some people speculate Baccouche and Bey are playing stalling game in hopes of internatl action.
On other hand, predictions that natlists wld react violently to French arrest of Mins (mytel 125, Mar 26)4 have not been fulfilled. Past week has seen no mass demonstrations and fewer attacks and sabotages than previously. Gen strike called April 1 by UGTT, with USTT support, seems to have been substantial failure although as usual Arab portions of towns closed up shop.

My best guess is that majority of people wld probably vote reinstate Chenik if they had opportunity and that natlist leaders will continue reject negots or acts of Baccouche govt as illegal and unrepresentative. Whether Bey secretly shares this attitude is great unknown. He may as French suggest, be happy to be relieved of Neo-Destour [Page 714] pressure but he probably resents French procedures and may fear eventual reaction his own people against him. He clearly is not free agent at present.

Regardless of subjective feelings of majority Tunisians, it is perfectly possible that they will tacitly accept new cabinet and new reform proposals, for time being, as best they can get in face French power and as point of departure for future polit struggle when conditions more favorable.

  1. This telegram was repeated to Paris, Algiers, Rabat, and Naples.
  2. This was USUN telegram 656, Mar. 29, p. 704, as sent to Tunis with the addition of the material in footnote 1 thereto.
  3. Ante, p. 707.
  4. Not printed; it reported the Tunisians were greatly excited by news of the dismissal of the Cabinet. The Consulate General had received information that if the Resident General resorted to force against the Cabinet the situation would develop into a state of guerrilla warfare. On the other hand, if he backed down the French would suffer further loss of prestige in Tunisia. (772.00/3–2652)