Upon his return to Tunisia, Bourguiba started the newspaper l'Action Tunisienne and in 1934 became head of Al-Destour Al-Gadid (New Constitution Party), which advocated Tunisian independence from French colonial rule. He was arrested three times and imprisoned for his political activities (1934–1936, 1938–1942, and 1952–1954). In 1945, French authorities in Tunisia forced him to seek refuge in Cairo, Egypt. From 1945 to 1950 he embarked on a multination speaking tour in an attempt to garner support for Tunisian independence.
Bourguiba returned to Tunisia in 1950, resuming his campaign to throw off French rule. But in 1952, French authorities jailed him for a third time. After participating in independence negotiations in France upon his release, he returned to Tunisia to a tumultuous welcome in 1955. The following year, Tunisia was granted its independence, and in 1957 Bourguiba was elected president.
As president, Bourguiba was a pro-Western gradualist who sought to modernize Tunisia by reducing the role of religion, guaranteeing the rights of women, and, for a time, guiding an expanding economy. By the 1980s, however, Tunisia's economy was in decline, and Bourguiba was seen as increasingly ineffectual. Citing Bourguiba's failing health and apparent senility, his prime minister, Zine el Abine Ben Ali, ousted him from the presidency in November 1987. Bourguiba was held under house arrest in Monastir, Tunisia, until his death there on 6 April 2000.
Bamberg, James. British Petroleum and Global Oil, 1950-75: The Challenge to Nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.; Harmas, Mohammad. Al-Mogtama wa Al-Dawla fi Al-Maghreb Al-Arabi [The Society and the State in the Arab Maghreb]. Beirut: Center for Arab Unity, 1987.; Hopwood, Derek. Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia: The Tragedy of Longevity. New York: St. Martin's, 1992.; King, Stephen. Liberalization against Democracy: The Local Politics of Economic Reform in Tunisia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003.; Murphy, Emma. Economic and Political Change in Tunisia from Bourguiba to Ben Ali. London: Macmillan, 1999.