Muhammad VII al-Munsif

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Moncef Bey Moncef bey.jpg
Moncef Bey

Muhammad VII al-Munsif commonly known as Moncef Bey (4 March 1881 in La Manouba – 1 September 1948 in Pau) [1] (Arabic : محمد المنصف باي, Muḥammad al-Munṣif Bāy) was the Bey of Tunis between 19 June 1942 and 14 May 1943. He was the penultimate ruler of the Husainid dynasty.

Pau, Pyrénées-Atlantiques Prefecture and commune in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France

Pau is a commune on the northern edge of the Pyrenees, and capital of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques Département in the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France.

Husainid dynasty dynasty

The Husainid dynasty is a former ruling dynasty of Tunisia, which was of Cretan Turkish origin. It came to power under al-Husayn I ibn Ali in 1705, succeeding the Muradid dynasty. After taking power, the Husainids ruled as Beys. Its succession to the throne was determined by agnatic seniority with the oldest member of the dynasty becoming Bey. The heir apparent to the Bey held the title Bey al-Mahalla. The Husainids originally ruled under the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire. In 1881, with the Treaty of Bardo, Tunisia came under the control of France as a protectorate. Following independence from France on 20 March 1956, the Bey Muhammad VIII al-Amin assumed the title of King and reigned as such until the Prime Minister Habib Bourguiba deposed the dynasty and declared Tunisia a republic on 25 July 1957.



Portrait of Moncef Bey as a young man Moncef Bey.jpg
Portrait of Moncef Bey as a young man

As a young man Moncef Bey distinguished himself during the events of April 1922 when he supported the nationalist Destour movement and prevailed on his father Naceur Bey to receive its representatives. He was invested as Bey al-Mahalla on 30 April 1942 and succeeded his cousin Ahmed Bey on the latter's death on 19 June of the same year. [2]

The Constitutional Liberal Party, most commonly known as Destour, was a Tunisian political party, founded in 1920, which had as its goal to liberate Tunisia from French colonial control.

Muhammad V an-Nasir Bey of Tunis

Muhammad V an-Nasir, commonly known Naceur Bey was the son of Muhammad II ibn al-Husayn and the fifteenth Husainid Bey of Tunis, ruling from 1906 until his death. He was named Divisional General of the Beylical army when he became Bey al-Mahalla on 11 June 1902, and assumed the rank of Marshal when he succeeded Muhammad IV al-Hadi on 11 May 1906.

Bey al-Mahalla meaning Bey of the Camp, was a title for the heir apparent to throne of the Beylik of Tunis. The title was given to the most senior member of the Beylical family after the reigning Bey. The title came the style of Highness. The last person to carry this title was Prince Husain Bey, Bey al-Mahalla, heir apparent to Tunisia from 1955 until the abolition of the monarchy in 1957. From Tunisia's independence on March 20, 1956 he was given the new title of Crown Prince.


Relations with the Vichy regime

On 2 July 1942 Moncef Bey was awarded the Grand Cross of the Légion d'honneur by the Vichy regime. [3] Nevertheless, his attitude on the throne was not one which France found easy to deal with. Thus, in a memorandum of 2 August 1942 to Marshall Pétain presented by his Grand Vizier Hédi Lakhoua he reaffirmed his belief in Tunisian sovereignty, undiminished by the French protectorate. He insisted on the establishment of a consultative legislative Council in which Tunisians would predominate; access to civil service roles for Tunisians, and measures against poverty and unemployment. He also wanted compulsory schooling in Arabic, the nationalisation of key enterprises, and a range of other measures of a broadly nationalist character. [4]

Vichy France officially the French State, was France during the regime of Marshal Philippe Pétain, during World War II

Vichy France is the common name of the French State headed by Marshal Philippe Pétain during World War II. Evacuated from Paris to Vichy in the unoccupied "Free Zone" in the southern part of metropolitan France which included French Algeria, it remained responsible for the civil administration of France as well as the French colonial empire.

Hédi Lakhoua Tunisian politician

Mohamed Hédi Lakhoua (1872-1949) was a Tunisian politician. A native of Tunis, he died in that city. He served as Prime Minister of Tunisia from 1932 until 1942.

French protectorate of Tunisia 1881-1956 monarchy in Northern Africa

The French protectorate of Tunisia was established in 1881, during the French colonial Empire era, and lasted until Tunisian independence in 1956.

On 12 October 1942 at the Eid al-Fitr ceremonies in the palace of La Marsa, Moncef Bey expressed his surprise that there was not a single Tunisian among the senior government personnel who were attending with the French Resident General, Admiral Jean-Pierre Esteva. Esteva replied 'seuls les Français sont aptes aux postes de commande' ('only the French are suited to positions of authority'). The Bey then sent a telegram to Marshal Pétain asking for Esteva to be recalled. [5] and tension continued to mount between the Bey and Esteva [6] In December 1942, a confrontation blew up during a session of the Council of Ministers between Esteva and the Minister of Justice Abdeljelil Zaouche, after the Minister expressed reservations about funding for the National Gendarmerie and Esteva angrily rejected any criticism of the gendarmerie. Moncef Bey considered that the Resident General's tone was an insult to his representative and thus to his own person.

Eid al-Fitr is an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting (ṣawm). This religious Eid is the first and only day in the month of Shawwal during which Muslims are not permitted to fast. The holiday celebrates the conclusion of the 29 or 30 days of dawn-to-sunset fasting during the entire month of Ramadan. The day of Eid, therefore, falls on the first day of the month of Shawwal. The date for the start of any lunar Hijri month varies based on when the new moon is sighted by local religious authorities, so the exact day of celebration varies by locality.

La Marsa Place in Tunis Governorate, Tunisia

El Marsa is a coastal town in far north eastern Tunisia near the capital Tunis. The population is estimated as 92,987, as of 2014. The old summer capital of pre-colonial Tunisia, it is today a popular vacation spot for many wealthy Tunisians. It is connected to Tunis by the TGM railway. Gammarth is adjacent to El Marsa further up the coast.

Abdeljelil Zaouche Tunisian politician and businessman

Abdeljelil Zaouche, was a politician, reformer and campaigner in the Tunisian independence movement.

Axis troops arrived in Tunisia on 19 November 1942 and the Tunisian Campaign turned much of the country into a battlefield. Moncef Bey was confronted by demands from Pétain to remain loyal to France and from Roosevelt to allow free passage for Allied troops. Moncef Bey proclaimed Tunisian neutrality while secretly informing Roosevelt that Tunisia would support the Allies. [5] He also refused an offer from the Italian ambassador Bombieri to repudiate the Treaty of Bardo and enter into a new treaty with Italy. [5]

Axis powers Alliance of countries defeated in World War II

The Axis powers, also known as "Rome–Berlin–Tokyo Axis", were the nations that fought in World War II against the Allies. The Axis powers agreed on their opposition to the Allies, but did not completely coordinate their activity.

Tunisian Campaign military campaign

The Tunisian Campaign was a series of battles that took place in Tunisia during the North African Campaign of the Second World War, between Axis and Allied forces. The Allies consisted of British Imperial Forces, including Polish and Greek contingents, with American and French corps. The battle opened with initial success by the German and Italian forces but the massive supply interdiction efforts led to the decisive defeat of the Axis. Over 230,000 German and Italian troops were taken as prisoners of war, including most of the Afrika Korps.

Treaty of Bardo treaty

The Treaty of Bardo was signed on 12 May 1881 between representatives of the French Republic and Tunisian bey Muhammed as-Sadiq. A raid on Algeria by the Tunisian Kroumer tribe had served as a pretext for French armed forces to invade Tunisia in April 1881. Jules Ferry, the French foreign minister, managed to send a French expeditionary force of approximately 36,000 troops to defeat the Kroumer tribe. The French met little resistance from either the Kroumer tribe or from as-Sadiq. Eventually, the French withdrew their forces after signing the treaty. However, the terms of the agreement gave France responsibility for the defence and foreign-policy decisions of Tunisia. The military occupation was stated to be temporary; nevertheless Tunis became a French protectorate from 12 May 1881.

Moncef Bey with his ministers (left) and the princes (right) Cour du bey.jpg
Moncef Bey with his ministers (left) and the princes (right)

On 1 January 1943 the Bey named as his new Prime Minister M'hammed Chenik, who was described as 'half-American' by the German representative Rudolf Rahn. [5] Chenik headed a government which included the destourian Salah Farhat, the neo-destourian Mahmoud El Materi and an independent, Aziz Djellouli. [7]

Rudolf Rahn German diplomat

Rudolf Rahn was a German diplomat who served the Weimar Republic and Nazi Germany. As a member of the Party, and as Plenipotentiary to the Italian Social Republic in the closing stages of the Second World War, he was arrested and held at Nuremberg as a potential war criminal, but he was released in 1949 and deemed to be denazified in Class V (exonerated).

The New Constitutional Liberal Party, most commonly known as Neo Destour, was a Tunisian political party that was founded by a group of Tunisian nationalist politicians during the French protectorate.

Mahmoud El Materi Tunisian politician

Mahmoud El Materi was a Tunisian physician and politician. He was the first president and one of the founders of the Neo Destour.

Protector of the Jews

His predecessor Ahmed Bey was often referred to as 'the Bey of the French' and signed several decrees prepared by the Vichy regime which were detrimental to The Jewish community in Tunisia. Moncef Bey on the other hand was referred to as 'the Protector of the Jews' and made efforts to ensure that these decrees were not put into effect. He also refused to sign any other anti-Jewish decrees, including those requiring Jews to wear the yellow star, or to undertake forced labour, or to exclude Jews from certain activities. [8] [5] Between November 1942 and May 1943, while Axis troops occupied the country, he intervened repeatedly to protect his people, particularly the Jewish community, from their exactions.

Deposition and exile

Moncef Bey at Pau, 5 October 1947 Salah Farhat 1.jpg
Moncef Bey at Pau, 5 October 1947

When Allied troops liberated Tunis, the French colonial lobby around Henri Giraud, including the former Resident General and Vichy minister Marcel Peyrouton, found a pretext to accuse the Bey of collaborating with Axis forces. [5] After Esteva fled, General Alphonse Juin became acting Resident General. On 13 May 1943, on the orders of Giraud, Juin demanded the Bey's abdication, but he refused. [5] The following day he was removed by a decree from Giraud and flown out of the country by the French airforce. [5] He was succeeded by his cousin Lamine Bey on 15 May 1943.

Mausoleum of Moncef Bey at the Jellaz Cemetery Tunis Djellaz M M Bey.JPG
Mausoleum of Moncef Bey at the Jellaz Cemetery

Moncef Bey was sent to Laghouat in southern Algeria, where he formally abdicated on 8 July. [5] He was then moved to the small town of Ténès, in the north of the country and on 17 October 1945 he was moved again to Pau where he remained until his death on 1 September 1948. [9] His remains were brought back to Tunis and he was buried with full honours in the Jellaz Cemetery unlike other ruling members of his family, who were mostly buried in Tourbet el Bey.

He is commemorated today in the Place Moncef-Bey in La Marsa, formally named on 1 September 2012 by President Moncef Marzouki. [10]

Family life

Moncef Bey was the son of Naceur Bey. He married princess Traki, daughter of Hédi Bey (and thus his cousin) [1] in October 1900 in Sidi Bou Saïd. She was the mother of his four children:

After Princess Traki's death in 1919 Lalla Zoubaida (née Azzouz) and then another cousin, Princess Habiba (1888-1969), whom he divorced. He married his last wife was Lalla Arbiya in August 1942 and she followed him into exile, dying in 1974. [1]


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  1. 1 2 3 El Mokhtar Bey, De la dynastie husseinite. Le fondateur Hussein Ben Ali. 1705 - 1735 - 1740, éd. Serviced, Tunis, 1993, p. 70
  2. Paul Sebag, Tunis. Histoire d'une ville, éd. L'Harmattan, Paris, 1998, p. 493
  3. Michel et Béatrice Wattel, Les Grand’Croix de la Légion d’honneur : de 1805 à nos jours, titulaires français et étrangers, éd. Archives et Culture, Paris, 2009, p. 532 ISBN   9782350771359
  4. Message de Moncef Bey au maréchal Pétain du 2 août 1942 (Archives nationales de Tunisie)
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 accessed 21/05/2017
  6. Henri Grimal, La décolonisation de 1919 à nos jours, éd. Complexe, Bruxelles, 1985, p. 100
  7. Jean-François Martin, Histoire de la Tunisie contemporaine. De Ferry à Bourguiba. 1881-1956, éd. L’Harmattan, Paris, 1993, p. 151
  8. Adnan et Saadeddine Zmerli, « Moncef Bey, protecteur des Juifs », Jeune Afrique, 19 avril 2009, p. 87
  9. Akram Ellyas et Benjamin Stora, Les 100 portes du Maghreb : l’Algérie, le Maroc, la Tunisie. Trois voies singulières pour allier islam et modernité, éd. Atelier, Paris, 1999, p. 237
  10. « À La Marsa, inauguration de la place Moncef-Bey au lieu du 7-Novembre », Tuniscope, 1/9/2012

Commons-logo.svg Media related to Moncef Bey at Wikimedia Commons

Preceded by
Ahmad II ibn Ali
Bey of Tunis
Succeeded by
Muhammad VIII al-Amin