France’s invasion in 1881 did not lead to absolute French authority over Tunisia, but to “divided rule”—wherein sovereignty was split not only between France and the Husaynid dynasty of beys, as one might expect, but also between France and other European powers (especially Italy and Great Britain) whose prior treaty arrangements with the Tunisian bey secured them pockets of influence in the protectorate. This chapter introduces the concept of “divided rule” and the system of domestic and international relationships that emerged from it to continually challenge French authority in the Tunisian protectorate. It then highlights the way that this unique approach to Tunisia’s history contributes fresh insights to the histories of France, North Africa, and the Mediterranean; imperialism and colonialism; international relations; law; and sovereignty; as well as the Western encounter with Islam.
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