TUNISIA: End as a Bey

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In the old days, no one ever dared arrest a member of the ruling dynasty of Tunisia. But last week Prince Salaheddine, boisterous third son of the Bey of Tunis, languished in a jail charged with attempted murder of a police inspector (he had played once too often his favorite game of driving full speed toward a cop and slamming on the brakes just in time). Salaheddine's arrest was a sign that the end was near. Before the week was out the 76-year-old Bey, whose family has ruled Tunisia for 250 years, was unceremoniously toppled from his throne, and the throne itself (both as an institution and a piece of furniture) was tossed on the scrap heap of history.

Out of Trouble. The descendants of a Greek renegade first placed on the throne by the Turkish masters of the Ottoman Empire, the Husseinite Beys of Tunis became in later years little more than abject puppets of French colonial rule. With personal prerogatives rivaling those of true oriental potentates and on a half-million-dollar-a-year allowance (almost ten times what France pays its own President), the Beys had only to pile up their wealth and stay out of trouble. Since dynastic law provided that each Bey should be succeeded by the eldest male relative on his father's side, most had reached a state of pleasantly senile complaisance by the time they reached the throne.

The last of the lot, spade-bearded El Amin, had a passionate concern for antique clocks, and an urge to garb himself in bemedaled uniforms of the old Ottoman army. He made an impressive showpiece at royal functions, never bothered to learn French, and gazed tolerantly at the antics of a huge and predatory family.

Out of Office. During the early years of insurgent Tunisian nationalism, El Amin refused to put his royal seal on a few French decrees. The irritated French ringed his palace with soldiers to put him back in line. The Bey's gesture was enough to keep him on the throne for a while after Tunisia got its independence. But Tunisia's modern-minded new Premier, Habib Bourguiba, 54, was obviously not going to tolerate the antique dynasty for long. Gradually the Premier cut down on the royal prerogatives. Two weeks ago, Bourguiba announced in a weekly broadcast: "The hour of reckoning will come. The country cannot continue to suffer evil in high places."

Last week Tunisian ambassadors from all over the world were summarily recalled to Tunis. After meeting with them and with the executive committee of his own ruling Neo-Destour Party, Bourguiba called a special session of the nation's Constituent Assembly. In a hall from which the Bey's old throne had disappeared, the governing body of Tunisia voted unanimously to 1) do away with the monarchy, 2) establish a republic, 3) make Habib Bourguiba its first President. "Because of the affection of the people for me," Bourguiba said cockily, "I could have myself declared Bey. But I urge the people to choose a republic."

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