1953 – Mohamed Masmoudi: 'Stop cursing the French!'

By Andrew Stallybrass

24/03/2021
Mohamed Masmouti

 

In the 1950s the ‘winds of change’ were blowing through the Africa continent. Many countries were experiencing unrest, with militant nationalist movements, including France’s North African territories, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. At the start of the decade, 10 countries in Africa were independent. At the decade’s close, in 1960, 26 were.   

In 1953, Mohamed Masmoudi, a young Tunisian nationalist, came to Caux. He was not yet 30 years old. He was then the senior representative in France of the Néo-Destour nationalist movement, and was living a semi-clandestine existence. In order to come to Caux he was more or less smuggled across the border into Switzerland.

Masmoudi had good reason to hate France and the French. He’d spent time in prison, and while in Caux, he heard that his brother had been arrested. But at Caux, he met French ‘who were different’ – and had ‘honest conversations’ with them.

Pray for blessings on me, but stop cursing the French.

On his third day, inspired by what he heard of the reconciliations between French and Germans in Caux, Masmoudi spoke to the conference. He said, ‘I was suspicious, untrusting, and very prickly…. My mother told me in a letter that she was praying that God would bless me and curse the French (some French policemen had threatened her that they planned to kill me). I told her, “Pray for blessings on me, but stop cursing the French.” In my opinion, this is the start of change.’ (see the extract of the hand-typed manuscript of his speech below).

 

Masmoudi letter
                       

 

At Caux, he lost his hatred of the French. He went back to Paris and, at the Moral Rearmament (now known as Initiatives of Change) centre there, over a meal, he met Jean Basdevant, then responsible for Tunisian affairs at the French foreign ministry. They developed a relationship of trust. Basdevant and Masmoudi became key members of the delegations who negotiated independence, which Tunisia achieved in 1956.

Whenever deadlock threatened, the two of them would retire to the garden of the ministry for a private talk. A French historian of the period talked about ‘a contract of trust’ between them. One commentator suggested that the two men had a harder time with their own delegations than they had with each other. Masmoudi became the first Tunisian ambassador to France after independence.

Whenever deadlock threatened, the two of them would retire to the garden of the ministry for a private talk.

In 1956, while leading the first post-independence Tunisian delegation to the United Nations in New York, President Bourguiba declared, ‘The world must be told what Moral Re-Armament* has done for our country.’

The French statesman Robert Schuman wrote to Frank Buchman,  ‘There can be no doubt that the history of Tunisia and Morocco would have been different if it had not been for Moral Re-Armament.’ 

As for Masmoudi, he maintained, ‘Without Moral Re-Armament, we would be involved today in Tunisia in a  war to the death against France... Tunisia would now be a second Indo-China.’

During these years, Caux welcomed delegations from many other African countries moving towards independence from the Western, colonial powers, including Ghana and Nigeria, Kenya and Cameroun.

 

Mohamed Masmoudi (centre), Si Bekkai
Mohamed Masmoudi (centre) with Si Bekkai (left) in Caux

 

_____________________________________________________________________________

 

This story is part of our series 75 Years of Stories about individuals who found new direction and inspiration through Caux, one for each year from 1946 to 2021. If you know a story appropriate for this series, please do pass on your ideas by email to John Bond or Yara Zhgeib. If you would like to know more about the early years of Initiatives of Change and the conference centre in Caux please click here and visit the platform For A New World.

 

 

Featured Story
Off
Event Categories
75 stories 75th anniversary

related stories

Patrick Colquhoun

1961 - Patrick Colquhoun: ‘That week changed my life’

‘Papers about Moral Re-Armament (now Initiatives of Change) sent to me by a friend over the previous three years invariably ended in the bin,’ wrote Patrick Colquhoun. But his first visit at the confe...

Marcel Grandy and Archbishop Makarios

1960 - Cyprus: 'Hope never dies'

There are few problems in the world that have not found some echo in the conferences and encounters in Caux since 1946. In 1960 Cyprus gained its independence, after several years of sometimes violent...

Lennart Segerstrale

1959 – Lennart Segerstråle: ‘Art must be dangerous to evil’

In 1959, a vast fresco was unveiled on the wall of the dining room of the Caux Palace. Its creator, the Finnish artist Lennart Segerstråle, chose the universal image of water to represent his vision o...

Caux school 4

1958 - Angela Elliott: At school in Caux

Angela Cook (later Elliott) arrived in Caux in 1958, aged four. She was one of some 40 children who lived in Caux at different times between 1955 and 1965, attending a small chalet school just up the ...

Jessie Bond 1945

1957 - Jessie Bond: 'I saw his greatness'

Jessie Bond was struggling to cope with four children and her husband’s frequent outbursts. She was seriously thinking of leaving him when they went to Switzerland to spend the summer in Caux. A time ...

Freedom scene square

1955 - Freedom: 'Do you think you could write a play?'

‘We were catapulted into history,’ said Manasseh Moerane, one of the writers of Freedom. The play was seen by 30,000 people all over Europe and demand was so great that they decided to make a film. Fr...

Zeller family black and white

1956 – The Zellers: A family invested in Caux

‘We had the great joy of deciding to sell our house and give the money to Caux,’ Anneli Zeller told the conference on the 29 July 1956. ‘The man we sold it to was so impressed that he gave 10,000 Swis...

Saidie Patterson

1954 - Saidie Patterson: ‘Bury the hatchet or bury the dead’

When Saidie Patterson, a trades union organizer from Northern Ireland, spoke at the conference centre at Caux in 1954, she was keen to point out that Moral Re-Armament (now Initiatives of Change) had ...

Maurice Mercier 1951

1951 - Maurice Mercier: 'Not one cry of hatred'

‘He would have looked at home serving behind a bar down the street,’ the Swiss Jean-Jacques Odier wrote of his first meeting with Maurice Mercier in the offices of France’s Force Ouvrière textile work...

Maclean wedding Caux 1958 square

1952 - Elsbeth and Adam McLean: A Caux wedding

When Elsbeth Spoerry from Switzerland helped to clean up the derelict Caux Palace for the first conference in 1946, she could hardly have guessed that, six years later, she would get married there to ...

Yukaki Shoma young

1950 - Yukika Sohma: 'Japan can become reborn'

The Japanese flag was flying outside the conference centre as 64 Japanese arrived in Caux in 1950. It was a moving moment as back in Japan, still under American occupation, displaying the flag was for...

Max Bladeck

1949 - Max Bladeck: Beyond class war

Max Bladeck joined the Communist Party as a young German coal miner in the 1920s. He remained loyal during the Hitler years when tens of thousands of communists were imprisoned or lost their lives. By...

Paul Misraki

1948 - Paul Misraki: Soundtrack for a new Germany

Germany was in ruins. Europe was in ruins. Millions had been killed; millions more wounded and displaced. There were also ruins of the mind, deep collective trauma in desperate need of healing. In the...

Peter Petersen

1947 - Peter Petersen: ‘All our defences crumbled’

‘At that time, even a dog would have refused a bit of bread from the hand of a German,’ remembered Peter Petersen, one of 150 Germans who the Allies allowed to come to Caux in 1947. They were some of ...