|TUNISIA COAT OF ARMS|
Location of Tunisia within the Continent of Africa
Map of Tunisia
Flag Description of Tunisia:The flag of Tunisia was officially adopted in 1835. It features the crescent and star of Islam on a field of red - a color taken from the ancient flag of Turkey.
Official name Al-Jumhūriyyah al-Tūnisiyyah (Tunisian Republic)
Form of government multiparty republic with one legislative body (Assembly of the Representatives of the People )
Head of state President: Beji Caid Sebsi
Head of government Prime Minister: Mehdi Jomaa
Official language Arabic
Official religion Islam
Monetary unit dinar (TND)
Population (2013 est.) 10,882,000COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 63,170
Total area (sq km) 163,610
- Urban: (2012) 68.1%
- Rural: (2012) 31.9%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2012) 73.2 years
- Female: (2012) 77.4 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: (2008) 86.4%
- Female: (2008) 71%
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2013) 4,360
Rivalry between French and Italian interests in Tunisia culminated in a French invasion in 1881 and the creation of a protectorate. Agitation for independence in the decades following World War I was finally successful in getting the French to recognize Tunisia as an independent state in 1956. The country's first president, Habib BOURGUIBA, established a strict one-party state. He dominated the country for 31 years, repressing Islamic fundamentalism and establishing rights for women unmatched by any other Arab nation. In November 1987, BOURGUIBA was removed from office and replaced by Zine el Abidine BEN ALI in a bloodless coup. Street protests that began in Tunis in December 2010 over high unemployment, corruption, widespread poverty, and high food prices escalated in January 2011, culminating in rioting that led to hundreds of deaths. On 14 January 2011, the same day BEN ALI dismissed the government, he fled the country, and by late January 2011, a "national unity government" was formed. Elections for the new Constituent Assembly were held in late October 2011, and in December, it elected human rights activist Moncef MARZOUKI as interim president. The Assembly began drafting a new constitution in February 2012, and released a second working draft in December 2012. The interim government has proposed presidential and parliamentary elections be held in 2013.
Tunisia, country of North Africa. Tunisia’s accessible Mediterranean Sea coastline and strategic location have attracted conquerors and visitors throughout the ages, and its ready access to the Sahara has brought its people into contact with the inhabitants of the African interior.
According to Greek legend, Dido, a princess of Tyre, was the first outsider to settle among the native tribes of what is now Tunisia when she founded the city of Carthage in the 9th century bce. Although the story is certainly apocryphal, Carthage nonetheless grew into one of the great cities and preeminent powers of antiquity, and its colonies and entrepôts were scattered throughout the western Mediterranean region. Carthage fought a series of wars with its rival, Rome. Rome prevailed in the mid-2nd century bce, razed Carthage, and ruled the region for the following 500 years. In the 7th century Arab conquerors converted the native Berber (Amazigh) population of North Africa to Islam. The area was ruled by a succession of Islamic dynasties and empires until coming under French colonial rule in the late 19th century. After achieving independence in 1956, Tunisia pursued a progressive social agenda and sought to modernize its economy under two long-serving presidents, Habib Bourguiba and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. However, Tunisia remained an authoritarian state with an all-powerful ruling party and no significant institutions of representative government. (For a discussion of political changes in Tunisia in 2011, see Jasmine Revolution.)
Tunisia’s culture is highly diverse, in part because of long periods of Ottoman and then French rule but also because populations of Jews and Christians have lived among a Muslim majority for centuries. Similarly, the capital, Tunis, blends ancient Arab souks and mosques and modern-style office buildings into one of the most handsome and lively cities in the region. Other cities include Sfax (Ṣafāqis), Sousse (Sūsah), and Gabès (Qābis) on the fertile coast and Kairouan (Al-Qayrawān) and El-Kef (Al-Kāf) in the arid interior.
Tunisia’s people are renowned for their conviviality and easygoing approach to daily life, qualities that Albert Memmi captured in his 1955 autobiographical novel Pillar of Salt:
This warmth, joined with the country’s renowned hospitality and cuisine, has contributed greatly to Tunisia’s growing popularity as a destination for tourists from throughout Europe and the Americas.
Geography of Tunisia
Tunisia is bounded by Algeria to the west and southwest, by Libya to the southeast, and by the Mediterranean Sea to the east and north.
Tunisia is characterized by moderate relief. The Tunisian Dorsale, or High Tell, a southwest-northeast–trending mountain range that is an extension of the Saharan Atlas (Atlas Saharien) of Algeria, tapers off in the direction of the Sharīk (Cape Bon) Peninsula in the northeast, south of the Gulf of Tunis. The highest mountain, Mount Chambi (Al-Shaʿnabī), located near the centre of the Algerian border, rises to 5,066 feet (1,544 metres), while Mount Zaghwān (Zaghouan), about 30 miles (50 km) southwest of Tunis, reaches 4,249 feet (1,295 metres). Between the limestone peaks of the central Tunisian Dorsale and the mountains of the Northern Tell—which include the sandstone ridges of the Kroumirie Mountains in the northwest that reach elevations of 3,000 feet (900 metres)—and the Mogods, a mountain range running along the deeply indented coastline to the north, lies the Majardah (Medjerda) River valley, formed by a series of ancient lake basins covered with alluvium. This valley was once the granary of ancient Rome and has remained to this day the richest grain-producing region of Tunisia.
To the south of the Tunisian Dorsale lies a hilly region known as the Haute Steppe (High Steppes) in the west and the Basse Steppe (Low Steppes) in the east. These have elevations ranging from about 600 to 1,500 feet (180 to 460 metres) and are crossed by secondary ranges trending north-south. Farther south there is a series of chott (or shaṭṭ; salty lake) depressions. Large plains border the eastern coasts; south of Sousse lies Al-Sāḥil (Sahel) and south of Gabès is Al-Jifārah (Gefara) Plain. The extreme south is largely sandy desert, much of it part of the Great Eastern Erg of the Sahara.
The major drainage feature of the north is the Majardah River, the country’s only perennially flowing stream, which cuts the Majardah valley before emptying into the Gulf of Tunis, near the site of ancient Carthage. Farther south, streams are intermittent and largely localized in the form of wadis, which are subject to seasonal flooding and terminate inland in chotts. In the country’s most southerly regions, within the Sahara, even these seasonal streams are rare. As in other countries of this arid region, access to water is a major concern. During the 1990s the government sponsored the construction of a number of dams to control flooding, preserve runoff, and recharge the water table.
Tunisia’s most fertile soils are found in the well-watered intermontane valleys in the north, where rich sandy clay soils formed from alluvium or soils high in lime content cover the valley bottoms and plains. Aside from these and from the plains of the Haute Steppe region, where some clay soils of medium fertility may be found, soils in the rest of the country tend to be rocky or sandy. In the dry south, moreover, they are often also saline because of excessive evaporation. The humid coastal plain in the east, running between the Gulf of Hammamet and the Gulf of Gabes, where Tunisia’s thriving olive plantations are found, is the most agriculturally productive of these coarse-textured soil areas.
Tunisia is situated in the warm temperate zone between latitudes 37° and 30° N. In the north the climate is Mediterranean, characterized by mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers with no marked intervening seasons. This changes southward to semiarid conditions on the steppes and to desert in the far south. Saharan influences give rise to the sirocco, a seasonal hot, blasting wind from the south that can have a serious drying effect on vegetation.
Temperatures are moderated by the sea, being less extreme at Sousse on the coast, for example, than at Kairouan (Al-Qayrawān) inland. Temperatures at Sousse average 44 °F (7 °C) in January and 89 °F (32 °C) in August. Comparable temperatures at Kairouan are 40 °F (4 °C) in January and 99 °F (37 °C) in August. Africa’s highest temperature, about 131 °F (55 °C), was recorded in Kebili, a town in central Tunisia.
The amount of precipitation, all falling as rain, varies considerably from north to south. A mean annual rainfall of about 60 inches (1,520 mm) occurs in the Kroumirie Mountains in northwestern Tunisia, making it the wettest region in North Africa, as compared with less than 4 inches (100 mm) at Tozeur (Tawzar) in the southwest. Generally, from mid-autumn to mid-spring, when three-fourths of the annual total occurs, northern Tunisia receives more than 16 inches of rainfall, and the steppe region receives from 4 to 16 inches (100 to 400 mm). Amounts are also highly irregular from one year to another, and irregularity increases southward toward the desert. Harvests vary as a result, being poor in dry years.
- Plant and animal life
The vegetation and animal life of the country are affected by these erratic climatic conditions. From north to south, the cork oak forest of the Kroumirie Mountains, with its fern undergrowth sheltering wild boars, gives way to scrub and steppes covered with esparto grass and populated with small game and to the desert, where hunting is forbidden so as to preserve the remaining gazelles. Scorpions are found in all regions; among dangerous snakes are the horned viper and the cobra. Desert locusts sometimes damage crops in the southern part of the country. Ichkeul National Park, in the northernmost part of the country, was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980. It is important as a winter sanctuary for such birds as the greylag goose, coot, and wigeon.
Demography of Tunisia
- Ethnic groups
The population of Tunisia is essentially Arab Berber. However, throughout the centuries Tunisia has received various waves of immigration that have included Phoenicians, sub-Saharan Africans, Jews, Romans, Vandals, and Arabs; Muslim refugees from Sicily settled in Al-Sāḥil after their homeland was captured by the Normans in 1091. The most notable immigration was that of the Spanish Moors (Muslims), which began after the fall of Sevilla (Seville), Spain, as a result of the Reconquista in 1248 and which turned into a veritable exodus in the early 17th century. As a result, some 200,000 Spanish Muslims settled in the area of Tunis, in the Majardah valley, and on the Sharīk Peninsula in the north, bringing with them their urban culture and more advanced agricultural and irrigation techniques. Finally, from the 16th to the 19th century, the Ottomans brought their own blend of Asian and European traditions. This great ethnic diversity is still seen in the variety of Tunisian family names.
Arabic is the official language, and most natives speak a dialect of Tunisian Arabic. Modern Standard Arabic is taught in schools. The cultural Arabization of the country was largely completed by the end of the 12th century, and currently only a tiny fraction of the population—most of them in the south—still speak one of the Berber languages. French, introduced during the protectorate (1881–1956), came into wider use only after independence, because of the spread of education. It continues to play an important role in the press, education, and government. To a lesser extent, English and Italian also serve as lingua francas.
Virtually the entire population is Muslim, and Islam, in its Mālikī Sunni form, is the state religion. Christian and Jewish minorities have declined substantially in number since independence; non-Muslims numbered more than 300,000 in 1956 but have since been reduced to only about 50,000. Official openness to religious diversity permits both communities to practice their faiths.
- Settlement patterns
Tunisia is divided into four natural and demographic regions: the north, which is relatively fertile and well watered; the semiarid central region; Al-Sāḥil in the east-central coastal region, which is preeminently olive-growing country; and the desert south, where, except in the oases, all vegetation disappears. In the central and southern regions, there are still people who have preserved a certain cohesion through following a seminomadic way of life. In the north and east, on the other hand, particularly along the coasts, the population is quite mixed and more dense, the life of the cultivator is more complex, the villages are more crowded, and the cities are larger. City populations have expanded at the expense of the countryside and by the late 20th century had incorporated more than three-fifths of the country’s people; nearly one-tenth of Tunisia’s population lives in Tunis alone. Growth has also been significant in the cities of Bizerte, Gabès, Sfax, and Sousse.
- Demographic trends
The population of Tunisia doubled during the last three decades of the 20th century. The country’s natural growth rate is less rapid, however, than those of the other North African countries, a feat accomplished through family planning to lower the birth rate—Tunisia has one of the lowest birth rates on the African continent—and by raising the social, economic, and legal status of women. Emigration has also helped depress the overall growth rate, with hundreds of thousands of Tunisians being employed abroad, notably in France and in the countries of the Middle East. Tunisia’s relatively favourable demographic situation is reflected in its high life expectancy (among the highest in Africa), higher living standards, declining infant mortality rate, marriage at older age, and progressive aging of the population. Average life expectancy is about 75 years.
Economy of Tunisia
Tunisia has a well-diversified economy, although it remains dominated by only a few large sectors. The economy depends heavily on mineral exports, especially petroleum and phosphates, a growing manufacturing sector that has received much investment, and agricultural products. Tourism is also a significant source of revenue and foreign exchange, as are remittances from migrant workers living abroad. While foreign debt has been brought under control, the country continues to suffer from a regional imbalance between the north and Al-Sāḥil region, which are more fertile and more economically developed, and the arid central and southern regions, which have fewer natural advantages.
After a brief experiment with socialism in the 1960s, Tunisia shifted its economic doctrine toward a mixed planned and market economy. However, the economy fell into crisis in the early 1980s, the result of an overreliance on oil revenues, foreign aid, and labour remittances. In the mid-1980s a comprehensive program was introduced to liberalize the economy, which helped restore Tunisia’s international credit standing, stabilize public finances, reduce budget deficits and inflation, improve trade balances, and increase foreign and domestic investments. Public-sector reforms, deregulation, and privatization have also been implemented. The program has not been without its social costs, however, as unemployment and poverty levels rose. Nonetheless, the country’s per capita gross national product has continued to grow steadily.
- Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Some two-thirds of Tunisia is suitable for farming, and about one-fifth of the working population is employed in agriculture, yet agricultural production is still insufficient to meet the needs of Tunisia’s growing population and contributes only about one-twelfth of gross domestic product (GDP). Cereals, in particular, must be imported, as must meat and dairy products; sheep, goats, and cattle are raised but not in numbers sufficient to supply domestic demand. The low crop yields are in part caused by the division of the property into small, inefficient plots and also by the predominance of outdated farming methods. Climatic variations—periodic droughts and sporadic rainfall—often jeopardize harvests. Much of the country’s most recent agricultural investment since the late 20th century has focused on irrigation schemes, well and dam construction, and programs to prevent soil erosion and desertification. Reforms have also freed up agricultural prices by removing artificial price supports. Tunisia nonetheless exports a fair amount of agricultural produce. The principal commodities are citrus fruits, olive oil, grapes, tomatoes, melons, figs, and dates.
The lumber sector is essentially confined to exploiting oak and cork from the Kroumirie Mountains of the north, while the esparto grass of the plains is used to manufacture quality paper. The expanding fishing industry, centred on the eastern port city of Sfax, also contributes to the country’s exports. Primary catches include sardines, mackerels, and cuttlefish.
- Resources and power
Tunisia’s natural resources are relatively meagre. Until the discovery of petroleum, the principal mineral resource was phosphate; of this, one-third is exported, and the remainder is used by domestic chemical industries. Fertilizer is also an important export. Other major mineral resources are zinc, lead, barite, and iron.
Petroleum was discovered in the extreme south in 1964 at Al-Burmah (El-Borma) field. Although Tunisia’s deposits are much smaller than those of its larger neighbours, they are significant to the economy. As production fell in the 1980s, the government began developing several of the country’s smaller oil fields. Nearly a dozen deposits were being exploited by the early 1990s, the largest fields being Al-Burmah and Al-Dūlāb in southern Tunisia near the Algerian border, Sīdī al-Yatāʾim (Sidi el-Itayem) north of Sfax, the Ashtart field in the Gulf of Gabes, and the Tazarka (Tāzirkah) field in the Gulf of Hammamet.
In the early 1990s Tunisia’s petroleum reserves were estimated to be sufficient to maintain the country’s low rate of extraction for several decades but insufficient to prevent Tunisia—because of increased domestic consumption and inadequate refinement facilities—from becoming a net importer of petroleum products. Since then, natural gas production has been significantly increased, and foreign investment has been encouraged in the sector. Major British investments in Al-Miskar field in the mid-1990s contributed to Tunisia’s achieving self-sufficiency in natural gas production. Like petroleum and despite new discoveries, the quantities of natural gas are small as compared with Libyan and Algerian production. In addition, Tunisia receives royalties on the gas that is pumped through a pipeline running through Tunisia, connecting the Algerian gas fields to Sicily.
Most electricity is generated by thermal means, including newer plants fired by natural gas and fuel oil. Some solar power is also being utilized.
Manufacturing contributes roughly one-sixth of GDP and employs an equal proportion of the population. The development of manufacturing in Tunisia has historically encountered two major difficulties: raw material and power supplies are inadequate, and the domestic market is limited. Since independence was achieved in 1956, some notable and sometimes costly projects, such as the Menzel Bourguiba (Manzil Bū Ruqaybah) iron-smelting complex located near Bizerte, have been successfully established. In general, however, the manufacturing base has remained relatively small and overly concentrated on making clothes, textiles, leather goods, and food products. Tunisia’s industry became increasingly export-oriented during the 1970s, but it remained uncompetitive and overprotected and did not generate sufficient income. It also continued to be largely concentrated in wealthier coastal areas, despite government incentives to relocate to the country’s western and southern parts.
As a result of reforms, Tunisian manufacturing has become much more diversified, with new investments in the production and export of mechanical and electromechanical equipment, petroleum products, and chemicals. The textile sector still remains disproportionately large, however, and more than one-third of all manufacturing operations are located in Tunis alone. On the other hand, investment codes introduced in the late 1980s have attracted strong foreign interest, which has enhanced technology transfer, modernized the service and financial sectors, and aided export development.
Privatization has been a slower process. After an initial flurry of sales in the early 1990s, the pace slackened, and privatization seemed restricted to small, profitable enterprises such as textile factories. There have been renewed efforts to expand the private sector by transferring ownership of large, strategic companies, and activity has increased, particularly involving foreign interests.
The Banque Central de Tunisie is the country’s central bank and issues the dinar, the national currency. The government also partly operates several development banks, the largest of which is the Société Tunisienne de Banque, and there are numerous commercial banks. The dinar has been made partially convertible against the European Union (EU) euro and several other currencies. The Tunisian stock exchange, Bourse de Tunis, was founded in 1969 and has become a central pillar of economic policy, as it has facilitated privatization and encouraged both domestic savings and foreign investment.
Trade accounts for some one-fourth of GDP, and Tunisia relies heavily on its trade with Europe, with the EU accounting for the bulk of both exports and imports. France is the most important trading partner, followed by Italy and Germany. Tunisia often shows an annual trade deficit. In the late 1990s the country signed an agreement with the EU, under the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership Program, that set in motion the creation of a free-trade area between Tunisia and the EU. Tunisia has been a member of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade since 1990; it also is a participant in the World Trade Organization and is a signatory of the Arab League’s Arab Free Trade Area. In addition, Tunisia is a member of the Arab Maghrib Union, which aims at economic integration among its member states.
Tunisia’s most significant exports are textiles and leather products, electrical machinery, and crude and refined petroleum. Its major imports are consumer products, raw materials, machinery and electrical equipment, and food products.
Services, including retail trade, public administration, defense, and tourism, account for a significant portion of GDP—although Tunisia’s military spending, as a percentage of gross national product, is well below the world average—and for nearly half of employment. Tourism has become one of Tunisia’s leading sources of foreign exchange and has spawned a vibrant and growing handicraft industry in its wake. Although tourism was adversely affected by regional instabilities at the beginning of the 21st century, since the uprising against the regime of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, the number of tourists—especially from other Arab countries—has again been rising.
- Labour and taxation
Unemployment in Tunisia has often been high, despite concerted efforts by the government to reduce the rate. Workers are allowed by law to organize, and there are a number of unions. The three large professional organizations are: the General Union of Tunisian Workers, the principal trade union; the Tunisian Union of Industry, Commerce and Handicrafts, the main employers’ organization; and the National Union of Tunisian Farmers, the principal agricultural union. These are the main participants in national wage negotiations, although numerous other organizations also represent the country’s economic interests.
Most government revenues are acquired through taxation, and Tunisia levies both direct and indirect taxes. Direct taxes take the form of an income tax assessed at a marginal rate and a flat-rate corporate tax. Indirect taxes include a variable-rate value-added tax (certain luxury items, for instance, are taxed at a higher rate) and professional training, social security, and registration taxes.
- Transportation and telecommunications
The network of roads and railways is sufficiently dense so that all cities of any importance are linked with the interior. Nearly four-fifths of roads are paved. Tunisia is connected by both road and rail to Algeria but only by road to Libya, since the railway ends at Gabès. Work is under way to modernize and extend the railway network. The principal port is Tunis–La Goulette (Ḥalq al-Wādī); other major ports include Sfax, Bizerte, Sousse, and, in the south, Gabès. An oil pipeline runs from Edjeleh, Algeria, to the port of La Skhira (Al-Ṣukhayrah) on the Gulf of Gabes.
Despite the construction of an airport at Gafsa, regional airports at Monastir (Al-Munastīr), Jerba (Jarbah), Sfax, and Tozeur handle domestic or charter flights, and international air traffic is directed mainly through Tunis-Carthage International Airport.
Tunisia’s telecommunication services are controlled by Tunisie Télécom (founded in 1996), a state-owned entity that is responsible for maintaining and developing the country’s communications infrastructure. Tunisia signed the World Trade Organization Basic Telecommunications Services Agreement of 1997, which opened the country’s market, and its telecommunications infrastructure has expanded markedly since that time. Internet access is widespread, and cellular telephones far outnumber standard phone lines. Local communications are largely conducted over microwave radio links, while international transmission makes use of satellite networks and fibre-optic cables.
Government and Society of Tunisia
For nearly the entire period between Tunisia’s achievement of independence in 1956 and the Jasmine Revolution, a popular uprising that unseated Pres. Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, the Tunisian political system featured a powerful presidential regime backed by a single political party. The constitution of 1959 granted the president sweeping executive and legislative powers while placing narrow limits on the authority of the elected legislature and the judiciary. The Neo-Destour Party, led by Tunisia’s first president, Habib Bourguiba, remained the only legal political party until 1981.
Some new political parties were permitted in 1981, permission for a multiparty system was granted in 1988, and the first multiparty elections were held in 1989. However, since the new political parties had neither the financial nor the organizational structure to mobilize serious opposition, Neo-Destour—in 1988 renamed the Democratic Constitutional Rally and known by its French acronym, RCD—retained a monopoly over political activity. Laws forbidding political parties based on ethnicity, religion, region, or language prevented the major opposition group, the Islamist Nahḍah (“Renaissance”) Party, from being granted legal status, and many of its leaders were jailed or exiled. The exclusion of Islamists from politics came to an end in January 2011 with the downfall of the Ben Ali regime, and by late 2011 the Nahḍah Party had emerged as the strongest party in the country, winning 90 seats in the 217 member Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution to replace the suspended 1959 text.
Tensions between Islamists and liberals at times appeared to threaten Tunisia’s transition to democracy, but, after more than two years of contentious negotiations, in January 2014 the Constituent Assembly voted overwhelmingly to approve a constitution that seemed to be acceptable to all sides. A caretaker government remained in power until legislative and presidential elections could be held.
- Constitutional framework
The constitution proclaims Tunisia a republic with Arabic as its language and Islam as its religion. Freedom of expression and the right to form political parties and associations are guaranteed, as is freedom of religious belief.
Legislative authority is held by a single chamber, the Assembly of the People’s Representatives. Members serve five-year terms. Following legislative elections, the president appoints a member of the winning party or coalition to form a cabinet. If a cabinet cannot be formed within four months, the president may dissolve the assembly and call for new legislative elections.
The president acts as head of state and exercises executive authority along with the prime minister and cabinet. The president is directly elected for a five-year term and may be reelected only once. Candidates for president must be Muslim, at least 35 years old, and Tunisian citizens by birth. The president is the commander in chief of the armed forces and conducts foreign policy but cannot declare war or enter treaties without the approval of the Assembly of the People’s Representatives. The Assembly of the People’s Representatives can impeach the president with a two-thirds vote.
- Local government
The country is divided into 24 administrative areas called wilāyāt (provinces; singular wilāyah), each of which is headed by a wālī (governor). Each province is designated by the name of its chief town and is in turn subdivided into numerous units called muʿtamadiyyāt (delegations), whose number varies according to province size. Delegations are administered by a muʿtamad and are in turn divided into more than 2,000 districts called minṭaqah turābiyyahs. Tunisia is further divided into scores of municipalities and rural councils.
Tunisia’s legal system is based on French civil law with some influence from a liberal interpretation of Islamic law (Sharīʿah). The independence and neutrality of the courts are guaranteed by the constitution. The judiciary is made up of the courts of first instance, appellate courts, and the Court of Cassation. A separate system of administrative courts deals with legal disputes between individuals and state or public institutions, and cases concerning the management of public funds are handled by the Court of Audit. The Supreme Judicial Council, a body comprising judges and other legal specialists, oversees the functioning of the justice system.
The Constitutional Court rules on the constitutionality of laws and treaties. The court has 12 members, of whom four each are appointed by the president, Supreme Judicial Council, and Assembly of the People’s Representatives. Members serve a single nine-year term.
- Political process
Since the Jasmine Revolution and the dissolution of the RCD in 2011, dozens of new political parties have gained formal recognition. The Nahḍah Party emerged as the strongest, and several centre-left parties also have significant support.
Since independence, a prominent feature of Tunisian social policy has been the effort to improve the status and lives of women. Compared with their counterparts in other Arab countries, women in Tunisia have enjoyed greater equality before the law. The progressive Code of Personal Status, which was introduced in 1956, has been amended to affirm and enhance women’s political, social, and economic roles. The constitution adopted in 2014 guarantees the equality of men and women before the law.
Tunisia maintains a relatively small active-duty military, consisting mostly of conscripts whose term of service is one year. The army is the largest branch (with the highest number of conscripts), but the country also has a small navy and air force. The former consists mainly of small patrol vessels. The air force has relatively few high-performance aircraft. A national police force—whose jurisdiction is largely restricted to the cities—and a largely rural national guard report to the Ministry of the Interior and are responsible for national security.
- Health and welfare
The living standards of the population in general are modest. The country’s national health system provides nearly all of its population with access to medical care. Despite rising public expenditure on health, many Tunisians have been turning to private health care as demand outstrips supply. A good network of hospitals and clinics has contributed to a relatively low death rate and, in particular, to one of the lowest infant mortality rates on the African continent.
Traditional urban housing in Tunisia—found in the old city centres, or medinas—consisted of tightly arranged structures grouped within town walls and interlaced by a network of narrow walkways and passages. Building exteriors generally were whitewashed, with little decoration, while interiors were ornate and comfortable. Each neighbourhood (Arabic: ḥārah) was restricted to a particular ethnic or religious group, and it was only with the beginning of the protectorate that these city centres began to give way to European-style city plans. Following independence, the government began to encourage the restoration of the medinas, and architects have more recently sought to mitigate Western influence in favour of traditional architectural patterns.
Unique to the region are the underground dwellings found in the rural southeastern part of the country. These structures were designed for habitation in a harsh, arid environment and generally consist of a sunken central courtyard surrounded by individual family dwellings, storage areas, and workrooms, all of which are built into the earth. (Scenes from the motion picture Star Wars were filmed at such a dwelling located in the village of Matmata [Maṭmāṭah].)
Education is free to all school-age children, and schooling is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16. Virtually all of the country’s children are enrolled in primary education, and nearly one-sixth of its young people go on to attend one of the country’s universities or institutes of higher learning. More than three-fourths of the population is literate; the rate among men is somewhat higher than that among women, but the gap is narrowing.
Growth in the number of schools, students, and teachers has created a serious financial strain, as education has constituted one of the largest shares of the annual national budget. Students have had no alternative other than turning to private funding to supplement state education allowances, and they increasingly have been denied the choice of subject area or school. Given the difficulties of finding enough job opportunities for qualified people, more emphasis has been placed on technical, vocational, teacher, and agricultural training. The University of Tunis (founded 1960) is the country’s major institution of higher education. Several more universities have opened since the 1980s, and there are also religious schools.
Culture Life of Tunisia
History of Tunisia
The coast of Tunisia was settled in 10th cent. B.C. by Phoenicians. In the 6th cent. B.C., Carthage rose to power, but it was conquered by Rome (2d cent. B.C.), and the region became one of the granaries of Rome. It was held by Vandals (5th cent. A.D.) and Byzantines (6th cent.). In the 7th cent. it was conquered by Arabs, who founded Al Qayrawan. The region became known as Ifriqiya and the Berber population was converted to Islam. Successive Muslim dynasties ruled, interrupted by Berber rebellions. The reigns of the Aghlabids (9th cent.) and of the Zirids (from 972), Berber followers of the Fatimids, were especially prosperous. When the Zirids angered the Fatimids in Cairo (1050), the latter ravaged Tunisia.
The coasts were briefly held by the Normans of Sicily in the 12th cent. In 1159, Tunisia was conquered by the Almohad caliphs of Morocco. The Almohads were succeeded by the Berber Hafsids (c.1230–1574), under whom Tunisia prospered. In the last years of the Hafsids, Spain seized many of the coastal cities, but they were recovered for Islam by the Ottoman Turks. Under its Turkish governors, the beys, Tunisia attained virtual independence. In the late 16th cent. the coast became a pirate stronghold (see Barbary States). The Hussein dynasty of beys, established in 1705, lasted until 1957.
European Influence and Nationalist Aspirations In the 19th cent. the heavy debts that the beys had contracted gave European powers cause for intervention. France, Great Britain, and Italy took over Tunisia's finances in 1869. A number of incidents, including attacks by Tunisians on Algeria (a French possession since 1830), led to a French invasion of Tunisia. The bey was forced to sign the treaties of Bardo (1881) and Mersa (1883), which provided for the organization of a protectorate under a French resident general. The protectorate was opposed by Italy, which had economic interests and a sizable group of nationals in Tunisia. Italy's attitude grew increasingly belligerent, and, in the years immediately preceding World War I, threats of annexation were made.
A nationalist movement developed fairly quickly in Tunisia. In 1920 the Destour (Constitutional) party was organized. In 1934 a more radical faction, led by Habib Bourguiba, formed the Neo-Destour party. In World War II, Tunisia came under Vichy rule after the fall of France (June, 1940). Major battles of the war in North Africa were fought in Tunisia (see North Africa, campaigns in). After the war nationalist agitation intensified. In 1950, France granted Tunisia a large degree of autonomy. The French population in Tunisia, however, opposed further reforms, and negotiations broke down. Bourguiba was arrested (1952), and his imprisonment precipitated a wave of violence.
- Tunisia since Independence
In 1955, France granted Tunisia complete internal self-government. Full independence was negotiated in 1956, and Habib Bourguiba became prime minister. The country became a republic in 1957 when the bey, Sidi Lamine, was deposed by a vote of the constituent assembly, which then made Bourguiba president. Bourguiba followed a generally pro-Western foreign policy, but relations with France were strained over Algerian independence, which Tunisia supported, and the evacuation of French troops from Tunisia. The French naval installations at Bizerte were the scene of violent confrontation in 1961; France finally agreed to evacuate them in 1963.
Relations between Tunisia and Algeria deteriorated after the latter gained its independence from France in 1962, and border disputes between the two countries were not settled until 1970. Bourguiba's support for a negotiated settlement with Israel in the Arab-Israeli conflict caused strains in its relations with other Arab countries. Domestically, Bourguiba's policies emphasized modernization and planned economic growth. An agrarian reform plan, involving the formation of cooperatives, was begun in 1962, but it was halted in 1969 due to harsh implementation and corruption.
The 1970s saw increasing conflict within the ruling Destour party between liberals and conservatives, as well as public demonstrations against the government. However, Bourguiba's socialist government enjoyed a long period of favorable relations with France and became a moderating influence in the Arab League. In 1981, Bourguiba authorized the legal formation of opposition political parties, indicating a possible shift in the direction of democracy, and multiparty legislative elections were held for the first time in 1981. By 1986, six opposition parties had legal status. Nonetheless, the 1980s were largely characterized by popular unrest and labor difficulties, as well as a search for the aging Bourguiba's successor.
In 1987, Bourguiba was ousted by Gen. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, ostensibly for reasons of senility. The new regime restored diplomatic relations with Libya and signed a treaty of economic cooperation with Libya, Algeria, Mauritania, and Morocco (see under Maghreb). Ben Ali initially moved toward liberal reforms, but after the 1989 elections, in which Islamic activists made a strong showing, he instituted repressive measures against them. During the 1994 election campaign, the government arrested political dissidents and barred the Islamic party Al Nahda from participating. Running uncontested and endorsed by all the legal opposition parties, Ben Ali drew nearly 100% of the vote.
In 1999, Ben Ali was again reelected with nearly 100% of the vote; he faced a token challenge from two opposition candidates. A constitutional amendment, approved in 2002 in a referendum by a similar margin, permitted the president to run for more than two terms. In 2004 and 2009 Ben Ali was reelected a lopsided share (94% and 89%) of the vote; he again faced only token opposition. The landslide victories of Ben Ali and the government party were marked by intimidation and credible accusations of vote-rigging.
In Dec., 2010, protests began against Ben Ali's government, sparked by the self-immolation of an unlicensed vendor who had his stall confiscated by police and fed by anger over high unemployment, rising prices, and government corruption. The demonstrations continued into the next month, and intensified after police killed a number of protesters. Ben Ali's rule collapsed in a matter of weeks, and he went into exile in Jan., 2011. He later was convicted in absentia of embezzlement and other charges.
An interim government was formed, with Fouad Mebazza, the parliament speaker, as president and Mohamed Ghannouchi remaining as prime minister. Though the cabinet included opposition members, the presence of former ruling party officials in the government was opposed by some, and the political environment remained unsettled. Ghannouchi resigned the following month and Beji Caid-Essebsi succeeded him. Elections for a constituent assembly (to write a new constitution and form an interim government) were planned for July, but subsequently they were postponed to October.
The moderate Islamist Ennahda, led by Rachid Ghannouchi, won more than two fifths of seats in the assembly, with most of the rest of the seats going to several left-of-center parties and independents. Ennahda formed a coalition with secular opposition parties, and in December Moncef Marzouki of the Congress for the Republic party was elected president; Ennahda's Hamadi Jebali was appointed prime minister. Secular parties concerned over persistent Islamist violence quit the government after the Feb., 2013, assassination of Chokri Belaid, a secular politician. Ennahda refused to back Jebali's attempt to form a technocratic government, and after he resigned, Ennahda's Ali Larayedh became (March) prime minister of a new government with two secular parties; several prominent cabinet posts went to independents. The assassination of opposition politician Mohamed Brahmi in July led to a new round of protests against the government and calls for a government of national unity. In September Ennahda agreed to talks on establishing a caretaker government and holding new elections, in October a road map for the process was finalized, and in Jan., 2013, Medhi Jomaa, a former industry minister, became caretaker prime minister.
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