Tunisia (Arabic: تونس Tūnis), officially the Tunisian Republic (الجمهوريةالتونسية al-Jumhūriyya at-Tūnisiyya), is the northernmost country in Africa. It is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Its size is almost 165,000 km² with an estimated population of just over 10.3 million. Its name is derived from the capital Tunis located in the north-east.
Tunisia is the smallest of the nations situated along the Atlas mountain range. The south of the country is composed of the Sahara desert, with much of the remainder consisting of particularly fertile soil and 1,300 km of coastline. Both played a prominent role in ancient times, first with the famous Phoenician city of Carthage, then as the Africa Province which was known as the "bread basket" of the Roman Empire. Later, Tunisia was occupied by Vandals during the 5th century AD, Byzantines in the 6th century, and Arabs in the 8th century.
Under the Ottoman Empire, Tunisia was known as "Regency of Tunis". It passed under French protectorate in 1881. After obtaining its independence in 1956, the country took the official name of the "Kingdom of Tunisia" at the end of the reign of Lamine Bey and the Husainid Dynasty. With the proclamation of the Tunisian republic in July 25, 1957, the nationalist leader Habib Bourguiba became its first president and led the modernization of the country. Today Tunisia is an export-oriented country, in the process of liberalizing its economy.
Tunisia has close relations with both the European Union — with whom it has an association agreement — and the Arab world. Tunisia is also a member of the Arab League and the African union.
The word Tunisia is derived from Tunis; a city and capital of modern-day Tunisia. The present form of the name, with its Latinate suffix -ia, evolved from French Tunisie. This name was introduced by French geographers and historians as part of their efforts to give names to their new occupied territories and protectorates. The French derivative Tunisie was adopted in some European languages with slight modifications introducing a distinctive name to designate the country. Other languages remained untouched such as the Spanish Túnez. In this case, the same name is used for both country and city as in Arabic : تونسand only by context can one tell the difference.
The name Tunis can be attributed to different origins. It can be associated with the Phoenician goddess Tanith (aka Tunit), ancient city of Tynes or to the Berber root ens which means "to lie down".
At the beginning of known recorded history, Tunisia was inhabited by Berber tribes. Its coast was settled by Phoenicians starting as early as the 10th century B.C. The city of Carthage was founded in the 9th century B.C. by settlers from Tyre, now in modern day Lebanon. Legend says, that Dido founded the city in 814 B.C., as retold in by the Greek writer Timaeus of Tauromenium. The settlers of Carthage brought their culture and religion from the Phoenicians and other Canaanites.
After a series of wars with Greek city-states of Sicily in the 5th century BC, Carthage rose to power and eventually became the dominant civilization in the Western Mediterranean. The people of Carthage worshipped a pantheon of Middle Eastern gods including Baal and Tanit. Tanit's symbol, a simple female figure with extended arms and long dress, is a popular icon found in ancient sites. The founders of Carthage also established a Tophet which was altered in Roman times.
The Roman Period
Though the Romans referred to the new empire growing in the city of Carthage as Punic or Phoenician, the empire built around Carthage was an independent political entity from the other Phoenician settlements in the Western Mediterranean.
A Carthaginian invasion of Italy led by Hannibal during the Second Punic War, one of a series of wars with Rome, nearly crippled the rise of the Roman Empire. Carthage was eventually conquered by Rome in the 2nd century BC, a turning point which led to ancient Mediterranean civilization having been influenced mainly by European instead of African cultures.
After the Roman conquest, the region became one of the granaries of Rome, and was Latinized and Christianized. The Romans controlled nearly all of modern Tunisia, unlike other modern African countries, of which Rome only held the northern coast. It was conquered by the Vandals in the 5th century AD and reconquered by the commander Belisarius in the 6th century during the rule of Byzantine emperor Justinian.
The Arabo-Muslim Period
Around the beginning of the 8th century the region was conquered by Arab Muslims, who founded the city of Kairouan which became the first city of Islam in North Africa. Tunisia flourished under Arab rule. Extensive irrigation installations were constructed to supply towns with water and promote agriculture (especially olive production) . This prosperity permitted luxurious court life and was marked by the construction of new Palace cities such as al-Abassiya (809) and Raqadda (877) .
Successive Muslim dynasties ruled Tunisia (Ifriqiya at the time) with occasional instabilities caused mainly by Berber rebellions; of these reigns we can cite the Aghlabids (800-900) and Fatimids (909-972). After conquering Cairo, Fatimids abandoned North Africa to the local Zirids (Tunisia and parts of Eastern Algeria, 972-1148) and Hammadid (Central and eastern Algeria, 1015-1152) . North Africa was submerged by their quarrels; political instability was connected to the decline of Tunisian trade and agriculture . In addition the invasion of Tunisia by Banu Hilal, a warlike Arab Bedouin tribes encouraged by Fatimids of Egypt to seize North Africa, sent the region's urban and economic life into further decline . The Arab historian Ibn Khaldun wrote that the lands ravaged by Banu Hilal invaders had become completely arid desert.
The coasts were held briefly by the Normans of Sicily in the 12th century and the following Arab reconquest made the last Christians in Tunisia disappear. In 1159, Tunisia was conquered by the Almohad caliphs. They were succeeded by the Berber Hafsids (c.1230– 1574), under whom Tunisia prospered. In the late 16th century the coast became a pirate stronghold (see: Barbary States).
The Ottoman Rule
In the last years of the Hafsids, Spain seized many of the coastal cities, but these were recovered by the Ottoman Empire. Under its Turkish governors, the Beys, Tunisia attained virtual independence. The Hussein dynasty of Beys, established in 1705, lasted until 1957. From 1881 - 1956 the country was under French colonization. European settlements in the country were actively encouraged; the number of French colonists grew from 34,000 in 1906 to 144,000 in 1945. In 1910 there were 105,000 Italians in Tunisia.
World War II
In 1942– 1943, Tunisia was the scene of the first major operations by the Allied Forces (the British Empire and the United States) against the Axis Powers (Italy and Germany) during World War II. The main body of the British army, advancing from their victory in Battle of el-Alamein under the command of British Field Marshal Montgomery, pushed into Tunisia from the south. The US and other allies, following their invasions of Algeria and Morocco in Operation Torch, invaded from the west.
General Rommel, commander of the Axis forces in North Africa, had hoped to inflict a similar defeat on the allies in Tunisia as German forces did in the Battle of France in 1940. Before the battle for el-Alamein, the allied forces had been forced to retreat toward Egypt. As such the battle for Tunisia was a major test for the allies. They figured out that in order to defeat Axis forces they would have to coordinate their actions and quickly recover from the inevitable setbacks the German-Italian forces would inflict.
On February 19, 1943, General Rommel launched an attack on the American forces in the Kasserine Pass region of Western Tunisia, hoping to inflict the kind of demoralizing and alliance-shattering defeat the Germans had dealt to Poland and France. The initial results were a disaster for the United States; the area around the Kasserine Pass is the site of many US war graves from that time.
However, the American forces were ultimately able to reverse their retreat. Having known a critical strategy in tank warfare, the Allies broke through the Mareth line on March 20, 1943. The allies subsequently linked up on April 8 and on May 2, 1943 the German-Italian Army in Tunisia surrendered. Thus, the United States, United Kingdom, Free French, and Polish (as well as other forces) were able to win a major battle as an allied army.
The battle, though often overshadowed by Stalingrad, represented a major allied victory of World War II largely because it forged the Alliance which would one day liberate Western Europe.
Tunisia is a procedural democracy. On paper it is a republican presidential system characterized by a bicameral parliamentary system, including the Chamber of Representatives and the Chamber of Advisors. Authoritarian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, previously a military figure, has been in office since 1987, the year he acceded to the executive office of Habib Bourguiba after a team of medical experts judged Bourguiba unfit to exercise the functions of the office. Prior to that moment Ben Ali was Bourguiba's minister. The day of the succession, 7th of November, is celebrated by the state as national holiday, with many public building's and even the national currency and the only private airline and TV station (both owned by the family of the President's wife) carrying the '7 November' logo.
In Tunisia, the President is re-elected with enormous majorities every 5-year terms. He appoints a Prime Minister and cabinet, who play a minor role in the execution of policy. Regional governors and local administrators are also appointed by the central government. Largely consultative mayors and municipal councils are elected with most seats going to the President's party. There is a bicameral legislative body, the Chamber of Deputies, which has 182 seats, 20% of which are reserved for opposition parties and the Chamber of Advisors which is composed of representatives of political parties, professional organisations patronised by the President and by personalities appointed by the president of the Republic. Both chambers are composed of more than 20% women, making it one of the rare countries in the Arab world where women enjoy equal rights. Incidentally, it is also the only country in the Arab world where polygamy is forbidden by law. This is part of a provision in the country’s Code of Personal Status which was introduced by the former president Bourguiba in 1956.
The judiciary is not independent in constitutional matters and often corrupt in civil cases. The military does not play an obvious role in politics letting the ex-army man President run the country. Hundreds of thousands of young men avoid compulsory conscription and live with the constant fear of arrest although it appears that the police only go after them in certain times of the year only (the 'raffle') and often let them go if a sufficient bribe is paid.
The regime repeatedly passes laws that make it appear democratic to outsiders. Since 1987, Tunisia has reformed its political system several times. It has formally abolished life presidency and opened up the parliament to opposition parties. In reality, however, all power is monopolized formally by the President and his party - which incidentally is housed in Tunis's tallest tower - and informally by influential families such as the all powerful Trabelsis from the President's wife's side, Leila, a former coiffeuse. Recently Tunisia refused a French request for the extradition of two of the President's nephews, from Leila's side, who are accused by the French State prosecutor of having stolen two mega-yachts from a French marina
The President's party, known as the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) in French, is composed of about 2 million members and more than 6000 representations throughout the country and is largely overlapping with all important state institutions. Although the party was renamed (in Bourguiba’s days it used to be known as the Socialist Destourian Party), its policies are still considered to be largely secular. There are currently eight other small 'political parties' in Tunisia, six of whom are represented in Parliament giving a semblance of legitimacy. Since 2007, all political parties represented in parliament benefit from state subsidies to cover the rising cost of paper and to expand their publication. In July 2008, new constitutional provisions have been voted by the country’s 'parliament'.
In reality no-one ever has ever openly launched criticism of the regime and all protest is severely suppressed and does not get reported in the media. Self-censorship is widespread with people fearing the police which is present everywhere and frequently stops and searches individuals and vehicles - often demanding small amounts of bribe money to make up for their meagre salaries. Daily newspapers run eulogistic articles praising the President whose picture graces the first page on a daily basis. Large pictures of President Ben Ali and 'spontaneously' erected banners praising him are found on all public buildings and majors streets.
The internet is severely restricted, including sites like YouTube. Nevertheless the internet has witnessed a considerable development with more than 1.1 million users and hundreds of internet cafes, known as ‘publinet.’ This is primarily related to the widespread unemployment and lack of democracy and opportunities resulting in millions of bored unemployed graduates. Independent human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, have documented that rights are not respected.
2009 National Elections
On October 25, 2009, national elections were held in Tunisia. The election consisted of a presidential one and a parliamentary one. The sitting president Zinedine Ben Ali won a landslide victory, with 89.62%. His main opponent, Mohamed Bouchiha, received 5.01%. The president's party, the CDR, also got the majority of votes for the parliamentary election, 84.59%. The Movement of Socialist Democrats party received 4.63%.
The election received criticism from both internal and foreign media. Human Rights Watch has reported that parties and candidates were denied exposure equal to the sitting president, and that the Ettajdid partys weekly publication, Ettarik al-Jadid, was seized by authorities.
The four presidential candidates in the 2009 presidential election were the following:
Percentage of votes (%)
Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (RCD)
Mohamed Bouchiha (PPU)
Ahmed Linoubli (UDU)
Ahmed Ibrahim (ME)
Tunisia has a diverse economy, ranging from agriculture, mining, manufacturing, petroleum products and tourism. In 2008 it had a GDP of $41 billion (official exchange rates), or $82 billion (purchasing power parity) . It also has one of Africa and the Middle East's highest per-capita GDPs (PPP) . The agricultural sector stands for 11,6% of the GDP, industry 25,7%, and services 62,8%. The industrial sector is mainly made up of clothing and footwear manufacturing, production of car parts, and electric machinery. Although Tunisia managed an average 5% growth over the last decade it continues to suffer from a high unemployment especially among youth.
Tunisia was ranked the most competitive economy in Africa and the 40th in the world by the World Economic Forum . Tunisia has managed to attract many international companies such as Airbus and Hewlett-Packard .
The European Union remains Tunisia's first trading partner, currently accounting for 72.5% of Tunisian imports and 75% of Tunisian exports. Tunisia is a one of the European Union’s most established trading partners in the Mediterranean region and ranks as the EU’s 30th largest trading partner. Tunisia was the first Mediterranean country to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union, in July 1995, although even before the date of entry into force, Tunisia started dismantling tariffs on bilateral EU trade. Tunisia finalised the tariffs dismantling for industrial products in 2008 and therefore was the 1st Mediterranean country to enter in a free trade area with EU .
Tunisia also attracted large Persian Gulf investments (especially from United Arab Emirates) the largest include:
Mediterranean gate: a US$ 25 billion project to build a new city in the south of Tunis .
Tunis Sport City: an entire sports city currently being constructed in Tunis, Tunisia. The city that will consist of apartment buildings as well as several sports facilities will be built by the Bukhatir Group at a cost of $5 Billion .
Tunis Financial harbour: will deliver North Africa’s first offshore financial centre at Tunis Bay in a project with an end development value of US$ 3 billion .
Tunis Telecom City: A US$ 3 billion project to create an IT hub in Tunis.
Real Estate Market
In recent years Tunisia has embarked on a new market. Since the beginning of the 2000´s, the real estate market has grown. The market focuses partially on residencies for private persons, but also larger projects aimed at the tourist and sales market. Notable investors reside in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf.
Oil and gas extraction
Oil production of Tunisia is about 97 600 barrels/day. The main field is El bourma.
Sources of electricity production
The majority of the electricity used in Tunisia is produced locally, by state-owned company STEG (Société Tunisienne de l´Electricité et du Gaz).In 2008 a total of 13 747 GHW was produced in the country, .
Oil and Gas
Oil production began in 1966 in Tunisia. Currently there is 12 oil fields . Below is a list of the oil fields.
7 November oil field
El Menzah field
El Biban field
El Borma field
Sidi El Kilani field
Tunisia is on the path of installing two nuclear powerplants within a 10 year period. Each one of these is projected at producing 900-1000 MW. In it´s effort to obtain nuclear energy, France is set to become an important partner. Tunisia and France have inked agreements, where France will deliver training and know-how amongst others .
The Desertec project is a large-scale energy project aimed at installing solarpower panels in, and a grid connecting North Africa and Europe. Tunisia will be a part of this project, but exactly how it may benefit from it remains to be seen.
The country maintains 19 232 km of roads, where the A1 Tunis-Sfax, P1 Tunis-Libya and P7 Tunis-Algeria are major highways.
There are 30 airports in Tunisia, with Tunis Carthage International Airport and Monastir International Airport being the most important ones. A New airport Zine El Abidine Ben Ali International Airport was completed at the end of October 2009, and is due to open December 2009. However, it appears flights are unlikely to start before the Easter season of 2010. The airport is located North of Sousse at Enfidha, and is likely to serve the resorts of Hamammet and Port El Kantoui, together with inland cities such as Kairouan. There are four airlines headquartered in Tunisia: Tunisair, Karthago Airlines, Nouvelair and Sevenair.
The railway network is operated by SNCFT, and amounts to 2135 km in total . The Tunis area is served by a tram network, named Metro Leger.
The constitution declares Islam as the official state religion and requires the President to be Muslim. Tunisia also enjoys a significant degree of religious freedom, a right enshrined and protected in its constitution which guarantees the freedom to practice one's religion. The country has a culture that encourages acceptance of other religions; religious freedom is widely practiced. However, the government has been accused of limiting the freedom of Muslims by banning the wearing the Headscarf (Hijab). The government believes the Hijab is a "garment of foreign origin having a partisan connotation" because it is not specifically prescribed by the Koran.
Individual Tunisians are tolerant of religious freedom and generally do not inquire about a person's personal beliefs.
The majority of Tunisia's population (98%) are Muslims, while 1% follow Christianity and the rest (1%) adhere to Judaism or other religions. However, there are no reliable data on the number of practicing Muslims. Some reports stipulate that atheists form the second largest group in the country (making it probably on top of any other North African country) .
Tunisia has a sizable Christian community of around 25,000 adherents; mainly Catholics (20,000) and to a lesser degree Protestants. Judaism is the country's third largest religion with 1,500 members. One-third of the Jewish population lives in and around the capital. The remainder lives on the island of Djerba, where the Jewish community dates back 2,500 years .
Djerba, an island in the Gulf of Gabès, is home to El Ghriba synagogue, which is one of the oldest synagogues in the world. Many Jews consider it a pilgrimage site with celebrations taking place there once every year.
Regions & Cities
Tunisia is subdivided into 24 governorates, they are:
Sidi Bou Zid
The governorates are divided into 264 "delegations" or "districts" (mutamadiyat), and further subdivided into municipalities (shaykhats) and sectors (imadats).
3 980 500
The Tunisian armed forces are divided into three branches:
Tunisian Air Force
Tunisia's military spending is 1.6% of GDP (2006). The army is responsible for national defence and also internal security. It appears that in recent years, Tunisia's defence forces have become more focused on Islamist groups in North Africa. The U.S. has conducted exercises with Tunisian defence forces due to this concern.
Tunisia is a country situated on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, midway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Nile Valley. It is bordered by Algeria in the west and Libya in the south-east. An abrupt southern turn of its shoreline gives Tunisia two faces on the Mediterranean.
Despite its relatively small size, Tunisia has great geographical and climatic diversity. The Dorsal, an extension of the Atlas Mountains, traverses Tunisia in a northeasterly direction from the Algerian border in the west to the Cape Bon peninsula. North of the Dorsal is the Tell, a region characterized by low, rolling hills and plains, although in the northwestern corner of Tunisia, the land reaches elevations of 1,050 meters.
The Sahil is a plain along Tunisia's eastern Mediterranean coast famous because of its olive monoculture. Inland from the Sahil, between the Dorsal and a range of hills south of Gafsa, are the Steppes. Much of the southern region is semi-arid and desert.
Tunisia has a coastline 1,148 kilometres in length. In maritime terms, the country claims a contiguous zone of 24 nautical miles (44.4 km; 27.6 mi), and a territorial sea of 12 nmi (22.2 km; 13.8 mi).
Tunisia's climate is temperate in the north, with mild rainy winters and hot, dry summers. The south of the country is desert. The terrain in the north is mountainous, which, moving south, gives way to a hot, dry central plain. The south is semiarid, and merges into the Sahara. A series of salt lakes, known as chotts or shatts, lie in an east-west line at the northern edge of the Sahara, extending from the Gulf of Gabes into Algeria. The lowest point is Shatt al Gharsah, at -17 m, and the highest is Jebel ech Chambi, at 1544 metres.
The region of Tunisia has some deserts, including part of the Sahara Desert in the south. In the north and mid the land is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea. Tunisia does not get so cold in the winter that it snows, but the temperature still can get below 0 °C (32 °F). In the summer it can get up to 32 °C (89.6 °F). Most of Tunisia has four seasons.
The majority (98% ) of modern Tunisians are Arab or arabized Berber, and are speakers of Tunisian Arabic. However, there is also a small (1% at most ) population of Berbers located in the Jabal Dahar mountains in the South East and on the island of Jerba, though many more have Berber ancestry. The Berbers primarily speak Berber languages, often called Shelha.
The small European population (1%) consists mostly of French and Italians. There is also long established Jewish community in the country, the history of the Jews in Tunisia going back some 2,000 years. In 1948 the Jewish population was an estimated 105,000, but by 2003 only about 1,500 remained.
The first people known to history in what is now Tunisia were the Berbers. Numerous civilizations and peoples have invaded, migrated to, and been assimilated into the population over the millennia, with varying influxes of population via conquest and settlement from Phoenicians/Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Arabs, Ottoman Turks, and French.
Additionally, after the Reconquista and expulsion of non-Christians and Moriscos from Spain, many Spanish Moors and Jews also arrived at the end of the 15th century. In addition, from the late 1800s to after World War II, Tunisia was home to large populations of French and Italians (255,000 Europeans in 1956 ), although nearly all of them, along with the Jewish population, left after Tunisia became independent.
Religion in Tunisia is dominated by Islam, to which a majority of Tunisians (98%) adhere. One of the most ancient Jewish communities in the world resides in Jerba, where religious diversity thrives. The southern Tunisian island is home to 39 synagogues.
Tunic Arabic is the local vernacular of Arabic and is considered Tunisia's official language. As is the case in the rest of the Arab world, a local variety of Arabic is used by the public. Tunisian Arabic is closely related to the Maltese language. There is also a small minority of speakers of Shelha, a Berber language.
Due to the former French occupation, French also plays a major role in the country, despite having no official status. It is widely used in education (e.g. as the language of instruction in the sciences in secondary school), the press, and in business. Most Tunisians are able to speak it. Many Tunisians, particularly those residing in large urban areas, readily mix Tunisian Arabic with French, a dialectal melange often informally called 'Frarabic'.
Education is given a high priority and accounts for 6% of GNP. A basic education for children between the ages of 6 and 16 has been compulsory since 1991. Tunisia ranked 17th in the category of "quality of the [higher] educational system" and 21st in the category of "quality of primary education" in The Global Competitiveness Report 2008-9, released by The World Economic Forum.
While children generally acquire Tunisian Arabic at home, when they enter school at age 6, they are taught to read and write in Standard Arabic. From the age of 8, they are taught French while English is introduced at the age of 12.
Colleges and universities in Tunisia include:
Ecole Polytechnique de Tunisie
International University of Tunis
Université Libre de Tunis
Université de l'Aviation et Technologie de Tunisie
Institut National d'Agronomie de Tunis
Université des Sciences de Tunis
The culture of Tunisia is mixed due to their long established history of conquerors such as Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Turks, Spaniards, and the French who all left their mark on the country.
The most popular sport in Tunisia is football. The national football team, also known as "The Eagles of Carthage" have participated in four World Cup Championships. The teams record is shown below:
Year in World Cup
The premier football league is the "Tunisian Ligue Professionnelle 1". The main clubs are Espérance Sportive de Tunis, Club Africain, Sfaxian Sportive Club and Étoile Sportive du Sahel. The latter team participated in the 2008 World Cup for Clubs and reached the semi-final match, in which it was eliminated by Boca Juniors from Argentina.
The Tunisia national handball team has participated in several handball world championships. In 2005 Tunisia came 4th. The national league consists of about 12 teams, with ES. Sahel and Esperance S.Tunis dominating. The most famous Tunisian handball player is Wissem Hmam. In the 2005 handball championship in Tunis, Wisam Hmam was ranked as the top scorer of the tournament. The Tunisian national handball team won the African Cup 8 times, being the team dominating this competition. The Tunisians won the 2010 African Cup in Egypt by defeating the host country.
Oussama Mellouli, gold medalist at the Beijing Summer Olympics
In the 2008 Olympics, Tunisian Oussama Mellouli won a gold medal in 1500 freestyle
Matmata Festival - Matmata (March)
Festival Oriljazz (April)
Festival "Tozeur, the Oriental, the African" (April)
International spring festival - Sbeitla (April)
Arab poetry festival - Tozeur - (April)
Carthage Jazz festival - Gammarth (April)
Tozeur’s International Oasis Festival - Tozeur (December)
Techno House festival - Gammarth (December)
Dar Sebastian celebrates opera festival - lyrical festival -(December)
Caravana Latina” Festival - Tozeur (December)
Traditional Saharan festival - Douz (December)
Tunisia is a member of the following organizations:
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since 12 November 1956
Organization of the Islamic Conference
World Trade Organization
since 29 March 1995
Mediterranean Dialogue group
since February 1995
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