Tunisia Explained

Native Name:
Arabic: ''al-Jumhūriyya at-Tūnisiyya''
Conventional Long Name:Tunisian Republic
Common Name:Tunisia
National Motto:حرية، نظام، عدالة (Hurriya, Nidham, 'Adala)
"Liberty, Order, Justice"
Official Languages:Arabic[1]
National Anthem:Humat Al Hima
Largest City:capital
Government Type:Republic
Leader Title1:President
Leader Title2:Prime Minister
Leader Name1:Zine El Abidine Ben Ali
Leader Name2:Mohamed Ghannouchi
Area Rank:92nd
Area Magnitude:1 E11
Area Km2:163610
Area Sq Mi:63170
Percent Water:5.0
Population Estimate:10,327,800[2]
Gdp Ppp:$83.076 billion[3]
Gdp Ppp Year:2008
Gdp Ppp Per Capita:$8,020
Gdp Nominal:$41.768 billion
Gdp Nominal Year:2008
Gdp Nominal Per Capita:$4,032
Population Estimate Rank:79th
Population Estimate Year:July 1, 2008
Population Census:9,910,872
Population Census Year:2004
Population Density Km2:63
Population Density Sq Mi:163
Population Density Rank:133rd (2005)
Sovereignty Type:Independence
Established Event1:from France
Established Date1:March 20 1956
Hdi: 0.766
Hdi Rank:91st
Hdi Year:2007
Hdi Category:medium>
Gini Year:2000
Gini Category:medium>
Currency:Tunisian dinar
Currency Code:TND
Country Code:+216
Time Zone:CET
Utc Offset:+1
Time Zone Dst:CEST
Utc Offset Dst:+2
Drives On:right
Calling Code:216

Tunisia (Arabic: تونس Tūnis), officially the Tunisian Republic (al-Jumhūriyya at-Tūnisiyya), is a country located in North Africa. It is bordered by Algeria to the west and Libya to the southeast. It is the northernmost country on the African continent, and the smallest of the nations situated along the Atlas mountain range. Around forty percent of the country is composed of the Sahara desert, with much of the remainder consisting of particularly fertile soil and a 1300 km coastline. Both played a prominent role in ancient times, first with the famous Phoenician city of Carthage, then as the Africa Province which became known as the bread basket of the Roman Empire, and then as the Maghreb region of various medieval Islamic states. Tunisia ranks high among Arab and African nations in reports released by The World Economic Forum.


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[4] . 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 slice 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 and only by context, one can make the difference.[4]

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".


See main article: History of Tunisia.

At the beginning of recorded history, Tunisia was inhabited by Berber tribes. Its coast was settled by Phoenicians starting as early as the 10th century BC. 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.

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. 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.

In the 7th 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)[5] [6] . This prosperity permitted luxurious court life and was marked by the construction of new Palace cities such as al-Abassiya (809) and Raqadda (877)[5] . 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)[7] . North Africa was submerged by their quarrels; political instability was connected to the decline of Tunisian trade and agriculture[5] [8] [9] . 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[7] . The Arab historian Ibn Khaldun wrote that the lands ravaged by Banu Hilal invaders had become completely arid desert[8] [10] .

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). 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.[11]

World War II

See main article: Tunisia Campaign.

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-alemin, 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.

Present-day politics

See main article: Politics of Tunisia. Tunisia is a republic presidential system characterized by bicameral parliamentary system, including the Chamber of Representatives and the Chamber of Advisors. President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has been in office since 1987, the year he acceded to the executive office Habib Bourguiba after a team of medical experts judged Bourguiba unfit to exercise the functions of the office. At the time, Tunisia was on the verge of upheaval as Ennahdha's (banned Islamic party) supporters were attempting to seize power. Since his accession to power, also known as the Change, president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali launched a series of reform meant to introduce political pluralism and boost the economy.

In Tunisia, the President is elected to 5-year terms. He appoints a Prime Minister and cabinet, who play a strong role in the execution of policy. Regional governors and local administrators also are appointed by the central government. Largely consultative mayors and municipal councils are elected. There is a bicameral legislative body, the Chamber of Deputies, which has 182 seats, 20% of which are reserved for the opposition parties and the Chamber of Advisors which is composed of representatives from political parties, from professional organisations and by personalities appointed by the president of the Republic. Both chambers are composed of more than 20% of 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 as part of a provision of the country’s Code of Personal Status which was introduced by the former president Bourguiba in 1956.

The judiciary is independent. The military is professional and does not play a role in politics.

Since 1987, Tunisia has gradually reformed its political system, it has abolished life presidency and opened up parliament to opposition parties. There are currently nine political parties in Tunisia, six of whom are represented in parliament. The majority 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; 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. 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. These provisions which include lowering the age of voting to 18, as well as easing the conditions for eligibility for the presidency, also allow for any head of political party, whether represented in parliament or not to present their candidacy, to run for president.

The state has also abolished the ‘depot legal’, which required prior authorization before sending to print, and issued legislation meant to bring amendments to the press code which provides journalists with greater freedom to express their ideas. Recently, the election of a syndicate of journalists met with a positive reaction from journalists. There are currently about 300 publications in Tunisia, most of them are financially and editorially independent.The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), as well as other press freedom groups have regularly led fact finding missions and issued reports calling on Tunisia to free what they consider as detained journalists, however Tunisian authorities have reacted by saying that there are no journalists currently held for having expressed their ideas. The recent case in point was provided by the ‘Slim Boukhdir case’, a journalist (since then released before serving his term), who was sentenced to a year in jail for having insulted a police officer on duty, according to the version given by the authorities. CPJ denies this version, arguing he was convicted for having written articles critical of the president.

Tunisian authorities maintain that only pornographic material and articles inciting to hate, are banned by law. This is the case of both the printed press and the internet which has witnessed a considerable development with more than 1,1 million users and hundreds of internet cafes, known as ‘publinet.’

Human rights are also the subject of controversy between human rights groups such as Amnesty International that argue that rights are not respected and Tunisian authorities that make the point that in recent international fora such as the United Nations - based New York Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Committee in Geneva (2008), where all of the countries of the world go through a ‘periodic review’, Tunisia's efforts to promote a comprehensive system of human rights were officially acknowledged.

Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, has consistently expressed his opposition to the presence of religious parties in parliament. While Tunisia cannot boast the natural resources its neighbors have, standards of living are among the best in the developing world.[12] This can be evidenced by two compelling economic observations: the level to which Tunisia has become self-sufficient in material goods, and the extent of real estate development in the cities and major towns of the country. Put simply, the mid-level retail outlet will typically offer goods more than 90% of which are home produced. As to the rise of the building and construction industry, a fleeting visit to any of Tunisia's smaller towns (let alone the cities) will confirm that development is rampant: many projects, especially hotels, are newly opened, and many more stand as skeleton buildings, ready to be developed as soon as demand - and capital funds - are available to bring them to completion.Poverty has significantly been reduced thanks to a national solidarity policy and strong social commitment from the government and now stands at 3,8%, instead of some 50% in 1956.

See also: Foreign relations of Tunisia.

The following is an excerpt from the The World Factbook about Tunisia;

Following independence from France in 1956, 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 recent years, Tunisia has taken a moderate, non-aligned stance in its foreign relations. Domestically, it has sought to defuse rising pressure for a more open political society.


See main article: Economy of Tunisia.

Tunisia has a diverse economy, ranging from agriculture, mining, manufacturing, petroleum products and tourism. In 2007 it had a GDP of $35 billion (official exchange rates)[13], or $76.07 billion (purchasing power parity) [14] . It also has one of Africas and the middle east highest GDP (PPP) per capita [15] .

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.



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 and the government is tolerant of religious freedom as long as it does not threaten national unity. Individual Tunisians are also 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 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)[18] .

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.

Tunisia is one of the very few North African countries where synagogues and churches are open to worshipers.


See main article: Governorates of Tunisia and Delegations of Tunisia.

Tunisia is subdivided into 24 governorates, they are:

The governorates are divided into 264 "delegations" or "districts" (mutamadiyat), and further subdivided into municipalities (shaykhats)[19] and sectors (imadats).[20]


See main article: Military of Tunisia. The tunisian armed forces are divided into three branches:

Due to the peaceful relations Tunisia enjoys with its neighboors, its military spending is modest, 1.6% of GDP (2006). The army is responsible for national defence and also internal security. It appears that in recent years Tunisias 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.


See main article: Geography of Tunisia. 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 climactic 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 for 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.

See also: List of cities in Tunisia.


See main article: Demographics of Tunisia.

The population of Tunisia consists of 97% Berbers, Arab or a mixture of two. The Berbers are the indigenous population of North-Africa.[21] The Berbers primarily speak Berber languages, often called Shelha.

There is also long established Jewish community in the country, the history of the Jews in Tunisia going back some 2,000 years. The Jews, living today mainly in the capital Tunis and on Jerba, number some 1,500 and are much reduced in number since independence from France. There were 255,000 Europeans in Tunisia in 1956, but most have since left the country.[22]

Religion in Tunisia is dominated by Islam, to which a majority of Tunisians (98%) adhere.[23] One of the most ancient Jewish communities in the world resides in Djerba, where religious diversity thrives. The southern Tunisian island is home to 39 synagogues.


Arabic is Tunisia's official language. However, as is the case in the rest of the Arab world, a vernacular form of Arabic is used by the public. In Tunisia, the dialect is Tunisian Arabic, which is closely related to the Maltese language.[24] There is also a small minority of speakers of Shelha, a Berber language.[25]

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 educated Tunisians are able to speak it. Many Tunisians, particularly those residing in large urban areas, readily mix Tunisian Arabic with French.


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 11th in the category of "quality of the educational systems" in The Global Competitiveness Report 2007, 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.

See main article: List of universities in Tunisia. Colleges and universities in Tunisia include:


See main article: Culture of Tunisia.

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.

Current ethnicity consists of Arab/Berber (98%), European (1%), others (1%).

The dominant Religion in Tunisia is Sunni Islam (99%). There are also small groups of Christians and Jews.

(if any thing is know about holidays they should add it because it is important to any culture)

International rankings

The World Economic Forum ranks Tunisia 36th most competitive economy in the World and 1st in Africa and the Middle East.


Tunisia is a member of the following organizations:

United Nationssince 12 November 1956
Arab Leaguesince 1958
Organization of the Islamic Conferencesince 1969
World Trade Organizationsince 29 March 1995
Mediterranean Dialogue groupsince February 1995

Miscellaneous topics

In the movie Star Wars IV, the scenes on the planet Tatooine were filmed in Tunisia[26] . The skeleton of a krayt dragon, in the background of one of the scenes, is still there.

External links

General information
News media

Notes and References

  1. Translation by the University of Bern: Tunisia is a free State, independent and sovereign; its religion is the Islam, its language is Arabic, and its form is the Republic.
  2. Web site: National Statistics Online. National Statistics Institute of Tunisia. July 2008. dmy. 7 January 2009.
  3. Web site: Tunisia. International Monetary Fund. 2008-10-09.
  4. Book: Room, Adrian. Placenames of the World: Origins and Meanings of the Names for 6,600 Countries, Cities, Territories, Natural Features, and Historic Sites. McFarland. 2006. 385. 0786422483.
  5. Book: Lapidus, Ira Marvin. A History of Islamic Societies. Cambridge University Press. 2002. 2. 302-303. 0521779332.
  6. Book: Ham. Anthony. Hole. Abigail. Willett. David.. Tunisia. Lonely Planet. 2004. 3. 65. 1741041899.
  7. Book: Stearns. Peter N.. Leonard Langer. William. The Encyclopedia of World History: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern, Chronologically Arranged. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2001. 6. 129-131. 0395652375.
  8. Book: Singh, Nagendra Kr. International encyclopaedia of islamic dynasties Vol. 4: A Continuing Series. 4: A Continuing Series. Anmol Publications PVT. LTD.. 2000. 105-112. 8126104031.
  9. Book: J. Ki-Zerbo, G. Mokhtar, A. Adu Boahen, I. Hrbek. General history of Africa. James Currey Publishers. 171-173. 0852550936.
  10. http://www.galtoninstitute.org.uk/Newsletters/GINL9603/PopCrises3.htm Populations Crises and Population Cycles
  11. Smeaton Munro, Ion. Trough Fascism to World Power: A History of the Revolution in Italy. pag 221
  12. http://hdrstats.undp.org/countries/country_fact_sheets/cty_fs_TUN.html
  13. Web site: world economic forum competitivness report 2008-2009. 2009-01-19.
  14. Web site: [https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ts.html cia world factbook, Tunisia]. 2009-01-19.
  15. Web site: Wikipedia-list GDP per capita. 2009-01-19.
  16. Web site: [https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ts.html cia world factbook, Tunisia]. 2009-01-23.
  17. Web site: [https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ts.html cia world factbook, Tunisia]. 2009-01-23.
  18. Web site: Religions in Tunisia. 2009-01-05.
  19. http://www.statoids.com/utn.html Tunisia Governorates
  20. http://www.tunisieindustrie.nat.tn/fr/doc.asp?mcat=12&mrub=105&msrub=204&dev=true Portail de l'industrie Tunisienne
  21. Area Handbook for the Republic of Tunisia, By Howard C. Reese, Systems Research Corporation, American University (Washington, D.C.). Foreign Area Studies, 1970, page 3
  22. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2586700129.html Tunisia
  23. Web site: [https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ts.html#People CIA — The World Factbook — Tunisia]. 2007-01-13.
  24. Borg and Azzopardi-Alexander Maltese (1997:xiii) "The immediate source for the Arabic vernacular spoken in Malta was Muslim Sicily, but its ultimate origin appears to have been Tunisia. In fact, Maltese displays some areal traits typical of Maghrebine Arabic, although during the past eight hundred years of independent evolution it has drifted apart from Tunisian Arabic."
  25. Gabsi, Zouhir (2003) 'An outline of the Shilha (Berber) vernacular of Douiret (Southern Tunisia)'http://library.uws.edu.au/adt-NUWS/public/adt-NUWS20040707.092709/
  26. http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Krayt_dragon#Behind_the_scenes Krayt dragon - Wookieepedia, the Star Wars Wiki