Tunisian Republic
الجمهورية التونسية
al-Jumhūriyyah at-Tūnisiyyah
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: حرية، نظام، عدالة
"Ḥurriyyah, Niẓām, ‘Adālah"
"Liberty, Order, Justice"[1]
Anthem: "Humat al-Hima"
"Defenders of the Homeland"

(and largest city)
36°50′N 10°9′E / 36.833°N 10.15°E / 36.833; 10.15
Official language(s) Arabic[2]
Demonym Tunisian
Government Unitary Presidential Republic [2]
 -  President Moncef Marzouki
 -  Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali
 -  Head of Constituent Assembly Mustapha Ben Jaafar
 -  from France March 20, 1956 
 -  Total 163,610 km2 (92nd)
63,170 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 5.0
 -  Apr 2, 2011 estimate 10,432,500[3] (79th)
 -  2011 census 11,245,284[3] 
 -  Density 63/km2 (133rd (2005))
163/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2011 estimate
 -  Total $96.001 billion[4] 
 -  Per capita $9,025.067[4] 
GDP (nominal) 2011 estimate
 -  Total $43.684 billion[4] 
 -  Per capita $4,106.747[4] 
Gini (2000) 39.8 (medium
HDI (2010) increase 0.683[5] (high) (81st)
Currency Tunisian dinar (TND)
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 -  Summer (DST) not observed (UTC+1)
Drives on the right
ISO 3166 code TN
Internet TLD .tn .تونس[6]
Calling code 216

Tunisia (US Listeni/tˈnʒə/ two-nee-zhə or UK /tjˈnɪziə/ tew-niz-iə; Arabic: تونسTūnis pronounced [ˈtuːnɪs]), officially the Tunisian Republic[note 1] (Arabic: الجمهورية التونسيةal-Jumhūriyyah at-Tūnisiyyah [ʔal.d͡ʒum.huːˈrij.ja.t‿at.tuː.niˈsij.ja]), is the northernmost country in Africa. It is a Maghreb country and is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Its area is almost 165,000 square kilometres (64,000 sq mi), with an estimated population of just over 10.4 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 kilometres (810 mi) of coastline. Both played a prominent role in ancient times, first with the famous Punic city of Carthage, then as the Roman province of Africa, which was known as the "bread basket" of Rome. 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 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 on July 25, 1957, the nationalist leader Habib Bourguiba became its first president.

The country was led by the authoritarian government of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from 1987 to 2011 before he fled during the Tunisian revolution. Tunisia now finds itself as an export-oriented country in the process of liberalizing and privatizing an economy that, while averaging 5% GDP growth since the early 1990s, has suffered from corruption benefiting the former president's family.[7]

Tunisia has 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 Maghreb Union, the Arab League and the African Union. Tunisia has established close relations with France in particular, through economic cooperation, industrial modernization, and privatisation programs. The government's approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict has also made it an intermediary in Middle Eastern diplomacy.[8][9]



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.[10] 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 Russian Туни́с (Tunís) and Spanish Túnez. In this case, the same name is used for both country and city, as with the Arabic تونس, and only by context can one tell the difference.[10]

The name Tunis can be attributed to different origins. It can be associated with the Phoenician goddess Tanith (aka Tunit),[10][11] ancient city of Tynes[12][13] or to the Berber root ens which means "to lie down".[14]



Farming methods reached the Nile Valley from the Fertile Crescent region about 5000 BC, and spread to the Maghreb by about 4000 BC. Agricultural communities in the humid coastal plains of central Tunisia then were ancestors of today's Berber tribes.


It was believed in ancient times that Africa was originally populated by Gaetulians and Libyans, both nomadic peoples. The demigod Hercules died in Spain and his polyglot eastern army was left to settle the land, with some migrating to Africa. Persians went to the West and inter married with the Gaetulians and became the Numidians. The Medes settled and were known as Mauri latter Moors. Sallust's version of African history must be considered with reservations.

The Numidians and Moors belonged to the race from which the Berbers are descended. The translated meaning of Numidian is Nomad and indeed the people were semi-nomadic until the reign of Masinissa of the Massyli tribe.[15] [16] [17][18][19]

Phoenician colonies and Punic era

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 BC by Phoenician and Cypriot settlers. Legend says that Dido from Tyre, now in modern day Lebanon founded the city in 814 BC, as retold by the Greek writer Timaeus of Tauromenium. The settlers of Carthage brought their culture and religion from the Phoenicians.[20]

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.

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 Roman power. From the conclusion of the Second Punic War in 202 BC, Carthage functioned as a client state of the Roman Republic for another 50 years.

Roman era

Following the Battle of Carthage in 149 BC, Carthage was conquered by Rome. After the Roman conquest, the region became one of the main granaries of Rome and was fully Latinized and Christianized.

Roman amphitheater in El Djem

The Romans controlled nearly all of modern Tunisia from 149 BC until the area was conquered by the Vandals in the 5th century AD, only to be reconquered by Roman general Belisarius in the 6th century, during the rule of Emperor Justinian I.

During the Roman period the area of what is now Tunisia enjoyed a huge development. The economy, mainly during the Empire, boomed: the prosperity of the area depended on agriculture. Called the Granary of the Empire, the area of actual Tunisia and coastal Tripolitania, according to one estimate, produced one million tons of cereals each year, one-quarter of which was exported to the Empire. Additional crops included beans, figs, grapes, and other fruits.

By the 2nd century, olive oil rivalled cereals as an export item. In addition to the cultivations, and the capture and transporting of exotic wild animals from the western mountains, the principal production and exports included the textiles, marble, wine, timber, livestock, pottery such as African Red Slip, and wool.

There was even a huge production of mosaics and ceramics, exported mainly to Italy, in the central area of El Djem (where there was the second biggest amphitheater in the Roman Empire).

During the 5th and 6th Centuries (from 430 to 533 AD), the Germanic Vandals invaded and ruled over a kingdom in North Africa that included present-day Tripoli. They were defeated by a combined force of Romans and Berbers.

Middle Ages

The Great Mosque of Al-Zaytuna
Minaret of the Great Mosque of Kairouan, also known as the Mosque of Uqba. Founded in 670, it is the oldest mosque in Tunisia as well as the oldest in the Muslim West, city of Kairouan.

Around the end of the 7th century and the beginning of 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; in this period was erected (in 670) the Great Mosque of Kairouan considered the oldest and most prestigious sanctuary in the western Islamic world[21] as well as a great masterpiece of Islamic art and architecture.[22] Tunisia flourished under Arab rule as extensive irrigation installations were constructed to supply towns with water and promote agriculture (especially olive production).[23][24] This prosperity permitted luxurious court life and was marked by the construction of new Palace cities such as al-Abassiya (809) and Raqadda (877).[23]

Successive Muslim dynasties ruled Tunisia (Ifriqiya at the time) with occasional instabilities caused mainly by Berber rebellions;[citation needed] 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 Algera, 972–1148) and Hammadid (Central and eastern Algeria, 1015–1152).[25] North Africa was submerged by their quarrels; political instability was connected to the decline of Tunisian trade and agriculture.[23][26][27] In addition, the invasion of Tunisia by Banu Hilal, a warlike Arab Bedouin tribe encouraged by the Fatimids of Egypt to seize North Africa, sent the region's urban and economic life into further decline.[25] The Arab historian Ibn Khaldun wrote that the lands ravaged by Banu Hilal invaders had become completely arid desert.[26][28]

The coasts were held briefly by the Normans of Sicily in the 12th century, but following the Arab reconquest the last Christians in Tunisia disappeared either through forced conversion or emigration. In 1159, Tunisia was conquered by the Almohad caliphs. They were succeeded by the Berber Hafsids (c.1230–1574), under whom Tunisia prospered. During the reign of the Hafsid dynasty, fruitful commercial relationships were established with several Christian Mediterranean states.[29] In the late 16th century the coast became a pirate stronghold (see: Barbary States).

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. The Maghreb suffered from the deadly combination of plague and famine.[30] The great epidemics ravaged Tunisia in 1784–1785, 1796–1797 and 1818–1820.[31]

French era

In 1869, Tunisia declared itself bankrupt and an international financial commission took control over its economy. In 1883, using the pretext of a Tunisian incursion into Algeria, the French invaded with an army of about 36,000 and forced the Bey to agree to the terms of the 1883 Treaty of Bardo (Al Qasr as Sa'id). With this treaty, Tunisia was officially made a French protectorate, over the objections of Italy. 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.[32]

World War II

In 1942–1943, Tunisia was the scene of the third 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 the Battle of el-Alamein under the command of British Field Marshal Montgomery, pushed into Tunisia from the south. The U.S. and other allies, following their invasions of Algeria and Morocco in Operation Torch, invaded from the west.

German and Italian POWs, following the fall of Tunis, 12 May 1943. Over 230,000 German and Italian troops were taken as prisoners of war.

Field Marshal Erwin 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 concluded that in order to defeat Axis Powers they would have to coordinate their actions and quickly recover from the inevitable setbacks the German-Italian forces would inflict.

On February 19, 1943, 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, Britain and France. The initial results were a disaster for the United States; the area around the Kasserine Pass is the site of many U.S. war graves from that time.

However, the American forces were ultimately able to reverse their retreat. With a critical strategy in tank warfare, and having determined that encirclement was feasible, the British, Australian and New Zealand forces broke through the Mareth Line on March 20, 1943. The Allies subsequently linked up on April 8, and on May 12, the German-Italian Army in Tunisia surrendered. Thus, the United States, United Kingdom, Australian, Free French, and Polish forces (as well as others) were able to win a major battle as an Allied army.

The battle, though overshadowed by Stalingrad, represented a major Allied victory of World War II largely because it forged the Alliance that would one day liberate Western Europe.


Tunisia achieved independence from France in 1956 led by Habib Bourguiba, who later became the first Tunisian President.[33] In November 1987, doctors declared Bourguiba unfit to rule and, in a bloodless coup d'état, Prime Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali assumed the presidency.[33] He and his family subsequently were accused of corruption[34] and plundering the country's money and fled into exile in 2011.[34]

2010–2011 Tunisian revolution

The Tunisian revolution[35][36] is an intensive campaign of civil resistance, including a series of street demonstrations taking place in Tunisia. The events began when Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26-year old Tunisian street vendor, set himself afire on 17 December 2010, in protest of the confiscation of his wares and the humiliation that was inflicted on him by a municipal official. This act became the catalyst for mass demonstrations and riots throughout Tunisia in protest of social and political issues in the country. Anger and violence intensified following Bouazizi's death on 4 January 2011, ultimately leading longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to step down on 14 January 2011, after 23 years in power. Street demonstrations and other unrest have continued to the present day. International Tunisian organizations, like the Tunisian Community Center in the US, has supported the protesters' aims toward democracy as-well, in-addition to TCC's efforts to freeze Ben Ali's assets abroad.[37]

The demonstrations were precipitated by high unemployment, food inflation, corruption,[38] a lack of freedom of speech and other political freedoms[39] and poor living conditions. The protests constituted the most dramatic wave of social and political unrest in Tunisia in three decades[40][41] and have resulted in scores of deaths and injuries, most of which were the result of action by police and security forces against demonstrators.[42] Labour unions were said to be an integral part of the protests.[43] The protests inspired similar actions throughout the Arab world; the Egyptian revolution began after the events in Tunisia and also led to the ousting of Egypt's longtime president Hosni Mubarak; furthermore, protests have also taken place in Algeria, Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Iraq, Mauritania, Pakistan[44] and also Libya – where a civil war broke out[45] – as well as elsewhere in the wider North Africa and Middle East.


In this 2008 The Economist Democracy Index map for 2008, countries with DI below 3 are shown in black. Tunisia with an index of 2.79 ranks 144th out of 169 countries rated in 2008.
Democracy Index 2010.
Full democracies:
Flawed democracies:
  No data
Hybrid regimes:
Authoritarian regimes:
In this 2008 Press Freedom Index, countries shown in red have the least press freedom. Tunisia ranked 164th out of 178 countries rated in 2010.

Tunisia is a constitutional republic, with a president serving as chief of state, prime minister as head of government, a bicameral legislature and a court system influenced by French civil law. While Tunisia is formally a democracy with a multi-party system, the secular Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), formerly Neo Destour, has controlled the country as one of the most repressive regimes in the Arab World since its independence in 1956.[46]

President Ben Ali, previously Habib Bourguiba's minister and a military figure, held office from 1987 to 2011, having acceded to the executive office of Habib Bourguiba after a team of medical experts judged Bourguiba unfit to exercise the functions of the office in accordance with Article 57 of the Tunisian constitution.[47] The anniversary of Ben Ali’s succession, November 7, was celebrated as a national holiday. He was consistently re-elected with enormous majorities every election, the last being October 25, 2009,[48] until he fled the country amid popular unrest in January 2011.

Tunisia has a republican presidential system characterized by a bicameral parliamentary system, including the Chamber of Deputies, which has 214 seats, 25% of which are reserved for 'opposition parties,' and the Chamber of Advisors (112 members), which is composed of representatives of political parties, professional organisations patronised by the president, and by personalities appointed by the president of the Republic. The Prime Minister and cabinet, appointed by the president, play a strong role[49] in the execution of policy and approval of legislation. Regional governors and local administrators are also appointed by the central government. Largely consultative mayors and municipal councils are elected.

The President’s Constitutional Democratic Rally, or RCD in an abbreviation of the French, has consistently won large majorities in local and parliamentary elections. It is composed of more than 2 million members and more than 6000 representations throughout the country and largely overlaps 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 but not socialist or liberal. Rare for the Arab world, women hold more than 20% of seats in both chambers of parliament.[50] Moreover, Tunisia is 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.) There are currently eight other small political parties in Tunisia, six of whom are represented in the parliament.

The Tunisian legal system is based on the French civil code and on Islamic law; the judiciary is appointed by the Ministry of Justice. The Code of Personal Status remains one of the most progressive civil codes in the Middle East and the Muslim world.[51] Enacted less than five months after Tunisia gained its independence, the code was meant to end gender inequality and update family law, to enable greater social and economic progress and make Tunisia a fully modern society. Among other reforms, the code outlawed the practices of polygamy and repudiation, or a husband’s right to unilaterally divorce his wife.[52]

Independent human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, Freedom House, and Protection International, have documented that basic human and political rights are not respected.[53][54][55] The regime obstructs in any way possible the work of local human rights organizations.[56] In the Economist's 2008 Democracy Index Tunisia is classified as an authoritarian regime ranking 141 out of 167 countries studied. In 2008, in terms of freedom of the press, Tunisia was ranked 143 out of 173.[57][58]

Human rights

Since 1987 Tunisia has formally reformed its political system several times, abolishing life presidency and opening up the parliament to opposition parties. The President's official speeches are full of references to the importance of democracy and freedom of speech.[59] According to Amnesty International, "the Tunisian government is misleading the world as it conveys a positive image of the human rights situation in the country while abuses by its security forces continue unabated and are committed with impunity".[60]

Freedom of the press is officially guaranteed by the government, although independent press outlets remain restricted, as does a substantial amount of web content. According to the Open Net Initiative, journalists are often obstructed from reporting on controversial events.[61] In practice, no public criticism of the regime is tolerated and all direct protest is severely suppressed and does not get reported in the local media. This was the case with the public demonstrations against nepotism.[62] In January 2010 U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton mentioned Tunisia and China as the two countries with the greatest internet censorship.[63] The state-owned 'Publinet' internet network has more than 1.1 million users and hundreds of internet cafes, which monitors and filters traffic.[64] Hundreds of thousands of young men avoid compulsory conscription and live with the constant fear of arrest, although it appears that the police go after them only in certain times of the year (the 'raffle') and often let them go if a sufficient bribe is paid.[65]

Tunisian journalists and human rights activists are harassed and face surveillance and imprisonment under harsh conditions. Others are dismissed from their jobs or denied their right to communicate and move freely. The authorities have also prevented the emergence of an independent judiciary, further compounding the problem.[66]

Corruption and nepotism

The Office of Merchant Navy and Ports showing a banner-sized portrait of former President Ben Ali.

Accusations have been made against the regime, accusing it of becoming a kleptocracy with corrupt members of the Trabelsi family, most notably in the cases of Imed Trabelsi and Belhassen Trabelsi, controlling much of the business sector in the country.[67] In its January/February 2008 issue, the Foreign Policy Magazine reported that Tunisia's First Lady had been using a government 737 Boeing Business Jet[68] to make "unofficial visits" to European fashion capitals, such as Milan, Paris and Geneva. The report mentioned that the trips are not on the official travel itinerary. The first lady has been described as a shopaholic.[69][70] 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.[71] Rumours have been circulating that Ben Ali's son-in-law Sakher al-Materi (the husband of Zine and Leila's daughter Nessrine) was being primed to eventually take over the country.[72]

2009 National elections

On October 25, 2009, national elections to elect the president and parliament were held in Tunisia in what was described by a Human Rights Watch report as "an atmosphere of repression".[73] Ben Ali faced three candidates, two of whom said they actually supported the incumbent.[citation needed] No independent observer was allowed to monitor the vote.[citation needed] Zinedine Ben Ali won a landslide victory, with 89.62%. His opponent, Mohamed Bouchiha, received 5.01%. The candidate who was most critical of the regime, Ahmed Ibrahim, of the Ettajdid party, received only 1.57% after a campaign in which he was not allowed to put posters up or hold any kind of meeting.[74] 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%.[citation needed]

The election received criticism in foreign media.[75] Human Rights Watch has reported that parties and candidates were denied exposure equal to the sitting president, and that the Ettajdid party's weekly publication, Ettarik al-Jadid, was seized by authorities.[76] According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, "97% of newspaper campaign coverage was devoted to President Ben Ali amid severe restrictions on independent reporting. Ben Ali’s government went after the country’s journalist union, bringing down its democratically elected board, while his police bullied and harassed critical reporters. Two journalists, one of them a leading critic of the president, were in jail later in the year. Journalist Taoufik Ben Brik, who had published two articles in French newspapers that were critical of the regime, has been incarcerated since October 29, 2009 until his release on April 27, 2010. (The Court of Appeal upheld a sentence of nine years on 3 January 2010 in a trial that "confirmed the complete absence of independence of the Tunisian legal system" the defendant's French lawyer William Bourdon said[77].) Florence Beaugé, a correspondent for the French daily Le Monde, tried to cover the polling but was put on a flight back to Paris on October 21.[78]

Candidate Percentage of votes (%)
Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (RCD) 89.62%
Mohamed Bouchiha (PPU) 5.01%
Ahmed Linoubli (UDU) 3.80%
Ahmed Ibrahim (ME) 1.57%

2010–2011 revolution

In response to the 2010–2011 Tunisian revolution, Ben Ali declared a state of emergency in the country, dissolved the government on January 14, 2011, and promised new legislative elections within six months. But on that same day Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi went on state television to say he was assuming power in Tunisia. Unconfirmed news reports, citing unidentified government sources in Tunisia, said that the President had left the country.[79][80] Gannouchi based his speech on Article 56 of the Tunisian constitution. However, the head of Tunisia's Constitutional Court, Fethi Abdennadher,[81] confirmed that Gannouchi violated the constitution, as Article 56 is not applicable to current circumstances and requires a President. Article 57 of the constitution states that the President of the Parliament should take the executive power and organize an election in 45 to 60 days. Consequently, Fouad Mebazaa became acting President following the Constitutional Court's interpretation of the situation and the Constitution. It was soon confirmed, however, that Ben Ali had indeed fled to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. His current whereabouts are yet to be confirmed. Protests continued in Tunisia to call for banning of the ruling party and the eviction of all its members from the transitional government formed by Mohamed Ghannouchi. Eventually the new government gave in to the demands and a new prime minister Beji Caid-Essebsi was appointed by the acting president on Thursday March 3, 2011. Two of the first actions made after the appointment of the new government were the decision of the Tunis court to ban the ex-ruling party RCD and to confiscate all its resources, and a decree by the minister of the interior banning the "political police" including what has been known as the state security special forces which were used to intimidate and persecute political activists[82] On January 26, 2011, INTERPOL confirmed that its National Central Bureau (NCB) in Tunis has issued a global alert via INTERPOL's international network to seek the location and arrest of former Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and six of his relatives.[83] On 3 March 2011, the president announced that elections to a Constituent Assembly would be held on 23 October 2011; this likely means that general elections will be postponed to a later date.[84] The constituent assembly elections took place as scheduled with international and internal observers declaring it free and fair. The Ennahda Movement, formerly banned under the Ben Ali regime, won a plurality of 90 seats out of a total of 217.[85]


GDP growth rate (%)

Tunisia has a diverse economy, ranging from agriculture, mining, manufacturing, and petroleum products, to tourism. In 2008 it had a GDP of US $41 billion (official exchange rates), or $82 billion (purchasing power parity).[86] It also has one of Africa and the Middle East's highest per-capita GDPs (PPP).[87] 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 in 2009 ranked the most competitive economy in Africa and the 40th in the world by the World Economic Forum.[88] Tunisia has managed to attract many international companies such as Airbus[89] and Hewlett-Packard.[90]

Tourism accounted for 7% of GDP and 370,000 jobs in 2009.[91]

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 came into force, Tunisia started dismantling tariffs on bilateral EU trade. Tunisia finalised the tariffs dismantling for industrial products in 2008 and therefore was the first Mediterranean country to enter in a free trade area with EU.[92]

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.[93]
  • 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 $5 Billion.[94]
  • Tunis Financial harbour: will deliver North Africa’s first offshore financial centre at Tunis Bay in a project with an end development value of US$ 3 billion.[95]
  • Tunis Telecom City: A US$ 3 billion project to create an IT hub in Tunis.[96]


Sources of electricity production[97]

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 GWh was produced in the country.[98]

Oil and gas

Oil production of Tunisia is about 97,600 barrels per day (15,520 m3/d). The main field is El Bourma.[99]

Oil production began in 1966 in Tunisia. Currently there are 12 oil fields.[100]

List of oil fields
Oil field Oil field
7 November oil field El Menzah field
Ashtart field Belli field
Bouri field Cercina field
El Biban field El Borma field
Ezzaouia field Miskar field
Sidi El Kilani field Tazarka field

Nuclear energy

Tunisia has plans for two nuclear power stations, to be operational by 2019. Both facilities are projected to produce 900–1000 MW. France is set to become an important partner in Tunisia's nuclear power plans, having signed an agreement, along with other partners, to deliver training and technology.[101][102]

Desertec project

The Desertec project is a large-scale energy project aimed at installing solar power panels in northern Africa, with a power line connection between it and southern Europe. Tunisia will be a part of this project, but exactly how it may benefit from this remains to be seen.


The new Radés-La Goulette Bridge in Tunis.
  • The country maintains 19,232 kilometres (11,950 mi) of roads,[103] with the A1 Tunis-Sfax, P1 Tunis-Libya and P7 Tunis-Algeria being the 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, Enfidha–Martyrs International Airport, was completed at the end of October 2009 and was due to open December 2009. 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 Tunisair express.
  • The railway network is operated by SNCFT and amounts to 2,135 kilometres (1,327 mi) in total.[103] The Tunis area is served by a tram network, named Metro Leger.

Governorates and cities


Governorates of Tunisia

Tunisia is subdivided into 24 governorates, they are:

  1. Ariana
  2. Béja
  3. Ben Arous
  4. Bizerte
  5. Gabès
  6. Gafsa
  7. Jendouba
  8. Kairouan
  9. Kasserine
  10. Kebili
  11. Kef
  12. Mahdia
  1. Manouba
  2. Medenine
  3. Monastir
  4. Nabeul
  5. Sfax
  6. Sidi Bou Zid
  7. Siliana
  8. Sousse
  9. Tataouine
  10. Tozeur
  11. Tunis
  12. Zaghouan

The governorates are divided into 264 "delegations" or "districts" (mutamadiyat), and further subdivided into municipalities (shaykhats)[104] and sectors (imadats).[105]

Major cities

Nr. City Population Governatorate
728,453[note 2]
Aryanah[note 3]


The Tunisian armed forces are divided into three branches:

Tunisia's military spending is 1.6% of GDP (2006). The army is responsible for national defence and also internal security.


Tunisia's Topography.
Gulf of Tunis
Jebel Ressas from the Lake of Tunis

Tunisia is situated on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, midway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Nile Delta. It is bordered by Algeria on the west and Libya on the south east. It lies between latitudes 30° and 38°N, and longitudes 7° and 12°E. An abrupt southward turn of the Mediterranean coast in northern Tunisia gives the country two distinctive Mediterranean coasts, west-east in the north, and north-south in the east.

Though it is relatively small in size, Tunisia has great environmental diversity due to its north-south extent. Its east-west extent is limited. Differences in Tunisia, like the rest of the Maghreb, are largely north-south environmental differences defined by sharply decreasing rainfall southward from any point. The Dorsal, the eastern extension of the Atlas Mountains, runs across Tunisia in a northeasterly direction from the Algerian border in the west to the Cape Bon peninsula in the east. North of the Dorsal is the Tell, a region characterized by low, rolling hills and plains, again an extension of mountains to the west in Algeria. In the Khroumerie, the northwestern corner of the Tunisian Tell, elevations reach 1,050 metres (3,440 ft) and snow occurs in winter.

The Sahel, a broadening coastal plain along Tunisia's eastern Mediterranean coast, is among the world's premier areas of olive cultivation. Inland from the Sahel, 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 (713 mi) long. 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 nautical miles (22.2 km; 13.8 mi).


Tunisia's climate is temperate in the north, with mild rainy winters and hot, dry summers.[109] 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 metres (56 ft) below sea level and the highest is Jebel ech Chambi, at 1,544 metres (5,066 ft).


Some 98%[110] of modern Tunisians are Arab-Berber,[111] and are speakers of Tunisian Arabic. However, there is also a small (1% at most)[112] 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 a 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.[113]

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 influences of population via conquest from Phoenicians/Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Arabs, Ottoman Turks, and French. There was a continuing inflow of nomadic Arab tribes from Arabia.

Additionally, after the Reconquista and expulsion of non-Christians and Moriscos from Spain, many Spanish Moors and Jews also arrived. According to Matthew Carr, "As many as eighty thousand Moriscos settled in Tunisia, most of them in and around the capital, Tunis, which still contains a quarter known as Zuqaq al-Andalus, or Andalusia Alley."[114] In addition, from the late 19th century to after World War II, Tunisia was home to large populations of French and Italians (255,000 Europeans in 1956),[115] although nearly all of them, along with the Jewish population, left after Tunisia became independent.


View of the Great Mosque of Kairouan; due to its history and spiritual prestige, it is the most important mosque in Tunisia situated in the city of Kairouan.

The constitution declares Islam as the official state religion and requires the President to be Muslim. Besides the president, Tunisians enjoy a significant degree of religious freedom, a right enshrined and protected in its constitution, which guarantees the freedom to practice one's religion.[116]

The country has a secular culture that encourages acceptance of other religions and religious freedom. With regards to the freedom of Muslims, the Tunisian government has restricted the wearing of Islamic head scarves (hijab) in government offices and it discourages women from wearing them on public streets and public gatherings. The government believes the hijab is a "garment of foreign origin having a partisan connotation". There were reports that the Tunisian police harassed men with "Islamic" appearance (such as those with beards), detained them, and sometimes compelled men to shave their beards off.[117] In 2006, the former Tunisian president declared that he would "fight" the hijab, which he refers to as "ethnic clothing".[118]

Individual Tunisians are tolerant of religious freedom and generally do not inquire about a person's personal beliefs.[116]

The majority of Tunisia's population (around 98%) are Muslims, while about 1% follow Christianity and the remaining 1% adhere to Judaism or other religions.[119]

Tunisia has a sizable Christian community of around 25,000 adherents, mainly Catholics (22,000) 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, with 39 synagogues, and where the Jewish community dates back 2,500 years.[116]

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. In fact, Tunisia along with Morocco has been said to be the Arab countries most accepting of their Jewish populations.[120]


Modern Standard Arabic is the official language, but Tunisian Arabic is the local vernacular and is considered Tunisia's native language. As is the case in the rest of the Arab League, a local variety of Arabic is used by the public. Tunisian Arabic is closely related to the Maltese language.[121] There is also a small minority of speakers of Shelha, a Berber language.[122]

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. Due to Tunisia's proximity to Italy and the large number of Italian Tunisians, Italian is understood and spoken by a small part of the Tunisian population.[123]


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.[124]

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:

  • École 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 National Opéra, in downtown 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.


In practice, no public criticism of the Ben Ali regime was tolerated and all direct protest was severely suppressed and did not get reported in the local media. Tunisian journalists and human rights activists were harassed and faced surveillance and imprisonment under harsh conditions.

Several private radio stations have been established, including Mosaique FM, Shems FM[125] and private television stations such as Hannibal TV and Nessma TV.[126]


National team logo
Olympique Radès Stadium

The most popular sport in Tunisia is football. The national football team, also known as "The Eagles of Carthage," won the 2004 African Cup of Nations (ACN), which was held in Tunisia. They also represented Africa in the 2005 FIFA Cup of Confederations, which was held in Germany, but they could not go beyond the first round. The Eagles of Carthage have participated in four World Cup Championships. The team's record in the World Cup is shown below:

Year in World Cup Result
1978 1st Round
1998 1st Round
2002 1st Round
2006 1st Round

The premier football league is the "Tunisian Ligue Professionnelle 1". The main clubs are Espérance Sportive de Tunis, Club Africain, Club Sportif Sfaxien 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.

Wissem Hmam

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.

In boxing, Victor Perez ("Young") was world champion in the flyweight weight class in 1931 and 1932.

In the 2008 Olympics, Tunisian Oussama Mellouli won a gold medal in 1500 freestyle.


  • Festival of Mediterranean guitar – Tunis (February)
  • Festival International of instrumental music – Tunis – (February)
  • Festival of Tunisian Music – Tunis (March)
  • Festival Matmata – Matmata (March)
  • A Capella international music festival – Tunis – (April)
  • Tozeur tradicional Festival of musical theatre – Tozeur – (April/ May)
  • Festival Oriljazz (April)
  • Festival "Tozeur, oriental, African" (April)
  • Festival international of spring- Sbeitla (April)
  • festival of Arabic poetry – Tozeur – (April)
  • Festival of Jazz in Carthage – Gammarth (April)
  • Coregrafic summit of dance in Carthage – Tunis (May)
  • Khamsa holidays & Dance – Tunis (June)
  • E-Fest festival of Music & electronic culture – Tunis (June)
  • International Festival of Jazz – Tabarka (June/ July)
  • Falconry Festival – Hauaria (June)
  • Festival of plastic arts – Mahres, Sfax (June/ August)
  • Festival International of traditional Arabic music – Jenduba (July)
  • Tabarka Jazz festival (مهرجان طبرقة للجاز) Kebili music- Tabarka (July)
  • International Festival of Music Symfonica de El-Jem – Nabel (July/ August)
  • International Festival of Dance in Hammamet – theatre y música – Hammamet (July/ August)
  • Yasmine Hammame tFestival – Hammamet (July)
  • Hourse Festival – Sidi Bouzid Meknassy (July)
  • Festival International of Carthage – Tunis (July/ August)
  • Festival International of Hammamet – Hammamet (July/ August)
  • Festival International of Susa – Susa – (July/ August)
  • Ulysse Festival – Djerba (July/ August)
  • Festival International of Testur Music Maluf Testour, Béja (July)
  • Festival International of Bizerte – Bizerta – (July/ August)
  • Festival International of Dugga – Dugga (July/ August)
  • Festival of Carthage Byrsa – art – Carthage – (July/ September)
  • Medina festival – dance & Music – Tunis – (August/ September)
  • Marsa by night- Marsa, Tunis (August/ September)
  • Musical October Festival of Carthage – Tunis – (October)
  • Musiqat, International Festival of music – Bu Sidi Said (October)
  • Sahara Festival in Douz – Douz (November)
  • Oasis Festival – Tozeur (November)
  • Dance Techno House Festival, Music – Tunis (December)
  • International Festival of Sahara in Douz – Dance, theatre, music – Mahdia, Douz (December)
  • InternacionalFestival Tozeur Oasis (المهرجان الدولي للواحات بتوزر) Dance, Music – Tozeur (December)
  • Techno House festival – Gammarth (December)
  • Dar Sebastian lyric art festival – music lyric (December)
  • Latin Caravan Festival – Tozeur (December)
  • subsaharian tradicional – Festival – Douz (December)
  • Festival of Medina – Tunis (Ramadan)
  • Festival laasida of Touza - Monastir (يوم المولد النبوي الشريف)


Tunisia is a member of the following organizations:

Organization Dates
United Nations since 12 November 1956
Arab League since 1958
Organisation of the Islamic Conference (now Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) since 1969
World Trade Organization since 29 March 1995
Mediterranean Dialogue group since February 1995

See also


  1. ^ The long name of Tunisia in other languages used in the country is:
    • Berber: ⵜⴰⴳⴷⵓⴷⴰ ⵏ ⵜⵓⵏⴻⵙ Tagduda n Tunes
    • French: République tunisienne
  2. ^ 3,980,500 in the metropolitan area
  3. ^ Part of Tunis metropolitan area


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