الجمهورية التونسية
Al-Jumhūriyyah at-Tūnisiyyah

Tunisian Republic
Flag of Tunisia
Flag Coat of Arms
Motto: "Order, Liberty, Justice"
Anthem: Humat Al Hima
Capital Tunis
Largest city Tunis
Official language Arabic
Government Republic
 - President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali
 - Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi
 - from France March 20 1956 
 - Total 163,610 km² (92nd)
63,170 sq mi 
 - Water (%) 5.0
 - July 2005 estimate 10,102,000 (78th)
 - 1994 census 8,785,711
 - Density 62/km² (133rd (2005))
161/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2005 estimate
 - Total $ 86.67 billion (63rd)
 - Per capita $8,255 (71st)
HDI  (2003) 0.760 (medium) (87th)
Currency Tunisian Dinar (TND)
Time zone CET (UTC+1)
 - Summer (DST) CEST (UTC+2)
Internet TLD .tn
Calling code +216

Tunisia (Arabic: تونس, Berber: Image:Tunisia_tifinagh.JPG), officially the Tunisian Republic (الجمهورية التونسية), is a country situated on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa. It is the northernmost African country 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, and later, as the Africa Province, which became known as the bread basket of the Roman Empire.

It is thought that the name Tunis (Arabic for both the nation and capital city) originated from Berber, meaning either a geographical promontory, or, "to spend the night."




Tunisian flag under the Hafsids c.1375
Tunisian flag under the Hafsids c.1375
Medina tower in Sousse
Medina tower in Sousse
Cathedral of St. Vincent de Paul, Tunis
Cathedral of St. Vincent de Paul, Tunis

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 8th Century B.C. by settlers from Tyre, now in modern day Lebanon. Legend says that Queen Dido founded the city, as retold in the Roman Epic Aeneid. The settlers of Carthage brought their culture and religion from the Phoenicians and Canaanites.

After a series of wars with Greece in the 6th century BC, Carthage rose to power and eventually became the dominant civilization in the Mediterranean. The people of Carthage worshiped 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. 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. Successive Muslim dynasties ruled, interrupted by Berber rebellions. The reigns of the Aghlabids (9th century) and of the Zirids (from 972), Berber followers of the Fatimids, were especially prosperous. When the Zirids angered the Fatimids in Cairo (1050), the latter sent in the Banu Hilal tribe to ravage Tunisia.

The coasts were held briefly by the Normans of Sicily in the 12th century. 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.


French imperialism

In the mid-1800's, Tunisia's government under the rule of the Bey severely compromised its legitimacy by making several controversial financial decisions that led to its downfall. France began plans to take control of Tunisia when the Bey first borrowed large sums of money in an attempt to Westernize. This failing state facilitated the Algerian raids that occurred thereafter. The weakened Bey was powerless against these raids and unable to resist European colonization.

In 1878, a secret deal was made between the United Kingdom and France that decided the fate of the African country. Provided that the French accepted British control of Cyprus, recently given to the United Kingdom, the British would in turn accept French control of Tunisia. This satisfied the French and led to their assumption of control in 1880. Tunisia was formally made a French protectorate on May 12, 1881.


World War II

Main article Tunisia Campaign

In 1942-1943 Tunisia was the scene of the first major joint operations between the United States and British allies 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 had in the Battle of France in 1940. Before the battle for Tunisia, the inexperienced allied forces had generally been unable to withstand German blitzkriegs and properly coordinate their operations. As such the battle for Tunisia was a major test for the allies. They learned that in order to defeat Germany they would have to coordinate their actions and quickly recover from the inevitable setbacks the experienced German 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 learned a critical lesson in tank warfare, the Allies broke through the German Mareth line on March 20, 1943. The allies subsequently linked up on April 8, 1943. 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.



Main article Tunisian War of Independence

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Tunisia gained independence from France in 1956. The Bey reclaimed power, but was soon deposed by French-educated Habib Bourguiba in 1957. He was quickly selected to be the Republic's first president and served through 1987.


Present-day politics

The neutrality of this article is disputed.
Please see the discussion on the talk page.

Tunisia is a republic with a strong presidential system dominated by a single political party. President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has been in office since 1987, the year he deposed Habib Bourguiba in a bloodless coup. The constitution has been changed twice to allow Ben Ali to remain in power: initially from two to three terms, then from three to five. The ruling party, the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD), was the sole legal party for 25 years, known previously as the Socialist Destourian Party (PSD). The RCD still dominates political life.

Facing virtually no opposition, 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 unicameral legislative body, the Chamber of Deputies, which has 182 seats, 20% of which are reserved for the opposition parties. It plays a growing role as an arena for debate on national policy but never originates legislation. The Chamber virtually always passes bills presented by the executive with only one minor change. The judiciary is nominally independent but responds to executive direction, especially in political cases. The military is professional and does not play a role in politics.

Tunisia is noteworthy for its lack of public political discourse. Tunisia's precise political situation is hard to determine due to a strong level of silence and lack of transparency maintained by the government. There is compelling evidence that dissidents are routinely arrested, for crimes as minor as viewing banned web sites. There are currently six legal opposition parties all with their own newspapers. However, the Committee to Protect Journalists, in its 2005 country report on Tunisia, details a persistent record of harassment, persecution, imprisonment, and physical harm perpetrated on journalists critical of the government. Even Western journalists, when writing on Tunisian soil, are not spared this fate[1].

Despite official proclamations, the Tunisian government imposes significant restrictions on freedom of speech and human rights. As such Tunisians are noticeably insecure when discussing political matters. The internet, however, is the most immediately apparent sign of the pervasiveness of state control. In fact the growth of the internet has been a major issue for Tunisia. As tourism (mainly from Europe) has expanded in Tunisia, so has the number of Internet Cafes. Tunisian internet access is invariably censored. This censorship is targeted at material deemed pornographic as well as press or chat room commentary that is critical of the government. For example, the website of the Al Arabiya satellite channel is officially censored and thereby inaccessible from any computer in Tunisia.

Nonetheless the government presents itself as Western-friendly. Despite the potential to use their economic weight to impose human rights reforms, the European Union and the United States of America mostly turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in Tunisia. Many Tunisian citizens believe that there is a conspiracy between their government and these superpowers in this matter. The belief is rationalized with the assumption that the Tunisian government has maintained power not from the support of its citizens but by patronage for safeguarding the economic interests of the many Western corporations with locations in Tunisia.[citation needed]

Tunisia is also one of the few Muslim countries (Azerbaijan and Turkey are two others), that prohibits the hijab in government buildings. By government edict, women that insist on wearing the hijab must quit their job or drop out of school. Dissenters are forced to sign a document admitting to having committed a crime punishable by law and, in cases of recidivism, are jailed. Women who insist on keeping their veils despite all threats become the subject of negative propaganda disseminated by the Tunisian authorities on all state and private media.

Underground opposition from Islamic Fundamentalists has an obvious but shadowy existence in Tunisia. Under former president Bourguiba, Islamic Fundamentalists were allowed to serve as a counterweight to more left-leaning movements. Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, however, has followed an aggressive policy regarding the Fundamentalists, though the extent of government success is difficult to judge in a nation where so much is secret. While Tunisia has a repressive political system, standards of living are among the best in the developing world. Tunisia remains an autocratic regime, but one where starvation, homelessness, and disease, problems seen in much of Africa and Asia, are rare.[citation needed]

See Also:


Administrative divisions

Map of Tunisia
Map of Tunisia

Tunisia is subdivided into 24 governorates.



Tunisia is in northern Africa, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert. It is bordered by Algeria in the west and Libya in the south-east. Much of the land is semi-arid and desert. The north of the country is mountainous, with a climate that is temperate with mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers. The south of the country is dominated by the Sahara desert.

See also:



Tunisia has a diverse economy, with important agricultural, mining, energy, tourism, petroleum, and manufacturing sectors. Governmental control of economic affairs, whilst still heavy, has gradually lessened over the past decade with increasing privatization, simplification of the tax structure, and a prudent approach to debt. Real growth averaged 5.0% in the 1990s, and inflation is slowing. Increased trade and tourism have been key elements in this steady economic growth. Tunisia's association agreement with the European Union (EU), the first such accord between the EU and a Mediterranean country, entered into force on March 1, 1998. Under the agreement Tunisia will gradually remove barriers to trade with the EU over the next decade. Broader privatization, further liberalization of the investment code to increase foreign investment, and improvements in government efficiency are among the challenges for the future of Tunisia. Acording to the British Philip's universaty atlas of 2000, Tunisia also posesed a major phosphate reserve(s) in the midde section of the country.



Traditional Tunisian bread being made
Traditional Tunisian bread being made

While the vast majority of modern Tunisians identify themselves as Arab, most Tunisians descend from indigenous Berbers: less than 20% of the Tunisian genepool comes from the Middle East.[2] Numerous civilizations have invaded, migrated to, and been assimilated into the population over the millennia. Significant influxes of population have come through conquest by the Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Arabs, Ottomans, and French. Many Spanish Moors and Jews also arrived at the end of the 15th century.

Nearly all Tunisians (98% of the population) are Muslim.[3] There has been a Jewish population on the southern island of Djerba for 2500 years, and though considerably diminished, there remains a small Jewish population in Tunis which is descended from those who fled Spain in the late 15th century. There is also a small indigenous Christian population[4]. Small nomadic indigenous minorities have been mostly assimilated into the larger population.



Prior to 1958 education in Tunisia was only available to a privileged minority (14%). It is now given an extremely high priority and accounts for 6% of G.N.P. A basic education for both boys and girls between the ages of 6 and 16 has been compulsory since 1991.

While children generally acquire Tunisian Arabic at home, when they enter school at age 5, they are taught in Classical Arabic. From the age of 8, they are taught French while English is introduced at the age of 10.

Main article: List of universities in Tunisia Colleges and universities in Tunisia include:



A small part of Raiders of the Lost Ark was filmed there as well.


Miscellaneous topics



  1. Committee to Protect Journalists 2005 Report on Tunisia. CPJ (2005). Retrieved on 2006-11-30.
  2. DNA study reveals a Phoenician-Maltese link. National Geographic (2004-10-01). Retrieved on 2006-09-09.
  3. CIA - The World Factbook -- Tunisia. Retrieved on 2007-01-13.
  4. TUNISIE - Ils ont choisi le christianisme (French) (2005-07-07). Retrieved on 2006-09-09.

External links











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