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Republic of Tunisia
Al-Jumhuriyah at-Tunisiyah


FLAG: Centered on a red ground is a white disk bearing a red crescent and a red five-pointed star.

ANTHEM: Al-Khaladi (The Glorious).

MONETARY UNIT: The Tunisian dinar (d) is a paper currency of 1,000 millimes. There are coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 millimes and of ½, 1, and 5 dinars, and notes of 1, 5, 10, and 20 dinars. d1 = $0.78125 (or $1 = d1.28) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: The metric system is the legal standard.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Independence Day, 20 March; Martyrs' Day, 9 April; Labor Day, 1 May; Victory Day, 1 June; Republic Day, 25 July; Women's Day, 13 August; Evacuation Day, 15 October; Accession of President Ben Ali, 7 November. Movable religious holidays include 'Id al-Fitr, 'Id al-'Adha', 1st of Muharram (Muslim New Year), and Milad an-Nabi.

TIME: 1 pm = noon GMT.


Situated on the northern coast of Africa, Tunisia has an area of 163,610 sq km (63,170 sq mi), extending 792 km (492 mi) ns and 350 km (217 mi) ew. Comparatively, the area occupied by Tunisia is slightly larger than the state of Georgia. It is bounded on the n and e by the Mediterranean Sea, on these by Libya, and on the w by Algeria, with a total boundary length of 2,572 km (1,598 mi), of which 1,148 km (713 mi) is coastline.

Tunisia's capital city, Tunis, is located on the northern coast.


The Nemencha mountainseastern extensions of the Atlas chaindivide the country into two distinct regions, the well-watered north and the semiarid south. The latter includes Tunisia's highest point, Jebel Chambi, 1,544 m (5,064 ft), near Kasserine. The northern region is further divided into three subregions: the northwest, with extensive cork forests; the north-central, with its fertile grasslands; and the northeast, from Tunis to Cape el-Tib, noted for its livestock, citrus fruits, and garden produce. The southern region contains a central plateau and a desert area in the extreme south, which merges into the Sahara and is characterized by date palm oases and saline lakes, the largest of which is Chott el Djerid. The Medjerda, the most important river system, rises in Algeria and drains into the Gulf of Tunis.


Tunisia consists of two climatic belts, with Mediterranean influences in the north and Saharan in the south. Temperatures are moderate along the coast, with an average annual reading of 18°c (64°f), and hot in the interior south. The summer season in the north, from May through September, is hot and dry; the winter, which extends from October to April, is mild and characterized by frequent rains. Temperatures at Tunis range from an average minimum of 6°c (43°f) and maximum of 14°c (57°f) in January, to an average minimum of 21°c (70°f) and maximum of 33°c (91°f) in August. Precipitation in the northern region reaches a high of 150 cm (59 in) annually, while rainfall in the extreme south averages less than 20 cm (8 in) a year.


Tunisia has a great variety of trees, including cork oak, oak, pines, jujube, and gum. More than one-fourth of the country is covered by esparto grass, which is the characteristic vegetation of the steppe region. Jackal, wild boar, and several species of gazelle are numerous. Horned vipers and scorpions are common in the Sahara. The sleeved mouflon, a species of wild sheep, is found in the mountains. As of 2002, there were at least 78 species of mammals, 165 species of birds, and over 2,100 species of plants throughout the country.


Loss of agricultural land to erosion, and degradation of range and forest lands because of overgrazing or overcutting of timber for fuel are major concerns. Erosion threatens about 76% of the nation's land area. Overcrowding and poor sanitation in urban centers are also major environmental problems. Pollution from industry and farming activities threatens the nation's limited water supply. Tunisia has about four cu km of renewable water resources with 86% of annual withdrawals used for farming and 1% for industrial purposes. Only 60% of the people living in rural areas have access to improved water sources. The nation's cities produce about 0.9 million tons of solid waste; inadequate disposal of toxic and hazardous wastes poses health risks.

There are four national parks, including one natural UNESCO World Heritage Site; however, in 2003 less than 1% of the total land area was protected. According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the number of threatened species included 10 types of mammals, 9 species of birds, 3 types of reptiles, 9 species of fish, and 5 species of invertebrates. Threatened species in Tunisia include the Barbary hyena, Barbary leopard, two species of gazelle (Cuvier's and slender-horned), the Mediterranean monk seal, and oryx. The Bubal hartebeest has become extinct. A World Wildlife Fund project succeeded in rescuing the Atlas deer from near extinction.


The population of Tunisia in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 10,043,000, which placed it at number 80 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 7% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 27% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 102 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 20052010 was expected to be 1.1%. The government has had a commitment to family planning and reproductive health since the 1990s. The projected population for the year 2025 was 11,583,000. The overall population density was 61 per sq km (159 per sq mi), ranging from only about 4 per sq km (10 per sq mi) in the south to over 1,000 per sq km (400 per sq mi) in the thickly settled north.

The UN estimated that 65% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 1.59%. The capital city, Tunis, had a population of 1,996,000 in that year. Other cities are Sfax (Safaqis); Ariana (a suburb of Tunis); Bizerte (Binzart); Gabes; and Sousse (Susa).


French and Italian migration to Tunisia dates from the French military occupation of 1881. There were 255,000 Europeans in Tunisia in 1956, but most have since left the country. With the conclusion of the Franco-Algerian war in 1962, 110,000 Algerian refugees returned to their homeland.

Internal migration constitutes a serious problem. Rural unemployment has caused significant population movement to urban centers, where conditions are often harsh. Since 1964, the government has sought to decentralize industry and to resettle nomads and seminomads in permanent villages. Many Tunisians seek employment abroad; in the early 1990s there were approximately 350,000 Tunisian workers in foreign countries, mostly Libya and France. The total number of migrants in 2000 was 38,000. In 2003, the Tunisian government, along with the Algeria and Morocco, cracked down on sub-Saharan migration that was heading toward Europe.

In 2004, there were some 90 refugees and 12 asylum seekers. The net migration rate in 2005 was estimated as -0.54 migrants per 1,000 population. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory. Worker remittances in 2003 were $1.1 billion.


Tunisia has a highly homogeneous population, almost entirely of Arab and Berber descent (98%). The small European population (1%) consists mostly of French and Italians. Tunisian Jews and other groups make up the remaining 1% of the populace.


Arabic is the official language and one language used in commerce. French is taught to all school children and is also commonly used in commerce and administration. Small numbers of people speak Berber.


Islam is the state religion and nearly all Tunisians are Sunni Muslims. A small number are of the mystical Sufi branch. The Christian community, which contains only about 25,000 people, is made up primarily of Roman Catholics, Russian Orthodox, French Reformists, Anglicans, Greek Orthodox, and a small number of Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh-Day Adventists. There are approximately 1,500 Jews in the country and about 150 Baha'is.

The constitution provides for the free exercise of religions that do not disturb the public order. Under this stipulation, the government restricts groups that are considered to be part of Islamic fundamentalist movements. Though members of other established, non-Muslim religions are generally allowed to practice freely, proselytizing is prohibited by law. Muslims who convert to another faith are often denied the right to vote, obtain a passport, and to enlist in the army, as well as facing social discrimination. Members of the Baha'i faith are only allowed to practice their faith in private, since the government considers the religion to be a heretical sect of Islam. The government offers some state support of the Jewish community, such as paying the salary of the grand rabbi, presumably based on the point that Judaism is considered to be indigenous to the country. The government prohibits the formation of political parties based on religious doctrines.


As of 2002, Tunisia had 23,100 km (14,354 mi) of highway, of which 18,226 km (11,326 mi) were paved, including 142 km of expressways. Roads connected the major cities and provided access to most regions of the country. In 2003, there were 585,194 passenger cars and 288,285 commercial vehicles. The Tunisian National Railway Co. (Société National des Chemins de Fer Tunisiens) operates over 2,152 km (1,337 mi) of standard, narrow and dual gauge track, located mostly in the northern region and central plateau. Most of the country's rail system is narrow gauge, accounting for 1,674 km (1,040 mi), followed by standard gauge at 468 km (291 mi). The remainder10 km (6.2 mi)consists of dual gauge right-of-way. A metro rail system for Tunis opened in 1985.

Tunisia has excellent shipping facilities at Tunis, the principal port, and at Sfax, Sousse, Bizerte, and Gabes; Sekhira is the port for oil exports. The free port terminal at Zarzis is scheduled for further development at an estimated cost of $20.8 million, in order to expand harbor and storage facilities. Tunisia's modest merchant fleet, established in 1958, operates a freighter service principally to French ports. As of 2005 there were 12 ships of 1,000 GRT or more, totaling 124,733 GRT. The Tunisian Navigation Co. is the principal shipping firm.

Airports in 2004 numbered an estimated 30, of which 14 had paved runways as of 2005. Tunis-Carthage Airport, about 14 km (9 mi) from the capital, provides direct connections to most of the major cities of Europe and the Middle East. There are five other international airports, at Menzel Bourguiba (Monastir), Zarzis (Jerba), Tozeur, Tabarka, and Sfax. Tunis Air, the national airline, is owned by the Tunisian government (51%), Air France, and Tunisian citizens. In 2003, about 1.720 million passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international flights.


The history of early Tunisia and its indigenous inhabitants, the Berbers, is obscure prior to the founding of Carthage by seafaring Phoenicians from Tyre (in present-day Lebanon) in the 9th century bc. A great mercantile state developed at Carthage (near modern-day Tunis), which proceeded to dominate the western Mediterranean world. The great Carthaginian general Hannibal engineered the monumental trans-Alpine assault on Rome in 211 bc and inflicted costly losses on the Roman Empire until choosing suicide rather than capture in 183 bc. Carthage was eventually burned to the ground by the Romans at the culmination of the Punic Wars in 146 bc. The Romans subsequently rebuilt the city, making it one of the great cities of the ancient world. With the decline of the Roman Empire, Tunisia fell successively to Vandal invaders during the 5th century ad, to the Byzantines in the 6th century, and finally to the Arabs in the 7th century. Thenceforth, Tunisia remained an integral part of the Muslim world.

In the 9th century, the governor of Tunisia, Ibrahim ibn Aghlab, founded a local dynasty nominally under the sovereignty of the 'Abbasid caliphs of Baghdād. The Aghlabids conquered Sicily and made Tunisia prosperous. In 909, the Fatimids ended Aghlabid rule, using Tunisia as a base for their subsequent conquest of Egypt. They left Tunisia in control of the subordinate Zirid dynasty until the 11th century, when the Zirids rebelled against Fatimid control. The Fatimids unleashed nomadic Arab tribes, the Banu Hilal and Banu Sulaym, to punish the Zirids, a move resulting in the destruction of the Zirid state and the general economic decline of Tunisia. In the 13th century, the Hafsids, a group subordinate to the Almohad dynasty based in Morocco, restored order to Tunisia. They founded a Tunisian dynasty that, from the 13th century to the 16th, made Tunisia one of the flourishing regions of North Africa. In the beginning of the 16th century, however, Spain's occupation of important coastal locations precipitated the demise of Hafsid rule.

In 1574, the Ottoman Turks occupied Tunisia, ruling it with a dey appointed by the Ottoman ruler. The dey's lieutenants, the beys, gradually became the effective rulers, in fact if not in name. Ultimately, in 1705, the bey Husayn ibn 'Ali established a dynasty. Successive Husaynids ruled Tunisia as vassals of the Ottomans until 1881 and under the French until 1956, the year of Tunisia's independence (the dynasty was abolished in 1957). During the 19th century, the Tunisian dynasts acted virtually as independent rulers, making vigorous efforts to utilize Western knowledge and technology to modernize the state. But these efforts led to fiscal bankruptcy and thus to the establishment of an international commission made up of British, French, and Italian representatives to supervise Tunisian finances. Continued rivalry between French and Italian interests culminated in a French invasion of Tunisia in May 1881. A protectorate was created in that year by the Treaty of Bardo; the Convention of La Marsa (1883) allowed the Tunisian dynasty to continue, although effective direction of affairs passed to the French. French interests invested heavily in Tunisia, and a process of modernization was vigorously pursued; at the same time, direct administration in the name of the dynasty was gradually expanded. The Tunisians, in turn, supported France in World War I.

The beginnings of modern nationalism in Tunisia emerged before the outbreak of the war, with hopes of greater Tunisian participation in government encouraged during the war by pronouncements such as the Fourteen Points (1918) of Woodrow Wilson. When these hopes were not realized, Tunisians formed a moderate nationalist grouping, the Destour ("Constitutional") Party. Dissatisfaction over the group's poor organization led, in 1934, to a split: the more active members, led by Habib Bourguiba, founded the Neo-Destour Party. France responded to demands for internal autonomy with repression, including the deposition and exile of the sovereign Munsif Bey. On 23 August 1945, the two Destour parties proclaimed that the will of the Tunisian people was independence. But the French still held firm. In December 1951, they again rejected a request by the Tunisian government for internal autonomy. The situation worsened when extremists among the French colonists launched a wave of terrorism. Finally, on 31 July 1954, French Premier Pierre Mendès-France promised the bey internal autonomy. After long negotiations accompanied by considerable local disorder, a French-Tunisian convention was signed on 3 June 1955 in Paris. On 20 March 1956, France recognized Tunisian independence.

In April 1956, Habib Bourguiba formed the first government of independent Tunisia, and on 25 July 1957, the National Assembly, having established a republic and transformed itself into a legislative assembly, elected Bourguiba chief of state and deposed the bey. A new constitution came into effect on 1 June 1959. Bourguiba won the first presidential election in 1959 and was reelected in 1964, 1969, and 1974, when the National Assembly amended the constitution to make him president for life.

Economic malaise and political repression during the late 1970s led to student and labor unrest. A general strike called by the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) on 26 January 1978, in order to protest assaults on union offices and the harassment of labor leaders, brought confrontations with government troops in which at least 50 demonstrators and looters were killed and 200 trade union officials, including UGTT Secretary-General Habib Achour, were arrested. Prime Minister Hedi Nouira was succeeded by Mohamed Mzali in April 1980, marking the advent of a political liberalization. Trade union leaders were released from jails, and Achour ultimately received a full presidential pardon. In July 1981, the formation of opposition political parties was permitted. In elections that November, candidates of Bourguiba's ruling Destourian Socialist Party, aligned in a National Front with the UGTT, garnered all 136 National Assembly seats and 94.6% of the popular vote. An economic slump in 198283 brought a renewal of tensions; in January 1984, after five days of rioting in Tunis, the government was forced to rescind the doubling of bread prices that had been ordered as an austerity measure.

After independence, Tunisia pursued a nonaligned course in foreign affairs while maintaining close economic ties with the West. Tunisia's relations with Algeria, strained during the 1970s, improved markedly during the early 1980s, and on 19 March 1983 the two nations signed a 20-year treaty of peace and friendship. Relations with Libya have been stormy since the stillborn Treaty of Jerba (1974), a hastily drafted document that had been intended to merge the two countries into the Islamic Arab Republic; within weeks after signing the accord, Bourguiba, under pressure from Algeria and from members of his own government, retreated to a more gradualist approach toward Arab unity. A further irritant was the territorial dispute between Libya and Tunisia over partition of the oil-rich Gulf of Gabes, resolved by the international Court of Justice in Libya's favor in 1982. Tunisian-Libyan relations reached a low point in January 1980, when some 30 commandos (entering from Algeria but apparently aided by Libya) briefly seized an army barracks and other buildings at Gafsa in an abortive attempt to inspire a popular uprising against Bourguiba. In 1981, Libya vetoed Tunisia's bid to join OAPEC and expelled several thousand Tunisian workers; more Tunisian workers were expelled in 1985.

Following the evacuation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Lebanon in August 1982, Tunisia admitted PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat and nearly 1,000 Palestinian fighters. An October 1985 Israeli bombing raid on the PLO headquarters near Tunis killed about 70 persons. By 1987, the PLO presence was down to about 200, all civilians.

In 1986 and 1987, Bourguiba dealt with labor agitation for wage increases by again jailing UGTT leader Achour and disbanding the confederation. He turned on many of his former political associates, including his wife and son, while blocking two legal opposition parties from taking part in elections. Reasserting his control of Tunisian politics, Bourguiba dismissed Prime Minister Mzali, who fled to Algeria and denounced the regime. A massive roundup of Islamic fundamentalists in 1987 was the president's answer to what he termed a terrorist conspiracy sponsored by Iran, and diplomatic relations with Tehrān were broken. On 27 September 1987, a state security court found 76 defendants guilty of plotting against the government and planting bombs; seven (five in absentia) were sentenced to death.

General Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the trusted minister of interior who had conducted the crackdown, was named prime minister in September 1987. Six weeks later, Ben Ali seized power, ousting Bourguiba, whom he said was too ill and senile to govern any longer. He assumed the presidency himself, promising political liberalization. Almost 2,500 political prisoners were released and the special state security courts were abolished. The following year, Tunisia's constitution was revised, ending the presidency for life and permitting the chief executive three five-year terms. Elections were advanced from 1991 to 1989 and Ben Ali ran unopposed. Candidates of the renamed Destour Party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), won all of the 141 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, although the Islamist party, an-Nahda, won an average of 18% of the vote where its members contested as independents.

The constitution does not permit political parties based on religion, race, regional, or linguistic affiliation, and thus Islamist parties in Tunisia face an uphill battle in gaining official recognition. After an attack on RCD headquarters in 1990, the government moved decisively against its Islamist opposition. Thousands were arrested and in 1992 military trials, 265 were convicted.

In the March 1994 presidential election, two men not Islamist-affiliated, after announcing their candidacy for the presidency, were arrested and Ben Ali again was unopposed and was reelected with 99.9% of the vote. In the electoral system established for the 1994 Chamber of Deputies elections, the number of seats had been increased from 144 to 163. That year, a new proportional system was established where 144 of the seats were to be contested and were won by the majority party and the remaining 19 were to be distributed to the remaining contesting parties according to their vote draw at the national level. In the parliamentary elections the president's RCD took all 144 seats with the remaining six parties dividing up the 19 set-aside seats. In the 1995 municipal elections, out of 4,090 seats contested in the 257 constituencies, independent candidates and members of the 5 recognized political parties won only 6 of the seats.

In July 1998 Ben Ali announced his plans to contest the presidential elections scheduled for October 1999. Two other candidates, Mohamed Belhaj Amor of the PUP and Abderrahmane Tlili of the UDU also announced their candidacy. The parliament had again been enlarged to 182 members, with 34 seats guaranteed to the opposition. In the 1999 elections Ben Ali received 99.4% of the votes, with Amor receiving 0.3% and Tlili 0.2%. The RCD was awarded with 148 seats and the 5 other official parties splitting the remaining 34 seats.

In the 1990s Tunisia continued to follow a moderate, nonaligned course in foreign relations, complicated by sporadic difficulties with its immediate neighbors. Relations with Libya remained tense after ties were resumed in 1987. However, Ben Ali pursued normalized relations, which dramatically improved over the next few years. Thousands of Tunisians found work in Libya as the border was reopened. In 1992 the UN Security Council imposed sanctions against Libya due to its decision not to hand over for trial suspects in the Pan Am bombing affair. Tunisia did not wholeheartedly support all of the UN Security Council sanctions due to the real economic ties that the two countries have. Due to these ties Libya's difficulties impacted on the ability of Tunisia and the Union of the Arab Maghreb (UAM) to establish closer relations with the European Union. From 1995 forward, Tunisia lobbied at the international level for the cessation of the sanctions due to the suffering that was caused to the Libyan people as well as to the regional tensions that the sanctions were creating. By 1997 Tunisia had quietly resumed joint economic projects and bilateral visitation with Libya. Following Libya's 1998/99 decision to hand over the Pan Am bombing suspects for trial in the Netherlands for the 1988 Pam Am explosion over Lockerbie, Scotland, Tunisia moved to normalize relations with Libya, including resumption of TunisAir flights to Tripoli in June 2000.

Ben Ali also appeared committed to the promotion of the UAM, an organization that became formalized in 1989 with Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. Ben Ali became president of the organization for 1993, though at this point the active work toward unification of the five countries was put on hold due in large part to the political and economic difficulties that Algeria and Libya faced internally and internationally. In 1999 the leaders of Morocco and Tunisia again called for a resuscitation of the organization and pledged to work toward that end in the following year.

Tunisia's relations with Algeria in the 1990s were controlled by the Islamist issue. The leadership of Tunisia's not-officially-recognized ah-Nahda party continued to be closely watched by both countries. With the decision of the Algerian military to annul their January 1992 elections in order to prevent the Islamists from gaining control of the government, relations improved between the two countries. Algeria signed a border agreement in 1993 with Tunisia, ratified during a state visit of the Algerian leader. Reciprocal visits between the leadership of the two countries reinforced their commitment to controlling their joint border and fighting "extremism."

In 1988 'Abu Jihad, the military commander of the PLO, was assassinated near Tunis by Israeli commandos, provoking a Tunisian protest to the United Nations Security Council and a following resolution of condemnation of the Israeli aggression by the Council. However, relations with Israel then improved, and in 1993, Tunisia welcomed an official Israeli delegation as part of the peace process. Joint naval exercises between the two countries took place in March 1994. The PLO offices in Tunis were closed in 1994 as the new Palestinian Authority (PA) took up residence in Gaza. In 1996, following PA elections, Tunisia moved to establish low-level diplomatic relations with Israel as it also announced its decision to recognize PA passports. However, with the slowing of the peace process and the election of the Netanyahu government in Israel, improving relations between Israel and Tunisia cooled and remained on hold.

Ben Ali also moved to normalize relations with Egypt and visited Cairo in 1990 to that end, the first such trip by a Tunisian president since 1965. In 1997 several agreements regarding economic and cultural cooperation were signed between the two countries.

Although the United States has provided economic and military aid, Tunisia opposed American support for Kuwait following Iraq's invasion in 1990. The support of Iraq in this crisis caused a rift in relations with Kuwait that were finally healed, through Ben Ali's efforts, with the visit of Kuwait's crown prince to Tunis in 1996 and a loan from the Kuwait-based Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development being granted to Tunisia. At the same time, Tunisia continued good relations with Iraq and continued to call for a cessation of UN sanctions against Baghdād.

The consistent stance of Ben Ali's government toward Islamist parties has brought him friends in the West, though his own poor human rights record has provoked consternation from Western governments and vocal criticism from Western media and human rights organizations. Complaints against his regime have included torture under interrogation, deaths in custody, secret or unfair trials and long prison sentences for opposition leaders, inhumane prison conditions, and restrictions on free speech and the press, including controls on the use of satellite dishes. Ironically, the UN Committee against Torture (along with numerous other human rights groups and including the Arab Commission of Human Rights) denounced the police and security forces in Tunisia, while Tunisia was unanimously elected to the UN Human Rights Commission in 1997. This caused international controversy, and by 2006, a Human Rights Council replaced the UN Human Rights Commission. The Human Rights Council was meant to be a standing body that would meet year-round to promote and protect human rights with a membership that excluded the worst human rights violators.

In July 1995, Tunisia signed an association agreement with the European Union that in 2007 would make the country part of a free-trade area around the Mediterranean known as the European Economic Area, the first southern Mediterranean country to be brought into the planned association. The United States has continued to offer praise to Tunisia and encouragement of US investment, but has held off on requested military aid. Relations with Italy, Tunisia's second-largest trading partner after France, have been complicated by the issues of illegal immigration from Tunisia and of fishing rights.

On 6 April 2000, Bourguiba died at age 96. A seven-day period of mourning was declared, and thousands of mourners lined his funeral procession route.

Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the United States called upon all states to implement counterterrorism measures. On 11 April 2002, a truck exploded at a synagogue on the Tunisian resort island of Djerba, killing 21 people, including 14 German tourists. German intelligence officials reported the bombing was a terrorist attack, and cited links to the al-Qaeda organization. In November, Ben Ali called for an international conference on terrorism to establish an international code of ethics to which all parties would be committed. In December, the United States praised Tunisia for its efforts in combating terrorism, and for its "record of moderation and of tolerance in the region."

In a referendum held on 26 May 2002, voters overwhelmingly approved a series of constitutional amendments that would make a marked change in the country's political structure. They included: additional guarantees regarding the pretrial and preventive custody of defendants; the creation of a second legislative body; the elimination of presidential term limits, along with the setting of a maximum age ceiling of 75 years for a presidential candidate; and the consecration of the importance of human rights, solidarity, mutual help, and tolerance as values enshrined in the constitution.

In November 2002, Ben Ali announced a series of electoral reform measures. In addition to the creation of a second legislative body (Chamber of Advisors approved by the May referendum) these included provisions to further guarantee the fairness of voter registration and election processes, and provisions to reduce the minimum requirement for campaign financing and reimbursement by the state. He also called on radio and television operators to provide wider coverage of opposition parties and nongovernmental organizations, and introduced a bill that would guarantee citizens' privacy and protection of personal data.

Presidential and legislative elections were held on 24 October 2004. Ben Ali was reelected for a fourth term with 94.5% of the vote. His contenders included Mohamed Bouchiha (PUP), Mohamed Ali Halouani (Ettajdid), and Mounir Beji (PSDL). The main opposition group, the Democratic Progressive Party (PDP), pulled out of the election two days before the vote, saying its participation would only legitimize a masquerade of democracy. The legislative election for the Chamber of Deputies was dominated by the RCD, as was the election for the new Chamber of Advisors held on 3 July 2005. The next presidential and Chamber of Deputies elections were to be held in October 2009. The next Chamber of Advisors election was to be held July 2011.


According to the constitution of 1959, Tunisia is an Islamic republic, although since independence it has been a thoroughly secular state. The president, who is chief of state, must be a Muslim and a Tunisian citizen, born of a Tunisian father and grandfather, and at least 40 years old. He serves a five-year term. The president enjoys extensive powers, initiating and directing state policy and appointing judges, provincial governors, the mayor of Tunis, and other high officials, The cabinet, headed by a prime minister, varies in size and is under presidential domination.

The unicameral National Assembly or Chamber of Deputies (Majlis al-Ummah) was expanded in 1993 to 163 members and again in 1997 to 182 members, elected by general, free, direct, and secret ballot. Since 1994 the opposition has been guaranteed a number of seats in the assembly, with the changes introduced in 1997 guaranteeing them 20% of the assembly seats. All citizens 20 years of age or older may vote; candidates must be at least 25 years old and born of a Tunisian father or Tunisian mother. The assembly sits twice a year for five years, but may be extended in the event that a national emergency prevents new elections. Presidential ratification is required before a bill passed by the legislature can become law, but the assembly may override the president's veto by a two-thirds majority. The president may enact decrees in an emergency or when the assembly is in recess.

A series of constitutional amendments were overwhelmingly approved by voters in a 26 May 2002 referendum. Civil liberties were expanded, and human rights were guaranteed. Provisions for a second legislative body, a Chamber of Advisors, were made. Presidential term limits were abolished, and the age limit for a presidential candidate was raised from 70 to 75, thereby making Ben Ali, then age 65, eligible for reelection in 2004 and 2009.


The Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) dominates the country's political life. Its leader from its founding as the Neo-Destour Party in 1934 to 1987 was Habib Bourguiba. In the first national elections in 1956, all 98 seats in the National Assembly were won by the National Union, a united front of the Neo-Destour Party with the UGTT, the National Union of Tunisian Farmers, and the Tunisian Union of Craftsmen and Merchants. In the November 1959 elections for the National Assembly, the Communist Party (Parti Communiste Tunisien) presented a list of 13 candidates in Tunis and Gafsa; elsewhere, the Neo-Destour Party was unopposed, and the ruling party won all 90 seats at stake. From 1959 to 1994, the RCD (acting in 1981 as part of a National Front with the UGTT) held a monopoly of Assembly seats.

Banned in 1963, the Communist Party was the first opposition group to be fully legalized under the political liberalization of 1981. Two other parties, the Movement of Social Democrats (Mouvement des Démocrates SocialistesMDS) and the Party of Popular Unity (Parti de l'Unité PopulairePUP), failed to retain their provisional authorization when each fell short of receiving a 5% share of the total vote in the November 1981 election but nevertheless were formally legalized in 1983. The principal Islamist party, an-Nahda, has been outlawed. In 1992, it was hit hard by the jailing of many of its senior leaders.

Due to a change in the 1994 electoral code to guarantee the opposition would win seats, opposition parties such as the Movement of Social Democrats (MDS) entered the Chamber of Deputies. As of 2006, there were seven officially recognized opposition parties: MDS, PUP, the Union of Democratic Unionists (UDU), Ettajdid (also called the Renewal Movement), the Social Democratic Liberal Party (PSDL), plus the Democratic Progressive Party (PDP) and the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties (FDTL), the only two not represented in the Chamber of Deputies as of the October 2004 elections. The RCD held 152 of the 182 seats as of 2006. The Islamist an-Nahda remained an outlawed party.


Tunisia is divided into 23 provinces (wilayets, or governorates). Each province is headed by a governor appointed by the president through the secretary of interior. The governor is assisted by elected municipal councils and a governmental council, members of which are appointed for a three-year term by the central government on the governor's nomination. Each province is in turn divided into delegations (mutamadiyat ), the number of which varies with the size and social and economic importance of the province. The number of communes, or municipalities, in 2006 was 257. In local elections boycotted by the opposition in 1990, RCD candidates won control of all but one of the councils. In 1990 proportional representation for municipal elections was introduced, where the winning party would receive 50% of the council seats with the remaining seats to be proportionally divided between the other political parties according to their electoral draw.

Municipal elections were held in May 2005. Local council members serve five-year terms.


The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. The judiciary is susceptible to being influenced by the executive branch in practice. Magistrates are appointed by the president upon recommendation of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy; its members are drawn from the Department of Justice and the courts of appeal and cassation. In 2006, there were 51 cantonal courts, 23 courts of first instance, and 3 courts of appeal, located in Tunis, Sousse, and Sfax. A Court of Cassation in Tunis has three civil sections and one criminal section; it acts as the ultimate court of appeal. In addition, a High Court is constituted for the sole purpose of prosecuting a member of the government accused of high treason. The Council of State is an administrative tribunal empowered to resolve conflicts between citizens and the state and public authorities; as an accounting department, it is empowered to audit and examine government records.

Civil and criminal law generally follows French-influenced practices that evolved during the period of the protectorate. Since 1956 there has been a steady reform of existing Islamic legislation, including the abolition of polygamy. Shariah courts were abolished in 1956.

A military tribunal consisting of a presiding civilian judge from the Court of Cassation and four military judges hears cases involving military personnel as well as cases concerning civilians when national security is deemed to be at stake. Decisions of the military tribunal may be appealed to the Court of Cassation.


As of 2005, Tunisia had an Army of 27,000 active personnel equipped with 84 main battle tanks, 48 light tanks, 60 reconnaissance vehicles, 268 armored personnel carriers, and 276 artillery pieces. The Navy numbered 4,500 personnel. Major naval units totaled over nineteen patrol boats and two logistics/support vessels. The Air Force had 3,500 personnel, with 27 combat capable aircraft that included 12 fighters and 3 fighter ground attack aircraft, in addition to 11 search and rescue, 11 support, and 37 utility helicopters. Paramilitary forces consisted of a 12,000-member National Guard. Tunisia participated in peacekeeping efforts in the DROC, Burundi, Côte d'Ivoire and Ethiopia/Eritrea. The defense budget in 2005 totaled $436 million.


Admitted to the United Nations on 12 November 1956, Tunisia belongs to ECA and several nonregional specialized agencies, such as the World Bank, the FAO, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNIDO, IAEA, and the WHO. The nation also participates in the African Development Bank, the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, the Islamic Development Bank, the Arab League, OAPEC, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), the Community of Sahel and Saharan States (CENSAD), G-77, the Arab Maghreb Union, and African Union. The nation has observer status in the OAS and Black Sea Economic Cooperation Zone. Tunisia was the site of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) headquarters from 198293. Tunisia is part of the Nonaligned Movement.

In environmental cooperation, Tunisia is part of the Basel Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, CITES, the London Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.


Agriculture is still the mainstay of the Tunisian economy, although minerals (especially crude oil and phosphates), textiles, and tourism are the leading sources of foreign exchange. Industrial development has increased rapidly since the 1960s. Tunisians live a middle class lifestyle with almost 80% of household owning their own home. The GDP grew by 4.7% annually during 196170, by 7.3% during 197081, by only 2.9% during 198287, and by 4.6% during 198898. It stood at 4.8% in 2001. GDP growth slowed to a 15-year low of 1.9% in 2002 due to agricultural drought and sluggish tourism. Better rains between 200305 helped push GDP growth to around 5%. An association agreement with the European Union signed in 1998 was forecast to have negative short-term effects to the economy (due to the required drop of trade barriers), but positive long-term effects. Roughly 80% of foreign trade is carried out with Europe, and a free trade zone between Tunisia and the EU is to come into effect in 2010 as a result of the association agreement.

After a period of socialist economic policies Tunisia began a structural reform program with the IMF designed to encourage a market-based economy. Privatization of state-owned enterprises began in 1987 with 67 of the government's 189 companies privatized through 1995. The privatization program, however, focused on smaller companies so as not to disrupt employment. Privatization of the energy, construction materials, and transport sectors, all of which contain unprofitable and overstaffed entities, has yet to occur. The reforms also decontrolled domestic prices and liberalized foreign trade. The private sector accounted for about 60% of output in 1999.

Tourism, increasing as a growth sector, experienced a decline in 2001 following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States: there were 13% fewer tourists arriving in Tunisia in the first half of 2002 than during the same period in 2001. However, the government doubled its expenditures on tourism promotion in 2002. A drought in 200102 caused a decrease in cereal production, as well as in the production of olive oil, but rains returned over the 200305 period. By 2006, industrial production, total exports, and the number of tourists had all increased. Overall total visitors to the country were approximately 5.1 million in 2003; goals were 2004, 5.5 million; 2005, 6 million, and 2006, 6.5 million. Half the number of visitors come from Maghreb countries such as Libya and Algeria. There was a marked increase in total visitors from European countries as France and Germany, despite a terrorist attack in early 2002 in which 21 people, mostly German tourists, were killed. The number of visitors from Eastern Europe also increased in the mid-2000s. Tourism contributes approximately 7% of GDP.

Unemployment remained high in 2005 (at an estimated 13.5%, but likely higher). In 2002, the banking and insurance sectors began to be privatized. Foreign trade, in terms both of imports and exports, increased markedly in 200102. The increases in exports during those years were due to the textile and clothing sector, leather and footwear sector, mechanical and electrical industries, and the agro-food, phosphates, and energy sectors.

Tunisia began to open its telecommunications sector to foreign business in 2002. Thirty-five companies were due to be privatized in 200304, including the national petroleum distribution company (SNDP), the state automobile manufacturer (STIA), and the joint Tunisian/Algerian white cement company (SOTACIB). Twelve hotels were also up for sale, and the sale of the government's share in the partially state-owned Banque du Sud was nearing completion.

In 2001, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia agreed to set up a free trade zone ahead of the 2010 target for trade barriers to end in the Euro-Mediterranean area. The Great Arab Free Trade Zone was eventually expected to encompass 10 Arab nations.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Tunisia's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $76.9 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $7,600. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 4.9%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 2%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 13.8% of GDP, industry 30.7%, and services 55.6%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $1.250 billion or about $126 per capita and accounted for approximately 5.0% of GDP. Foreign aid receipts amounted to $306 million or about $31 per capita and accounted for approximately 1.3% of the gross national income (GNI).

The World Bank reports that in 2003 household consumption in Tunisia totaled $15.62 billion or about $1,578 per capita based on a GDP of $25.0 billion, measured in current dollars rather than PPP. Household consumption includes expenditures of individuals, households, and nongovernmental organizations on goods and services, excluding purchases of dwellings. It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 4.5%. In 2001 it was estimated that approximately 28% of household consumption was spent on food, 8% on fuel, 3% on health care, and 12% on education. It was estimated that in 2001 about 7.6% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


Tunisia's labor force was estimated at 3.41 million in 2005. In 1995 (the latest year for which data was available), estimated employment by sector was as follows: services 55%, industry 23%, and agriculture 22%. Since 1958, regional workshops to combat underemployment have provided jobs in land development, reforestation, terracing, and drainage. Full employment has been a goal of successive development plans; however, rates of unemployment and underemployment have remained high. The estimated unemployment rate in 2005 was 13.5%.

The only trade federation is the General Union of Tunisian Workers (Union Générale des Travailleurs TunisiensUGTT). In 2002, about 15% of the workforce belonged to the UGTT. Unions have the right to strike after a mandatory notice period of ten days. Regional labor councils seek to foster cooperation between management and labor. Collective bargaining contracts cover 80% of the private workforce.

The labor code sets the regular workweek at 48 hours with one 24-hour rest period for most sectors. If the workday exceeds 10 hours, overtime rates must be paid. All workers are entitled to annual paid leave of up to 18 working days. All nonagricultural employers with over 40 workers are required to have a medical facility available. In 2002, the minimum wage was $138 per month in industry and $4.27 per day in agriculture.

The minimum age for agricultural work is 13 years and the minimum age for manufacturing is 16. Children must attend school until 16 and have restricted working hours until the age of 18. The laws are somewhat effectively enforced but children can still be seen performing agricultural work in rural areas and working as vendors in urban areas.


In 2003, about 25% of the labor force engaged in agriculture, which accounted for about 14% of GDP. Fertile land is generally limited to the north, where cereals, olives, fruits, grapes, and vegetables are produced. In the southern desert and plateau, desert farming is precarious, but barley is produced in quantity. About 4,900,000 hectares (12,108,000 acres) are arable. Cereals account for 1,347,000 hectares (3,328,000 acres), while tree crops utilized 2,000,000 hectares (4,492,000 acres).

Harvests have traditionally yielded sizable surpluses for export, chiefly to France. Tunisia's early growing season allows the nation to profit from exporting fresh produce to Europe before European crops ripen. Crops fluctuate greatly in size, however, depending upon the weather. In very poor years, wheat and barley must be imported to satisfy local food requirements.

Chief grain crops in 2004 were wheat, 1,722,000 tons, and barley, 395,000 tons. Olive trees number some 55 million; output of olives in 2004 comprised 650,000 tons, with 130,000 tons of olive oil produced in 2004/05. Other important commodities (with 2004 production estimates, in thousands of tons) were tomatoes, 970; oranges, 106; potatoes, 375; peppers, 255; dates, 122; and grapes, 122.

The government has undertaken irrigation and soil conservation projects to improve agricultural production and raise the living standard of rural areas. The 196271 plan aimed at constructing 40 dams, mostly in the Medjerda River system, plus opening over 1,000 new wells, particularly in the southern regions. In the period 196264, the government initiated a program to help the new cooperative farm system, with a total investment of d150.5 million; remaining European-owned farms were nationalized as part of the program. In 1969, however, the development of cooperatives was halted, and appropriated land was redistributed to individual Tunisian owners. Irrigation and flood-control projects, many undertaken with foreign aid, were under way in Bizerte, the Medjerda River basin, and other locales in the early 1980s. To increase and direct the flow of capital to this sector, the government has established the Agricultural Investment Promotion Agency and the National Agricultural Development Bank.


Although animal breeding is a major occupation in the central plateau and southern region, the largest herds are in the well-watered north. In 2005 there were an estimated 6,700,000 sheep, 1,400,000 goats, 750,000 head of cattle, 231,000 camels, 230,000 asses, 81,000 mules, 57,000 horses, 6,000 pigs, and 64 million chickens. Meat production in 2005 consisted of 120,600 tons of poultry, 55,000 tons of beef, 55,000 tons of mutton, and 9,500 tons of goat meat. Milk production in 2005 was 60,500 tons; cheese, 3,800 tons.

Since 1970, a great effort has been undertaken to develop the livestock sector to meet increased demands created by Tunisia's improved standard of living and expanding tourism. Poultry farming is being encouraged to provide farmers with an additional resource and to increase protein in the local diet.


Commercial fishing takes place along the Mediterranean coast and in the Lake of Tunis and Lake Achkel. Small quantities of tuna, sardines, shrimp, and lobsters are exported. Except for some trawler and sponge fishing, most activity is on a limited scale; the 2003 catch was 92,507 tons. In 2003, fish and fishery products exports exceeded $105 million. The National Fisheries Office owns part of the trawler fleet.


Forested lands cover about 510,000 hectares (1,260,000 acres), a large proportion of which was state owned. The oak and pine forests of the northern highlands provide cork for export (some 9,000 tons produced annually) and firewood for local use. Estimated forestry output in 2004 included wood for fuel, 2,137,000 cu m (75.4 million cu ft); wood-based panels, 104,000 cu m (3.67 million cu ft); paper and paperboard, 94,000 tons; and sawn wood, 20,400 cu m (720,419 cu ft).


In 2004, Tunisia's mineral production included barite, clay, gypsum, iron ore, lead, phosphate rock, silver, zinc and salt. Washed phosphate rock production in 2004 totaled 7,954 metric tons (gross weight). (12.9 million tons in 2000; 90% from open-pit mining) was entirely controlled by the government-owned Compagnie des Phophates de Gafsa (CPG), founded in 1896. CPG was the largest company in Tunisia, both in terms of employees and capital investment, directly employing 9,000 people and indirectly employing over 200,000. The Kef Eschfair Mine accounted for 29.5% of total ore volume; the Kef Eddour Mine, 19.6%; and the Jallabia Mine, 18.2%. The underground M'rata Mine was closed in 2000. Known reserves of crude phosphate, in the south, amounted to 100 million tons (5% of world reserves). High-grade iron ore was found in the north, while lead and zinc, mined intermittently since Roman times, were widely dispersed. International interest in developing Tunisia's lead-zinc deposits continued to grow. High-quality marine salt was exploited along the coast. Uranium was discovered in 1965. In 2004, preliminary mineral production included: washed phosphate rock, 7,954,000 metric tons (gross weight); iron ore (metal content), 128,000 metric tons, up from 97,000 metric tons in 2003; zinc concentrate (gross weight), 52,747 metric tons; mined lead, 5,500 metric tons (estimated); cement (hydraulic and white), 7.124 million metric tons; marine salt, 608,000 metric tons; and gypsum, 130,000 metric tons (estimated). Barite, clays, fertilizers (triple-superphosphate, phosphoric acid, diammonium-phosphate, and ammonium nitrate), gravel, lime, sand, and stone were also produced. No fluorspar was mined during 200004.


Tunisia has only modest reserves of oil, no known reserves of coal, but fairly robust reserves of natural gas.

As of 1 January 2005, Tunisia's reserves of crude oil totaled 308 million barrels. Petroleum output in 2004 was estimated at 79,800 barrels per day, of which almost all of it was crude oil. In 2000 Tunisia became a net importer of oil. In 2002, production of refined oil products averaged 37,360 barrels per day, while demand for refined oil products that year averaged 87,860 barrels per day. Imports of all petroleum products in 2002 averaged 86,630 barrels per day, with crude oil imports accounting for 23,280 barrels per day. Exports of crude oil in 2002 averaged 60,820 barrels per day. Nearly 75% of Tunisia's oil production comes from the El Borma (the country's largest) and the Ashtart fields. Tunisia has a single oil refinery at Bizerte, which as of 1 January 2005, had a crude oil refining capacity of 34,000 barrels per day.

Tunisia's proven reserves of natural gas as of 1 January 2005, totaled 2,750 billion cu ft, of which around two-thirds of it is located offshore. In 2003, natural gas production totaled 100 billion cu ft, up from 88 billion cu ft in 2002 and 79 billion cu ft in 2001. Tunisia's consumption of natural gas is also increasing. According to Tunisia's state-owned electric and gas company, Societé Tunisienne de l'Electrcité et du Gaz (STEG), natural gas accounted for 44% of all energy consumed in 2005, up from 14% in 2003. The Miskar gas field, located about 130 km (80 mi) into the Gulf of Gabes, produces the majority of the country's natural gas.

In 2002, Tunisia's electric power generating capacity was 2.894 million kW, of which 2.894 million kW of capacity was dedicated to conventional thermal fuel plants. Hydroelectric capacity that year came to 0.054 million kW, followed by geothermal/other sources at 0.020 million kW. Electric power output that same year totaled 11.140 billion kWh, of which 11.044 billion was produced by fossil fuel burning facilities. Hydropower produced 0.066 billion kWh, followed by geothermal/other at 0.030 billion kWh. Demand for electric power in 2002 totaled 10.301 billion kWh. In 1999 more than 94% of Tunisian households had access to electrical power.


Tunisia has a relatively diversified economy, with agricultural, mining, energy, and manufacturing production. Manufacturing industries, particularly those producing for export, have fueled Tunisia's growth for many years. They contribute one-fifth of total GDP, three-quarters of export earnings, and employ more than one-fifth of the labor force. The manufacturing industry is dominated by textile and leathers operations, followed by the electrical and mechanical industries, chemical exports (mainly phosphate by-products), and agribusiness. Agribusiness includes flour milling; fish, fruit, and vegetable canning; olive oil processing; and sugar refining. As one of the world's largest sources of phosphates, the country's mineral-processing industries are dominated by the manufacture of phosphate fertilizers. Handicrafts industries produce clothing, rugs, pottery, and copper and leather goods for both local and export markets.

The skills of the Tunisian work force and their relatively low wages have led an increasing number of European clothing firms to subcontract their work to Tunisian factories, thereby causing a sharp increase in Tunisia's exports of clothing. Textiles are the primary source of foreign currency revenue, with more than 90% of production being exported. The electrical power industry in Tunisia increased dramatically in the early 2000s, with the state supporting major renovations in existing plants, and the construction of new power plants. Tunisia has approximately 60 automotive assembly plants.

An oil refinery at Bizerte has a production capacity of 34,000 barrels per day. In December 2005, the Ministry of Industry and Energy opened bidding to build a new $150 million refinery at La Skhirra; the Ministry planned to finalize the contract by 2007.

In 2005, the industrial production growth rate was estimated at 3.8%.


The Pasteur Institute, founded in 1893, conducts medical research in Tunis. That city is also home to institutes for the study of veterinary science (1897) and geology (1962). There are research centers for agronomy (founded in 1914) and forestry (1967) in Ariana. Science and engineering students account for about one-third of college and university enrollments. The University of Sciences, Technologies, and Medicine of Tunis (Tunis II, founded 1988) maintains a comprehensive science program, including faculties of medicine and mathematics, physics, and natural sciences and schools of veterinary medicine, health sciences and technology, engineering, computer science, and agriculture. The University of Sfax (founded in 1988) has faculties of medicine and science.

In 2002, Tunisia had 1,013 scientists and engineers, and 34 technicians engaged in research and development per million people. In that same year, Tunisia's expenditures on research and development totaled $416.080 million, or 0.63% of GDP. Of that amount, 51.1% came from government sources, followed by higher education at 35.1%. Business provided 8% and 5.9% came from foreign sources. High technology exports in 2002 totaled $177 million, or 4% of the country's manufactured exports.


Rades/Tunis is the principal commercial, industrial, and distribution center; most of the import and export houses, banks, and mining firms have their central offices in the city. Other commercial and distribution centers are Sfax, noted for olive oil and phosphate shipments, and Bizerte, known for grain and olive oil. Fairs are held at various times of the year in Sfax, Sousse, Tunis, and other towns. Most businesses are family-owned and operated. The government has posed some resistance to the establishment of foreign firms, particularly foreign franchises. An extensive system of price controls was for the most part eliminated in 1998, but the government still exerts pressure on private firms to show restraint in price increases. The chief advertising media are daily newspapers, outdoor displays, and motion picture theaters. The first private radio station started broadcasting in November 2003, and a private satellite television channel started broadcasting in February 2005. Other private television and radio stations are expected in the future. Arabic is the language of sales promotion, French the language of commercial correspondence.

Normal business hours in winter are from 8:30 am to 1 pm and 3 to 5:45 pm, MondayFriday. Summer business hours are from 8:30 am to 1 pm Monday through Saturday.


Tunisia's foreign trade is based upon the export of mineral and agricultural products, textiles, and chemicals in exchange for consumer goods, raw and processed materials, and agricultural and industrial equipment. Apparel, textiles, and leather are now the major exports. By 2000 their share of exports amounted to nearly half of total export value. The petroleum industry's share in Tunisian foreign trade dropped from a peak of 44% of the total in 1984 to only 12% in 2000.

Garments make up a large portion of Tunisia's export commodities. Other exports include crude petroleum, chemicals, manufactured fertilizers, and vegetable oils. In 2000 Tunisia's imports

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 7,354.4 10,146.7 -2,792.3
France-Monaco 2,462.1 2,768.2 -306.1
Italy-San Marino-Holy See 1,538.3 1,895.5 -357.2
Germany 739.9 913.0 -173.1
Libya 352.2 130.8 221.4
Belgium 315.0 321.6 -6.6
Spain 276.7 581.9 -305.2
Areas nes 274.2 107.2 167.0
United Kingdom 261.8 244.1 17.7
Netherlands 185.6 221.7 -36.1
Algeria 103.5 58.3 45.2
() data not available or not significant.

were distributed among the following categories: consumer goods. 12.0%; food, 5.9%; fuels, 10.6%; industrial supplies, 39.4%; machinery, 20.8%; and transportation, 11.4%.

The EU is the focus of Tunisia's foreign trade, accounting for an estimated 80% of exports and 71% of imports in 2000. France is by far Tunisia's largest trading partner, being the market for 33.1% of Tunisia's exports in 2004 and the source of 25.2% of its imports. The next three largest trading partners in 2004 were Italy, Germany, and Spain. Tunisia's main non-EU trading partner is Libya.

Overall, Tunisia's export revenue grew 12% year-on-year in 2005, led by olive oil exports. Tunisia in 2005 was the world's leading exporter of olive oil in bulk, alongside Turkey. Most of the exports go to Italy and Spain, where the oil is blended with local product for the internal market, freeing up local oils for export.


Since 1960, Tunisia has experienced perennial trade deficits. These have been partly covered by tourist income, by remittances from Tunisian workers abroad, and by foreign investment and assistance. The 8th Development Plan (199296) aimed at improving the balance of payments deficit from 4.2% of GDP in 1991 to 2% by 1996 by encouraging free trade, foreign direct investments, and elimination of exchange restrictions. The budget deficit declined from 4.0% of GDP in 1997, to 1.7% of GDP in 1998, due to the privatization of two cement plants. The country's trade deficit rose substantially in 2000, by nearly 20%. Imports rose 16.5%, and exports climbed 14.9%. Food exports decreased, driven by weak olive oil sales. Although textile exports still remain the country's leading source of hard currency, ready-to-wear apparel sales have fallen off in recent years. Nevertheless, high petroleum product prices made up the difference for the decline in lower-performing export sectors in the early 2000s.

In 2005, exports were estimated at $10.3 billion, and imports were valued at $12.86 billion. The current-account balance stood at -$492 million.


The Central Bank of Tunisia (Banque Centrale de Tunisie-BCT), established in September 1958, is the sole bank of issue. The Tunisian Banking Co. (Société Tunisienne de Banque-STB) was established in 1957; it is the leading commercial and investment bank; the state holds 52% of the STB's capital.

The banking system is a mixture of state-owned and private institutions which offer a variety of financial instruments and services. There are 13 commercial banks; eight development banks; eight leasing companies; eight offshore banks; a savings bank; five portfolio management institutions; two merchant banks. Commercial banks include Citibank, Amen Bank, Banque International Arabe de Tunisie (BIAT), Banque Nationale Agricole (BNA); and one merchant bank is International Maghreb.

Of the 12 commercial banks, one is fully state-owned and four others are part-owned by the state. These five banks control 70% of total bank assets. Total estimated assets of these banks amounted to $8.9 billion in 1997. In 1999, the World Bank approved a $159 million loan to support banking reform efforts in Tunisia. The weak banking system is under government duress and has a low average credit line. Commitments under the WTO and EU free trade agreement will begin to liberalize the banking sector.

The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $4.8 billion. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $11.3 billion. The money market rate, the rate at which financial institutions lend to one another in the short term, was 6.04%.

A stock exchange began operations in Tunis in May 1970. While its activities have been expanding steadily, they remain limited to transactions in securities issued by the state and the stocks of a few private or government-owned firms, including 46 companies, 13 of them banks. Between 2000 and 2001, the Tunisian stock exchange reported a 30% loss. As of 2004, a total of 44 companies ware listed on the Tunis Stock Exchange, which had a market capitalization of $2.641 billion. In 2004, BVM General index rose 3.7%

Current Account -730.0
   Balance on goods -2,269.0
     Imports -10,297.0
     Exports 8,027.0
   Balance on services 1,325.0
   Balance on income -1,632.0
   Current transfers 1,307.0
Capital Account 59.0
Financial Account 1,110.0
   Direct investment abroad -2.0
   Direct investment in Tunisia 541.0
   Portfolio investment assets
   Portfolio investment liabilities 14.0
   Financial derivatives
   Other investment assets -428.0
   Other investment liabilities -428.0
Net Errors and Omissions -58.0
Reserves and Related Items -380.0
() data not available or not significant.

from the previous year to 974.8. The exchange completed a shift to fully electronic trading, but remains under the government eye.


Although Tunisians have traditionally resisted taking out insurance, the insurance market has begun to grow rapidly, with turnover growing by 24% in 1994. Vehicle insurance is the biggest category. There are 22 companies in all, 15 of which are Tunisian and seven foreign, including firms from France and Italy. Four of the Tunisian companies are state-owned including the biggest, STAR, founded in 1958. The insurance business is shared roughly equally between state-owned and private companies. In 2003, the value of all direct insurance premiums written totaled $456 million, of which nonlife premiums accounted for $416 million. Star was Tunisia's top nonlife insurer in 2003, with gross written nonlife premiums of $137.6 million, while HAYETT was the leading life insurer that year, with gross written life insurance premiums of $7.1 million.


Each year, an administrative budget and a development budget are submitted to the National Assembly. Levies on imports provide the major sources of current revenue, but trade agreements with the WTO and the EU will disturb this pattern. Government spending amounted to about half of GDP in 1999, 60% of which was spent on social projects. The Tunisian government's economic reform programs are lauded as some of the best in the world by international financial institutions. Reforms included liberalized prices, reduced tariffs, and lowered debt-to-GDP ratios. Since the privatization program was launched in 1987, about 140 state-owned enterprises had been fully or partially privatized as of 2002.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Tunisia's central government took in revenues of approximately $7.3 billion and had expenditures of $8.3 billion. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$982 million. Public

Revenue and Grants 10,296 100.0%
   Tax revenue 7,303 70.9%
   Social contributions 1,954 19.0%
   Grants 86 0.8%
   Other revenue 953 9.3%
Expenditures 11,091 100.0%
   General public services 1,861 16.8%
   Defense 540 4.9%
   Public order and safety 855 7.7%
   Economic affairs 1,648 14.9%
   Environmental protection
   Housing and community amenities 568 5.1%
   Health 611 5.5%
   Recreational, culture, and religion 356 3.2%
   Education 2,230 20.1%
   Social protection 2,425 21.9%
() data not available or not significant. f = forecasted or projected data.

debt in 2005 amounted to 58.7% of GDP. Total external debt was $18.91 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2004, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues were d10,296 million and expenditures were d11,091 million. The value of revenues in US dollars was us$8,267 million and expenditures us$8,907 million, based on a market exchange rate for 2004 of us$1 = d1.2455 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 16.8%; defense, 4.9%; public order and safety, 7.7%; economic affairs, 14.9%; housing and community amenities, 5.1%; health, 5.5%; recreation, culture, and religion, 3.2%; education, 20.1%; and social protection, 21.9%.


The standard corporate tax rate was 35% in 2005. Exporting resident companies are exempt from most taxes. However, all companies are liable to a minimum tax of 0.5% of turnover, with a ceiling of d2,000 (about us$1,470). There is also a 0.2% turnover tax on industrial and commercial establishments. Capital gains are taxed at 35%. Dividend income is not taxed, but income from royalties is subject to a 15% withholding tax if made to nonresidents.

Personal taxes include a progressive income tax and a benefits tax levied on gross salaries and paid quarterly by the employer to the National Social Security Fund. The inheritance (succession) tax is 6%.

The main indirect tax is Tunisia's value-added tax (VAT), with a standard rate of 18%, a reduced rate of 6% and a top rate of 29%. The VAT is assed on all transactions and on imports.


Tunisia's import duties, as of 2005, range from 10% to more than 200%. Most goods do not need import licenses. Exceptions include textiles and automobiles. There is a 3% customs formality fee based on the total duties paid on the import. Certain luxury goods are assessed a consumption tax as high as 700%. Most goods entering Tunisia are subject to an 18% value-added tax (VAT). However, some goods are subject to VAT rates of 6%, 10%, and 29%. As of 1999, all cotton imports were duty-free. The import of weapons and health care products is strictly controlled, while imports that go against health, morality, or cultural heritage are prohibited.

In 1969, Tunisia was granted associate membership in the European Community. Under the accord, which was renewed in 1976 and 1983, the EC countries removed customs duties and quotas on nearly all of Tunisia's industrial exports. In 1995, Tunisia signed a free trade accord with the renamed European Union that will remove tariff and other trade barriers on most nonagricultural goods, services, and capital by 2008. Tunisia is also a member of the World Trade Organization.


In 1972, an investment law provided special benefits to companies manufacturing commodities for export, a regulation that stimulated some foreign involvement, particularly in the textile industry. Incentives consisted of partial or total tax exemption for periods of 1020 years, as well as exemption from customs and import duties on raw materials and equipment. A similar law that encouraged investment in industries producing for local markets was enacted in 1974 and amended in 1981; the statute required that such firms exhibit partial (in many cases majority) Tunisian ownership. A 1981 law offered incentives for investment in less-developed regions. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Algeria participated with Tunisia in development banks to channel Arab investment funds.

Tunisia's severe balance of payments crisis forced the government to reverse many of its protectionist and socialist policies under structural adjustment programs supervised by the IMF and World Bank. A new investment code was passed in 1989 offering further tax and customs concessions to local as well as foreign investors, particularly in export-oriented enterprises. Tunisian law still prohibits ownership of land by non-Tunisians, although a special 40-year land lease system permits agricultural development by foreign companies. In January 1994 the government adopted an investment incentives law that, in conjunction with added provisions, offers tax reductions on reinvested profits and revenues, and optional depreciation schedules for production equipment. For companies that export at least 80% of their output, the incentives include a 10-year profits tax holiday, with a 50% reduction thereafter; full tax and duty exemptions on materials and services used in production; full tax exemption on reinvested profits and revenue; and duty-free import of capital goods that have no local equivalent. Large investments with high job creation may qualify to use state land virtually rent-free.

Foreign property is still at risk of expropriation by the Tunisian government and in 1995 an American company had property taken without compensation. The government also reserves the right to take property by eminent domain, in which case just compensation is offered. There remain many restrictions on foreign investment as the government pursues a gradualist approach, caught between pressure to liberalize from the IMF and the WTO, and a fear of igniting a popular uprising. Under the terms of its accession to the WTO (29 March 1995), Tunisia was obligated to relax restrictions on foreign participation in its information, telecommunications, and financial services industries by 2003.

The annual inflow of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Tunisia peaked at $778.8 million in 2000, up from $368 million in 1999. The annual inflow has fallen since, caught in the global economic slowdown of 2001 and, in particular, the decline in FDI flows worldwide following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. FDI inflow in Tunisia was $486 million in 2001 and $402 million in 2002. Tunisia attracted FDI totaling $626 million in 2003. Total FDI in Tunisia by 2004 was estimated at $14.3 billion. FDI in manufacturing industries, the main generator of jobs and exports and the real indicator of the investment climate, totaled $216 million in 2003 compared with $180 million in 2002.

As much as 75% of FDI in Tunisia has been in the petroleum sector. Other important sectors are textiles, and mechanical and electrical industries. The telecommunications industry is ready for substantial growth. France is the largest investor, followed by Italy, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

As of 2004, 2,600 companies had established operations in Tunisia as a result of FDI. About 85% are totally exporting operations, the vast majority in the textile and footwear industries.


The plan for 197376 proposed increasing investments by 75% over the previous ten-year plan. An annual growth rate of 6.6% was targeted for the period. Fully 75% of the plan's investments were to be financed with international aid. Manufacturing industries received the largest single allocation of total investment under the 197781 plan. Once again, the burden of financing the program fell on external sources, with Arab funds accounting for 30% of the anticipated foreign capital. Actual growth came close to the target of 7.5% a year in real terms. The development plan for 198286 set forth three main goals: employment growth, regional development, and balance of payments equilibrium. Some 33% of the total expenditure was to be invested in labor-intensive industries. Performance fell far short of the goal of 6% a year in real growth.

The inauguration of the 198794 development plan followed the foreign exchange crisis of 1986, and the adoption of an International Monetary Fund (IMF) sponsored economic rehabilitation scheme. Services were to receive 39%, agriculture 19%, and manufacturing 16%. This plan was successfully completed, winning the country accolades from investment institutions. The 199496 development plan was based on strong expansion in the manufacturing industry (8.7%) and tourism (22%). The plan called for further cuts in consumer subsidies and the privatization of many state assets. The economic development plan of 19972001 called for investment in telecommunications infrastructure, continued privatization of industry, and lowering of trade barriers.

The 10th economic development plan of 200206 aimed at improving the competitiveness of the economy; increasing the private sector's share in investment; setting up a knowledge economy; and securing sustainable economic and social development and a creation of new jobs while maintaining global balances. Targets set for economic development included: an average economic growth of 5.7% a year; an increase in private sector investment to 60% (the total investment rate would be brought to 26.6% by 2006); and the consolidation of the national savings rate to reach 26% of GNP by 2006, allowing for the financing of 91% of projected investment.

As of 2006, the tourism industry was growing. A surge in demand for new housing and luxury units and a series of plans to expand transportation infrastructure and develop Tunis's growth corridors combined to improve conditions for both the construction industry and foreign investors. Challenges for the economy remaining are high unemployment, the existence of the "gray" economy, the continued dominance of the public sector, and masses of bureaucratic red tape that increase the cost of doing business in the country.


A social insurance system provides benefits including maternity payments, family allowances, disability and life insurance, and old age insurance. The system covers private-sector employees and some categories of fishermen. There are special systems for government workers, agricultural workers, the self-employed, fishermen, artists and intellectuals. Pensions normally are provided at age 60, and benefits are equal to 40% of average earnings, plus 0.5% for each 3 months of contributions above 120. Work injury insurance is compulsory for employers and covers all salaried workers including domestic servants. Unemployment benefits are provided for all salaried nonagricultural workers and payable for six months.

Tunisian women enjoy full civil and political rights under the law. Educational and employment opportunities are growing steadily. The law specifically requires equal pay for equal work and this is generally respected. Inheritance laws, based on Muslim tenets, discriminate against women. Domestic violence occurs but the police and courts regard the issue as a family matter. In 2004 the government launched a morality campaign, which penalized women deemed immodest in dress or behavior. The rights of children are protected.

Human rights organizations are permitted to operate in Tunisia, but may be subject to some government restrictions and harassment. Continuing human rights abuses include arbitrary arrest and detention and abuse of prisoners, including torture.


Free health services are available to about 70% of the population, with about 90% of the population having access to health care services. As of 2004, there were an estimated 70 physicians, 287 nurses, 13 dentists, and 17 pharmacists per 100,000 people. Total health care expenditure was estimated at 5.1% of GDP.

Health conditions improved significantly in the 1990s and early 2000s, although diet and sanitation remain deficient. Epidemics have virtually disappeared and the incidence of contagious diseases has been considerably reduced. Immunization rates for children up to one year old were: tuberculosis, 75%; diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, 90%; polio, 90%; and measles, 89%.

The government supports a family planning program. As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 16.8 and 5 per 1,000 people. About 60% of married women (ages 15 to 49) used contraception. The fertility rate in 2000 was 2.1 children per woman surviving her childbearing years. Infant mortality was 24.77 per 1,000 live births in 2005 and average life expectancy was 74.89 years. Maternal mortality was 70 per 100,000 live births.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 0.10 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 1,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 200 deaths from AIDS in 2003.


The government has spent well over d1 billion on workers' housing. Since the mid-1960s, trade unions have provided new housing for members. Financial assistance to needy homeowners is provided by a national housing fund.

In 2000, the housing stock stood at about 2,501,000 serving about 1,999,200 households, with an average of 4.78 people per household. By 2003, the number of households had increased to 2,137,600 with an average of 4.61 people per household. About 45% of all housing was considered to be of modern construction, including detached apartment complexes and villas. About 54% of all housing was of traditional construction, such as an Arabic-style home.

In 2001, the Ministry of Housing announced that the amount of available housing had exceeded the number of families by about 13% and that there had been a decrease in slums by about 1.2%. However, squatter communities, called gourbvilles, are still prevalent in urban regions.


On becoming independent in 1956, Tunisia inherited a small but efficient educational system based on French and, to a lesser extent, Islamic influence. In 1958, the government nationalized most of the existing facilities; remaining private institutions were subject to government regulation. In the same year the government began a comprehensive plan for educational development to achieve universal, free, compulsory primary education and a significant expansion of the secondary school system.

Primary school covers nine years of study in two cycles of six plus three years. Secondary school covers an additional four years, with two years of general education plus two years of specialized education in arts, mathematics, experimental sciences, technology, or economy and management. Vocational studies are also available at the secondary level. The academic year runs from September to June.

In 2001, about 19% of children between the ages of three and five were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 97% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 64% of age-eligible students. It is estimated that nearly all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 22:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 20:1.

The University of Tunis was founded on 31 March 1960. In total there are 162 institutions of higher education, including 13 universities. In 2003, it was estimated that about 27% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in tertiary education programs. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 74.3%, with 83.4% for men and 65.3% for women.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 6.4% of GDP, or 18.2% of total government expenditures.


The National Library (est. 1885) in Tunis contains a special collection of rare Arabic and Oriental manuscripts. The University of Tunis library has 220,000 volumes. The Arab League Documentation and Information Center, with 25,000 volumes, has been housed at Tunis since 1980. The collections of Tunisia's approximately 380 public libraries hold over 2.7 million volumes. There are also 23 regional libraries throughout the country.

The Bardo National Museum, founded in Tunis in 1888, has the largest collection of Roman mosaics in the world. Another fine collection is located at the museum in Sousse, which contains archaeological remains dating from the 6th century bc to the 6th century ad. The Raqqada Museum, housed in a former presidential palace near Kairouan, has the country's largest collection of Islamic art, including manuscripts of the Quran (Koran) from the Great Mosque of Kairouan. Other museums are in Monastir, Sfax, Qairouan, Maktar, Sbeitla, Sousse, and Carthage. The National Institute of Archaeology is located in Tunis, as is the Center of Living Arts and the Museum of Traditional and Popular Art.


Tunisia's well-developed postal, telephone, and telegraph system is government-operated and links all the important cities. A marine cable connects Tunisia with France, and a land cable links it with Algeria and Morocco. In 2003, there were an estimated 118 mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; about 108,700 people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. The same year, there were approximately 192 mobile phones in use for every 1,000 people.

The government-owned Tunisian Radio-Television Broadcasting (ERTT) broadcasts in Arabic, French, and Italian over one national station, one international station, and five regional stations. Relay stations bring in programs from Italian television. In 2004, the government owned the two major television networks and all but one of the national radio stations. Egyptian and British channels are available via satellite. In 2003, there were an estimated 158 radios and 207 television sets for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were 40.5 personal computers for every 1,000 people and 64 of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were 19 secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.

In 2004, there were over 250 newspapers and magazines in the country. There were eight major daily newspapers, including (with language of publication and 2002 circulation rates as available) As-Sabah (Arabic, 50,000), Assahafa/La Presse (Arabic), Le Renouveau (French, 23,000), Al Amal (Arabic, 50,000), La Presse de Tunisie (Arabic/French, 40,000), L'Action (French, 40,000), and Errai El-Am (Arabic). The Arabic Ach Chourouk (110,000) and the French Le Temps (42,000) are major weeklies.

The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press. However, the government is said to limit these freedoms significantly through economic control, confiscations, imprisonment, and detention. Government permits are required for distribution of publications. Criticism of high government officials or fundamental state institutions can result in seizure or suspension of the offending publication.


There are chambers of commerce in Tunis, Sfax, Sousse, and Bizerte; the Tunisian Union of Industry, Commerce, and Crafts, a national association of trade federations and business interests, is in Tunis. The National Union of Tunisian Farmers is very active. There are professional associations for several different fields, particularly those involving medicine and healthcare.

The National Union of Tunisian Women promotes greater participation by women in economic, political, and cultural affairs. National youth organizations include the Tunisian General Union of Students, the Young Constitutional Democrats, the League of Arab States Youth and Sports Division, Junior Chamber, and Scouts of Tunisia. Kiwanis and Lions Clubs have active programs. There are several sports associations, including the multinational African Boxing Confederation, African Rugby Football Union, and the African Table Tennis Federation.

The multinational Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization encourages cultural unity among Arab countries.

The Arab Institute for Human Rights and the Arab Medical Union, both based in Tunis, are multinational, social action organizations. Other international organizations with national chapters include Greenpeace, Amnesty International, Caritas, UNICEF, and the Red Crescent Society.


Tunisia's cosmopolitan capital city, Tunis, the ruins of Carthage, the ancient Muslim and Jewish quarters of Jerba, and the modern coastal resorts in the vicinity of Monastir and Sousse are among the main tourist attractions. Recreations include hunting, hiking, golf, tennis, and other water sports.

Tunisia has been investing in the tourism industry since the late 1990s. In 2003, there were 5,114,303 foreign visitors. Tourist expenditures reached about $1.9 billion that year, and hotel rooms numbered 110,009 with 222,018 beds and an occupancy rate of 42%. Visitors stayed in Tunisia an average of six nights.

According to 2005 US Department of State estimates, the daily cost of staying in Tunis or Carthage was $165, and other areas about $117.


Ancient Carthage was located near the site of modern Tunis. Its most famous leader was Hannibal (247183 bc), the general who campaigned in Italy for several years (218211 bc) but who was defeated by the Romans under Scipio Africanus at Zama in 202 bc. The dominant figure of modern Tunisia was Habib Bourguiba (Habib bin 'Ali ar-Rugaybah, 19032000); he led Tunisia to independence, formed its first government, and was president from 1957 to 1987. Mongi Slim (190869) served as president of the 16th session of the UN General Assembly (196162). Mohamed Mzali (b.1925) has served in numerous government posts, including prime minister in 198086. Gen. Zine el 'Abidine Ben 'Ali (b.1936) assumed the presidency in 1987.

Tunisia's noteworthy literary figures include Albert Memmi (b.1920), the author of The Statue of Salt (1957), who writes in French; and Mahmoud Messadi (19112004), who wrote in Arabic. Prominent Tunisian painters are Ammar Farhat (191186) and Jallah bin 'Abdallah (b.1921).


Tunisia has no territories or colonies.


Borowiec, Andrew. Modern Tunisia: A Democratic Apprenticeship. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1998.

McDougall, James (ed.). Nation, Society and Culture in North Africa. London: Frank Cass Publishers, 2003.

Perkins, Kenneth J. Historical Dictionary of Tunisia. 2nd ed. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1997.

Zartman, I. William (ed.). Tunisia: The Political Economy of Reform. Boulder, Colo.: L. Rienner, 1991.

Zeilig, Leo and David Seddon. A Political and Economic Dictionary of Africa. Philadelphia: Routledge/Taylor and Francis, 2005.

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Tunisia
Region: Africa
Population: 9,593,402
Language(s): Arabic, French
Literacy Rate: 66.7%
Academic Year: September-July
Number of Primary Schools: 4,428
Compulsory Schooling: 9 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 7.7%
Foreign Students in National Universities: 2,861
Libraries: 340
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 1,450,916
  Secondary: 882,730
  Higher: 121,787
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 118%
  Secondary: 65%
  Higher: 14%
Teachers: Primary: 60,101
  Higher: 6,641
Female Enrollment Rate: Primary: 114%
  Secondary: 63%
  Higher: 13%

History & Background

Geography: Officially known as the Republic of Tunisia (Al Jamhuriyah at-Tunisiyah in Arabic), Tunisia lies at the top of the African continent, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea along its northern and easternmost sides. One hundred thirty-seven kilometers southwest of Sicily, Tunisia is two hours by air from Paris or Geneva and only 45 minutes by air from Rome. With Algeria to the west and south and Libya to the southeast, Tunisia has 1,298 kilometers of coastline. Measuring 163,610 square kilometersslightly larger than the U.S. state of GeorgiaTunisia is the smallest of the North African countries. In terms of history and culture, however, Tunisia is arguably the richest. Strategically located at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, Africa, and the Middle East and just a short distance from Europe, Tunisia has long been the scene of interactions among countless tribes and peoples of Africa, Asia, and Europe as they have traded with each other, drawn from and sometimes conquered each other's civilizations, and built their personal and collective fortunes.

Cultural Background & History: Tunisia is home to an impressive array of cultural traditions and archaeological treasures left by the great variety of peoples who have lived in this northern corner of Africa over the course of timethe indigenous Berbers and other African tribes and the invaders and traders who arrived over the centuries: Vandals, Byzantines, Phoenicians, Romans, Jews, Arabs, Andalusians and Spaniards, Ottoman Turks, and the French. With a population 98 percent Arab Sunni Muslim, about 1 percent European Christian, and about 1 percent Jewish and other, Tunisia is one of the few countries in North Africa or the Middle East today where people of different religions live in mutual tolerance and respect. In recent years the Tunisian government has taken special precautions to protect Tunisia's Jewish population, which by the year 2000 had diminished to about 1 percent of its size in 1948 due to emigrations mainly to Israel and France after incidents of violence in Tunisia associated with Arab-Jewish clashes in the Middle East. Despite these periodic setbacks to ethnic peace that occurred as recently as 1985, contemporary Tunisia has a reputation for successfully accommodating the interests, needs, and tastes of the diverse peoples who visit and live in the country.

Archaeological treasures found in the northeastern Cap Bon area of Tunisia just across from Sicily at Kerkouane and Kelibia, two ancient Punic (Phoenician) towns, indicate that highly developed civilizations had taken root along Tunisia's northeastern coast centuries before the birth of Christ. The Phoenician city of Carthage (now a suburb of Tunis, Tunisia's capital city) was founded in 814 B.C. by Queen Dido, also called Elyssa, sister of the Phoenician King Pygmalion of Tyre, an ancient city on what is now the Lebanese coast. Richly endowed with architectural treasures and remnants of utensils and pottery used by Phoenicians from all classes, the Punic ruins at Carthage, Kelibia, and Kerkouane are elegant reminders that well-developed civilizations have existed in Tunisia for millennia. Despiteor perhaps because ofthe wealth and care with which these cities were built and the various occupations practiced by their peoples, the Punic cities were destroyed by Roman invaders during three very bloody wars waged by the Phoenicians against Rome in the three centuries before Christ. Just before the start of the Christian era, the Romans established their first colony on the African continent in "Ifriqiya," their name for present-day Tunisia.

The Roman colony of Ifriqiya flourished from 146 B.C. until 439 A.D., with an economy based on trade and agriculture. (Sections of the 90-mile Roman aqueduct that once carried water from Zaghouan to urbanites in the Roman-rebuilt Carthage are still visible today in the countryside outside Tunis.) The Romans, susceptible themselves to conquest, were overtaken in 439 A.D. by Vandals in boats that were pressed out of Spain. Less than a century after the Vandal conquest, Carthage was retaken in 533 A.D. by the Byzantines, Christian invaders from Emperor Justinian's Constantinople, the city destined to later become Istanbul, Turkey. The Byzantines, too, lasted only a century in Tunisia, succumbing to an Arab Muslim invasion at Sbeitla in 647.

The years 647-698 A.D. marked the start of the Arab Muslim era in Tunisia. The city of Kairouan in the central Sahel region was founded in 670, and Carthage was taken by the Arabs in 698. Islam continued to expand over the next several centuries throughout what is now Tunisia with the establishment of the Dynasty of the Aghlabides and the construction of the Zitouna (Olive) Mosque in Tunis. Kairouan became the political and intellectual center of the Maghreb (North Africa) at this time. The Aghlabides were followed by the Fatimide and Ziride Dynasties from 909-1159, and from 1159-1230 the Almohades unified the countries of the Maghreb with the Andalusian Muslims in what is now Spain.

In 1236 the Hafsides, vassals of the Almohades, declared their independence from their rulers and established a new dynasty in Tunisia that lasted until 1574, when the Ottoman Turks annexed Tunisia to their empire. Tunisia remained under Turkish control until 1705 when the Husseinite Dynasty was founded, which lasted until Tunisia became a republic on July 25, 1957.

During the late nineteenth century as the European colonial powers spread through Africa and decided among themselves who would control which African territories, Tunisia fell to the French, who marked the consolidation of their efforts to control Tunisia with a treaty forced upon the local authorities on May 12, 1881 making Tunisia a French protectorateessentially, a colony of France. Strong Tunisian resistance to domination by the French was apparent throughout the 75 years of French colonization. The anti-colonial struggle heightened with the founding of the Destour party in 1920 and was re-energized by the neo-Destour Party, founded in 1934.

As the countries of Africa began to declare and win their independence from the European colonizers during the post-World War II period, Tunisia was one of the first to declare independence. On March 20, 1956, Tunisia became independent of France, and one year later, on July 25, 1957, the country proclaimed itself a republic and Habib Bourguiba the first President. Tunisia's first republican constitution was adopted nearly two years later, on June 1, 1959. Four years afterward on October 15, 1963, the French evacuated the northern coastal city of Bizerte, the last foreign military base in Tunisia. Bourguiba remained President until November 7, 1987, when in a constitutional change Prime Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali succeeded him in office, Bourguiba having been declared senile by several doctors and thus incompetent to continue to serve. Ben Ali was invested as President of the Republic on November 7, 1987, by the Tunisian parliament to serve out the rest of former President Bourguiba's term; Bourguiba quietly retired, taking up residence in his home city of Monastir on the eastern Mediterranean coast for the next eleven years until his natural death in the year 2000. April 2, 1989, marked the first legislative and presidential elections under Ben Ali, during which the Head of State was officially elected President by the Tunisian electorate. On March 20, 1994 and again on October 24, 1999, Ben Ali was re-elected President of the Republic of Tunisia.

Social Conditions: Much of Tunisia's relatively small population of 9.5 million people lives in the northern and eastern coastal cities, towns, and rural areas and the central Sahel region. The western mountain region is somewhat more sparsely populated, and even fewer Tunisians live in the southern half of the country where the Sahara desert begins, although even in the desert south settlements and towns have flourished for centuries. Approximately 65 percent of Tunisia's population lived in urban areas in 1999. With a population density of only 60 persons per square kilometer, Tunisia has made significant progress in overcoming the challenge of educating a rural population that has included sufficient numbers of nomadic herders and small farmers scattered throughout the countryside to have made the building of accessible schools genuinely problematic. By 1995 approximately two-thirds of Tunisians age 15 and older were literate (able to read and write)78.6 percent of the male population and 54.6 percent of girls and women. Literacy since that time has continued to increase. In 1999, approximately 80 percent of Tunisian males and almost 60 percent of Tunisian females ages 15 and up were literate. Youth literacy was significantly higher, with 92 percent of 15- to 24-year-olds literate in 1998. By the late 1990s the female adult literacy rate was only 70 percent of the male rate, however, as women's equality with men in terms of school enrollments and completion rates has been a very recent phenomenon, especially in the rural areas. Female participation in government and business is steadily increasing. Women's heightened status and involvement in the paid workforce is reflected in the fact that in 1997, more than 12 percent of administrators and managers were women and more than 35 percent of professional and technical workers were women.

The Tunisian population, estimated at 9,593,402 in July 2000, had a growth rate that year of only 1.17 percent, the result of very consciously organized family-planning programs in the last decades of the twentieth century that began during the presidency of Bourguiba, Tunisia's much-beloved first President. Bourguiba did much to emancipate women and strengthen women's rights in Tunisia. In 1961 the Tunisian government introduced a policy supporting the use of birth control, and in 1967 abortions were legalized. Contraception prevalence (the percent of married women between 15 and 49 regularly using contraception) was 60 percent by the late 1990s. The total fertility rate in Tunisia in 1999 was 2.5 (i.e., a woman bearing children for her entire childbearing years at the current fertility rate would produce 2.5 children). Approximately 3 of every 10 Tunisians in 2000 was 14-years-old or younger while nearly twothirds of the population was between 15 and 64 years of age and about 6 percent of Tunisia's population was 65 or older.

Far better off than most other African countries in terms of pre-natal care and infant and maternal health, Tunisia had an infant-mortality rate of 24 per 1000 live births in 1999, half the rate for the North African/Middle Eastern region. In 1999 the under-five-years child-mortality rate was 30 per 1000, less than half the rate of 63 for the North African/Middle Eastern region. The average life span of Tunisians in the year 2000 was 73.7 years (72.1 for men, 75.4 for women). However, with 807 doctors per one million Tunisian citizens, Tunisia still faces formidable challenges to improving its public health system to the point where all citizens of Tunisia stand a relatively equal chance of receiving high-quality healthcare. The methods used by Tunisian doctors may parallel, and in some cases surpass, those used by doctors in the West, since Tunisian doctors have benefited from substantial development assistance and medical training programs abroad as well as from medical education in Tunisia. However, this shortage of physicians means that even adequate care may be unavailable to the many patients who in the late 1990s could find themselves sitting for hours (sometimes all day, even with appointments) at the few specialized health centers that treated patients with chronic and potentially fatal diseases (e.g., the Institut Salah Azaiz in Tunis, recognized as North Africa's premier cancer treatment center by the World Health Organization). The Tunisian government acknowledges the need to expand the quality and breadth of healthcare, including through private initiatives, so that all Tunisians, regardless of social status, will be able to receive the care they require. The question of where sufficient resources are to be found to finance such an expansion remains unanswered.

Economic Status: For centuries the Tunisian economy was primarily agricultural. However, the large service sector that developed in late-twentieth-century Tunisia, much of it attached to the vigorously growing tourist industry, led to a restructuring of the Tunisian workforce, where 23 percent of the labor force was employed in industry in 1995, about 55 percent in service jobs, and only 22 percent in agriculture. By the late 1990s the Tunisian economy enjoyed an annual growth rate of roughly 6.2 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), and Tunisia's annual per capita income in 1999 was about $2,100. Despite substantial exports of food and agricultural products, textiles, leather products, and petroleum, gas, and derivatives, Tunisia required an infusion of US$148 million in overseas development assistance in 1998 to meet its population's basic needs and the demands of Tunisia's rapidly developing and increasingly privatizing economic sector. Nonetheless, Tunisia's poverty rate dropped remarkably from 40 percent in 1960 to only 7 percent by 2000, thanks to a combination of diligent efforts by Tunisia's government to eradicate poverty, an improving economic climate, and substantial international development assistance. Rural poverty continues to be a challenge to overcome, however. In 1995 some 13.9 percent of the rural population lived in poverty compared with 3.6 percent in urban areas, and over 70 percent of impoverished Tunisians were rural, in part due to the challenge of spreading schools to the rural areas, a situation largely overcome by the start of the new millennium.

The World Bank summarized Tunisia's economic situation in 2000 by noting that Tunisia had followed a state-led plan of economic development until the mid-1980s, emphasizing human-resource development and gender equity. By 1986 Tunisia faced growing financial imbalances, a poor harvest, and the collapse of oil prices. With President Ben Ali's accession to power in 1987, Tunisia revised its economic strategy and began implementing a series of economic reforms supported by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that were designed to maintain a stable macroeconomic structure, improve resource allocation by gradually liberalizing trade, investments, and prices, and free up private-sector resources. While the Tunisian government continued to maintain certain economic controls, state subsidies were reduced and liberalization efforts were expanded in the 1990s, and the reforms led to gradual but steady improvements in the Tunisian economy.

Constitutional & Legal Foundations

Tunisia is a multi-party, parliamentary democracy with a republican form of government. The governmental structures were established by the Tunisian Constitution of June 1, 1959, which was amended July 12, 1998. Based on a combination of French civil law stemming from the period during which Tunisia was governed as a French protectorate (1881-1956) and Islamic law (Sharia ) based on the Koran and the sayings of the Prophet Mohamed (the Hadith ), Tunisian law reflects a blending of Western and North African concepts, traditions, and legal norms pertaining to how society should operate and be governed. Tunisia was the first Arab state to revise its legal code with respect to women, although additional reforms are still needed to guarantee that women's rights are equal to men's not only in law but also in practice. In the early years of Tunisia's independence Bourguiba promoted a new legal code governing the rights of women in Tunisian society that became instrumental to granting women more-equal status in Tunisia than in other Arab states. Bourguiba's Code of Personal Status, introduced in August 1956, five months after Tunisia's independence from France was declared, outlawed polygamy, established a formal court procedure for divorce where the wife as well as the husband could initiate a legal divorce, set a minimum age for marriage, and established that a woman could not be married off by her relatives without her consent. Bourguiba also facilitated the establishment of the Union Nationale des Femmes de Tunisie (UNFT National Union of Tunisian Women), which has worked to advance the personal, social, and economic situations of women since the 1950s. He also encouraged Tunisian women to forsake wearing the traditional veil, a practice that already had begun to unravel during French colonial days. Tunisian women in the twenty-first century wear a diverse array of clothing, each woman choosing her style of dress based on personal taste, religious values, and family circumstances.

Political Participation: All Tunisians, men and women alike, are eligible to vote at age 20; men are also eligible for military service at that age. (Women were granted the right to vote under Bourguiba in 1957.) Tunisia's democratically elected chief executive and head of state, the President, is elected to a five-year term of office and can be reelected twice consecutively. The executive branch of the Tunisian government also includes a prime minister and cabinet. Since November 7, 1987, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a member of the majority RCD (Rassemblement Constitutionnel Democratique, or Democratic Constitutional Rally) party that also rules the legislature, has been President of Tunisia. At the national level the Tunisian legislative branch consists of a unicameral Chamber of Deputies (Majlis al-Nuwaab ) of 182 seats. The Deputies, 11.5 percent of whom were women by the late 1990s, serve five-year terms. A constitutional change in October 1997 lowered the eligible age for Deputies to 23 years from the previous age requirement of 25 that had been set in 1988. Legislative acts are subject to a limited amount of judicial review by the Supreme Court acting in joint session. The third branch of Tunisia's national government is the judicial branch, consisting of a Court of Cassation (Cour de Cassation ). Tunisian local affairs are administered through a system of 23 governorates that function in a rather similar way as states or French departments, although perhaps with less autonomy from the national government, and through locally elected city and town councils.

Despite the enlargement of the political playing field in 1994 when candidates from five parties other than the majority RCD won seats in the Chamber of Deputies, in 2000 the incumbent Tunisian government continued to limit political challenges by non-RCD politicians and displayed only minimal tolerance for multi-party competition or expressions of political dissent. Due in large measure to internal security concerns that Tunisia could become another Algeria (where armed Islamicists have battled government and paramilitary forces since January 1992), some Tunisian authorities have strictly interpreted Tunisian laws to contain political dissent and suppress critiques of the government. Cited repeatedly by international human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International as a persistent violator of human rights, including freedom of the press and freedom of association, the Tunisian government in the 1990s established its own human rights organs and began a campaign to educate Tunisian public officials and Tunisian citizens about human rights. However, as of early 2001 academic freedom and political pluralism continue to be somewhat limited, and self-censorship continues to be rather widely practiced.

Tunisia has participated regularly in many regional and international organizations and conferences to foster international cooperation and economic development. To some extent Tunisia has served as a model for other countries in the Arab world and in Africa in setting precedents for economic reforms and development efforts. For example, in 1962 Tunisia became the first country in the Middle Eastern-North African region to receive an education loan from the World Bank. In 1998 Tunisia became the first non-European Mediterranean country to enter into a bilateral partnership agreement with the countries of the European Communities, to gradually liberalize trade relations and work towards establishing a regional free market zone by 2008. Receiving sustainable development assistance in the form of grants and loans from international bodies such as UN agencies, Tunisia also has formed bilateral partnerships with a number of European and other countries. For example, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State announced early in 2001 that it would provide grants to collaborative partnerships of American and Tunisian universities, governmental and nongovernmental organizations, and non-profit service and professional organizations interested in designing and strengthening university-level curricula in Tunisia as well as faculty and student training programs in business management, public administration, and other areas where the potential impact on the Tunisian economy is likely to be positive.

Educational Philosophy & Policy: Education in Tunisia carries high social value, and parents throughout Tunisia, whether rural or urban, see education as the key to a successful future for their children. Parents and teachers work closely together, and Tunisian teachers command a generally high level of respect from students and parents alike. Presenting his recommendations for improving higher education in October 1999, President Ben Ali summed up the overall Tunisian sentiment on the importance of education by stating, "Knowledge is the key to success."

Shortly after independence Tunisia worked actively to upgrade the quality of its education system and make schooling more inclusive. Examining the connection between education and social and economic advancement in Tunisia, James Allman wrote:

In 1958, two years after independence, there was a basic educational reform that was implemented by a minister of education who had ten years to carry out his program under conditions of national political stability. Attempts were made to coordinate educational planning within the framework of comprehensive economic and social development plans. By the end of the first decade of education development, Tunisia was spending a proportion of its per capita gross domestic product on education exceeded by few other countries of the world. (Allman 12-13)

The essential philosophy underlying Tunisia's educational system is reflected in Tunisian Minister of Education Ridha Ferchiou's opening remarks at a two-day, World Bank-sponsored seminar on "The School of Tomorrow" held in Tunis in May 1998 that brought together Tunisian educators and government policy-makers as well as educational specialists from abroad. According to Minister Ferchiou, Tunisian education is characterized by: 1) care in balancing moral, linguistic, social, scientific, artistic, and physical components, 2) openness to modernity, 3) development of a critical spirit, and 4) reinforcement of the spirit of tolerance and the study of human rights. Although these "characteristics" are more like goals not yet fully realized than existing features, consensus on their importance appears widespread among Tunisian educators and government officials as well as among international specialists such as the World Bank team supporting educational reforms in Tunisia.

Depicting Tunisia's educational progress and the challenges lying ahead, Minister Ferchiou presented a clear synopsis of government views on necessary educational reforms, highlighting several major goals: 1) reinforce evaluation and improve educational management, 2) increase decentralization, 3) integrate new technologies by installing computers and Internet access in all high schools and preparatory schools by 2001, 4) accentuate the essential in teaching programs and manuals, emphasizing basic competencies and reflecting new scientific and technological concepts, 5) reinforce initial teacher training through continuing education for teachers to improve teaching quality, 6) restructure and rein-vigorate pedagogical research and innovations partly by transforming the former Institut National des Sciences de l'Education (INSE, or the National Institute of Pedagogical Sciences) into a more dynamic structure operating by modern management methods, based on scientifically designed and implemented research programs linked to national and international competencies, and 7) improve teacher laws and working conditions. In fact, the two seminar days in May 1998 prefaced a World Bank-sponsored educational reform project directed toward improving the quality of Tunisian education and upgrading teacher training, financed through the World Bank FY2000 Education Sector Reform Loan for Tunisiathe US$99 million "Education Quality Improvement Project."

Laws Affecting Education: The most recent comprehensive reforms of Tunisia's education system were begun in 1989 and crystallized into Law No. 965 on July 29, 1991, which established the first nine years of basic education as compulsory for all Tunisians ages 6 through 15. Additional significant laws were passed during the 1990s to improve the structure and function of Tunisian public education. The Ministry of Education itself was restructured through Decree No. 98-1799 of September 14, 1998; the Ministry of Higher Education already had been structured by Decrees No. 95-470 of March 23, 1995 and No. 97-495 of March 14, 1997. Multidisciplinary institutions attached to Tunisia's University of the South and University of the Center were supported through Decrees No. 89-1939 of December 14, 1989 and No. 93-423 of February 17, 1993. The Offices of University Operations in charge of student scholarships, loans, residences, sociocultural activities, and recreation were created and regulated through Decrees No. 90-1122 of June 26, 1990 and Nos. 95-1953 and 95-1954 of October 9, 1995.

Educational SystemOverview

Public Education: In 1998, approximately 2.5 million Tunisians were enrolled in primary, secondary, and university institutions out of a population of about 9 million. Enrollment levels in basic education (the compulsory first nine grades of schooling) had reached 99 percent. As already noted above, all Tunisians ages 6 through 15 are required to attend school, as of the early 1990s. The educational system is structured into cycles, with the first, or primary, cycle covering the first six years of schoolinggrades 1-6. The second cycle includes the next three years of compulsory basic education, grades 1-3 of the secondary level, with students taught in basic education colleges. Grades 4-7 of secondary education cover the final four years of pre-university public schooling, with students taught in lycées. For two years in the lycées all students take a common course of study; two more years of specialized studies follow where each student selects one particular field: experimental science, math, letters, economics and business management, or technical studies. The academic year in primary and secondary schools is divided into three trimesters, with the school year beginning September 15 and ending June 30. Summer sessions are not held, allowing students time off for vacation.

Tertiary, or higher, education in Tunisia includes three cycles of schooling, although not all students proceed through all three levels. The first cycle generally lasts two to three years, after which the diploma for the first cycle of university studies (diplôme d'études universitaires de premier cycle, or DEUPC) or the diploma for technological university studies (diplôme d'études universitaires technologiques, or DUT) is awarded. The first cycle prepares students to enter either the world of work or the second and third cycles of higher education. The second cycle of higher education lasts about four or five years and is capped with an engineer's degree or a teaching diploma that allows the graduate to work or to continue studying in the third cycle. The third cycle of higher education leads to terminal degrees at the doctoral level, the professional Diploma of Specialized Higher Studies (Diplôme d'Études Supérieurs Spécialisées, or D.E.S.S.) or the academic Diploma of In-Depth Studies (Diplôme d'Études Approfondies, or DEA). The academic year in institutes of higher education is divided into two semesters, and training can be provided in the form of coursework, work-study assignments, and possibly research projects. The university year begins in the month of October and lasts twelve months, including two required semesters and an additional, optional session. Higher education is delivered through a system of universities and two specialized types of institutes, Instituts Supérieurs des Etudes Technologiques (ISET, or Higher Institutes of Technological Studies) and Instituts Supérieurs de Formation des Maîtres (ISFM, or Higher Institutes of Teaching Training).

The academic year 1999-2000 saw almost 2.3 million students enrolled in Tunisian schools from the primary through university levels. The same year, net enrollments of primary students ages 6-12 was higher than 92 percent. Of youth ages 19-24, nearly 17 percent (180,000 young women and men) were enrolled in universities in 1998-99.

Foreign Influence: Because the French administrative system was used to structure the Tunisian government when Tunisia was governed as a French protectorate, the Tunisian government-supported education system is infused with many of the principles and structures of the French educational system. However, Arabic is currently used as the language of instruction in Tunisian public schools, with French taught as a second language starting in the third year of primary school and English taught as a third language beginning in the seventh year of school, i.e., the first year of secondary school. (Only fairly recently did Arabic become the official language of government in Tunisia, and French and Arabic are both used as languages of commerce.) Other foreign languages are also offered to Tunisian students as they proceed through the secondary grades.

Examinations: Tunisian primary and secondary students take exams at the close of each school trimester. In addition, special examinations are taken at the end of the two cycles of secondary schooling. After the first three years of secondary education in the colleges (i.e., at the end of the ninth year of schooling), a national examination is held. The students who pass progress on to the next four years of secondary studies and take the national baccalaureat (also referred to as bacc ) examination after the final year of their secondary education in the lycées. The baccalaureat not only measures student achievement but also serves as an admissions examination for university-level studies. Typically much more difficult than standard secondary-level examinations given in American schools, the baccalaureat has a pass rate in any one year that may be as low as 40-45 percent or as high as 70 percent. Many of those who fail to pass the bacc on their first try will repeat the final year of secondary school or study privately and retake the exam once or twice in a subsequent year (although age limits and repetition limitations do apply). However, due to high unemployment rates, especially for Tunisian youth, many students who are unsuccessful at passing the bacc leave secondary school and cannot find work. The same goes for a number of university graduates. As a result, the pressure to move abroad in search of work, either legally or illegally, is very high, producing large flows of Tunisian youth to Europe and a somewhat lesser exodus to the United States in search of jobs. (Unemployment in Tunisia was measured at roughly 16 percent in the late 1990s but included unemployed household workers who typically would not be counted in measures of unemployment in other countries. Adjusting the rate accordingly, unemployment still hovered around 11 percent.)

Private Schools: Thirty-five private schools offered primary education in 1995-1996 to 8,900 pupils taught by 455 teachers, with an average class size of 19.6. That same academic year 68,500 students were enrolled in 340 private institutions covering the seven grades of secondary education, taught by 1,260 full-time teachers. Most higher education in Tunisia is offered through publicly supported universities, although numerous private institutions also exist. For example, the Groupe EEA-INTACULT is a consortium of seven schools based in Tunis that includes the Free University of Tunis (l'Université Libre de Tunis ) and six other specialized institutions. Together, the seven schools of the consortium offer preschool, primary, and secondary studies, technological and commercial studies, teacher training and pedagogical research, correspondence courses for persons living outside Tunisia or mixing professional or family responsibilities with schooling, and the publication of textbooks and other teaching materials.

Religious Schools: Koranic (Islamic) kindergartens in Tunisia offer training to young Tunisians from the age of four in Muslim religious studies and the language of the Koran. In addition, one of the seven public universities in TunisiaUniversit,é Ezzitouna is dedicated to training imams and Koranic scholars. Dorothy Stannard noted in her 1991 guide to Tunisia that concern had arisen by the early 1990s over possible fundamentalist Islamic activity in Tunisian universities, especially at Université Ezzitouna. She observed:

Fundamentalism in Tunisia shouldn't, however, be over-estimated or confused with ordinary expressions of Islamwhich, according to En Nadha [the governmentbanned "Renaissance" party], is precisely what the government does when public employees caught praying at work are earmarked as religious zealots. Even in the absence of politicizing fundamentalists, Islam plays an important role in most Tunisian lives right from birth.

The fact that 98 percent of the Tunisian population is Muslim reflects the depth of Muslim traditions in the country, mirrored by the wish of many Tunisians to live a life that balances worldly demands with religious practices and aspirations.

Some Catholic private schools also exist in Tunisia, though their numbers are few considering that only 1 percent of Tunisians are Christian. Tunisia's small Jewish population of 1,500 has a range of private schools that offer education from a Jewish perspective. Djerba, the center of Tunisia's Jewish community, has one Jewish kindergarten, two Jewish primary schools, and two Jewish secondary schools. Tunis has three Jewish primary schools and two Jewish secondary schools, while the coastal city of Zarzis, just south of Djerba, has one Jewish primary school. Yeshivot for training rabbis are found in Tunis and Djerba.

Tunisian Students Studying Abroad: About 12,000 Tunisian students were studying outside of Tunisia in the 1998-1999 academic year. In particular, Canada and France have developed cooperative educational partnerships with Tunisia to assist in making international education opportunities available to Tunisian students. The Tunisian University Mission in North America, for example, is a Tunisian-government-sponsored institution located in Montreal, Canada to facilitate student exchanges and other educational programs involving Tunisia, Canada, and the United States.

Instructional Technology: In 1995 the number of personal computers in Tunisia was 6.7 per 1000 people; by 1998 this figure had more than doubled to 14.7. The government began an intensive effort in the 1990s to add computers to all the lycées in the country by the year 2000. In May 1998 the two-day seminar on "The School of Tomorrow" included significant attention to the issue of expanding new communications and information technologies for the benefit of Tunisia's students. In the year 2000 all upper-secondary students were receiving instruction in computers and computer software programs as well as in the use of the Internet. The goal is to expand the use of computers through all the levels of schooling so that Tunisian students can benefit from technological advances and distance learning throughout their school years.

Textbooks, Audiovisuals, & Curriculum Development: At the start of the new millennium, Tunisia was producing a full range of textbooks covering all course subjects at all educational levels. With several presses operating in Tunisia to publish texts and other scholarly books, Tunisia is becoming increasingly well equipped to respond to the demands of the educational reforms now taking place. During their two-day seminar on "The School of Tomorrow," Tunisian educators acknowledged the need to produce a broader range of higher-quality audiovisual materials for use in Tunisian schools and universities. With the advent of computer technology and video cameras, more multimedia materials can be produced at increasingly less expensive prices, making the delivery of quality educational support materials a less formidable challenge than in the past.

Improving pedagogical research and teacher training programs and developing curricula that reflect scientific and technological advances also have been the focus of government attention as Tunisia attempts to make itself economically more competitive with the developed countries of Europe and the Mediterranean region. Preparing new textbooks and upgrading instructional materials go hand in hand with these efforts. Significant attention is being placed on developing training materials that will better prepare Tunisian students for jobs in the high-technology and business sectors, where a major increase in service-sector employment is expected to occur over the coming years. In addition, increasing the transferability of skills from the classroom to the workplace has been the focus of curricular reforms. Substantial investments already were being made by the year 2000 by the Tunisian government, the World Bank, and bilateral donors to modernize and improve the curricula used in Tunisian schools and to improve the match between the job skills of graduating youth and the needs of the labor market.

Role of Education in Development: As already noted, Tunisia has long recognized the important role played by education in the socioeconomic development of a country. In fact, this was true as early as the 1960s and 1970s, when Tunisia became one of the first countries in the region to receive development assistance from the World Bank and the U.S. Peace Corps to expand education, build schools, make schooling more accessible to the rural poor, and increase the enrollment of girls. Tunisia's continuing collaboration with international organizations and donors to improve its education system and training opportunities and to increase the employability of youth represents further evidence that Tunisians at official levels and among the general public strongly support the belief that education offers the best chance for improving the quality of life for Tunisian citizens. Other key donors supporting Tunisia's efforts to upgrade education and strengthen economic development include the European Union, the Kuwait Fund, and several national governments such as France, Italy, Japan, Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland.

Preprimary & Primary Education

General Survey: Although kindergartens exist in Tunisia, improving and expanding quality early-childhood programs will be supported through future World Bank funding, in collaboration with the Tunisian government. Primary schools, in contrast, are now plentiful throughout Tunisia, the government having made it a priority over the last several decades of the twentieth century to expand primary education so that all Tunisian children could be enrolled, an effort rewarded with remarkable success. School subjects taught at the primary levels include spoken and written Arabic and French, mathematics, science, history, religion, art, and music. Future plans to include training in computers and information technology at the primary level will be implemented after all secondary and preparatory schools in Tunisia are outfitted with computers and connected to the Internet.

In 1998, approximately 1.5 million students were enrolled in the primary cycle of basic education, grades 1-6. In 1995-1996 there were 4,349 public primary schools delivering basic education to almost 1.5 million primary students, 47.1 percent of which were girls. Taught by 59,430 teachers, the students were grouped in classes averaging 24.6 students each. An additional 8,900 students received primary education in private schools. By the late 1990s, about 92 percent of all primary students were reaching grade 5. Gross primary enrollment rates at that time were 116 percent (119 percent for boys and 112 percent for girls); corresponding net enrollment figures were 97 percent for boys and 94 percent for girls. The enrollment ratio of girls to boys for the primary grades was 94 percent by the late 1990s.

Repeaters & Dropouts: For years, repetitions and dropouts have been serious problems in Tunisian schools from the primary through university cycles. In 1994-1995 the global repetition rate at the primary level was 17.27 percent; greater than one child in six was a repeater. The same year, the dropout rate for the first six grades was 4.4 percent. In 1995-1996 high repetition rates were apparent in all six of the primary grades, ranging from 13.8 percent to 25.4 percent, with the worst repetition rate occurring in grade 6, marking the transition from primary to lower-level secondary school. These problems of high repetition and dropout rates already drew attention in 1982, when an educational analyst wrote, "As does its French counterpart, the highly selective Tunisian school system generates large numbers of repeaters and dropouts at all levels. Students are forced out of school if they fail the end-of-cycle exams repeatedly or if they reach the age limit" (Allman 34).

Secondary Education

General Survey: In 1998, approximately 800,000 students were enrolled in secondary schools covering the three grades of the second cycle of basic education (the lower-secondary level) and the four final grades of secondary education. Secondary schools numbered 760 public institutions in 1995-1996, educating 725,900 students who were taught by 30,170 teachers in classes averaging 24.1 students each. An additional 68,500 students were served by private secondary schools that year. Of the five areas of pre-specialization taught in the final two years of public secondary schools in 1995-1996, the greatest proportion of students (37.3 percent) chose the field of letters and the smallest (9.8 percent) chose the technical track. An additional 17,700 students were enrolled in special technical training schools that year. By the late 1990s, 74.3 percent of students in the age-relevant groups for the secondary grades were enrolled in secondary education.

Educational reforms during the 1990s at the secondary level were supported by a World Bank loan-funded project, "Secondary Education Support Project." The objectives of the project were to assist the Tunisian government in implementing basic and secondary education reforms designed to improve quality and efficiency and to enable schools to accommodate the expected increase in numbers of upper-basic and secondary students in the coming years. These objectives were to be met through Bank financing to improve educational performance evaluation and assessment systems, to promote better teaching and training practices for an estimated 26,000 teachers, pedagogic and orientation counselors, and school inspectors, to strengthen feedback mechanisms between the secondary schools and the Ministry of Higher Education, to construct 30 upper-basic and 44 secondary schools, to rehabilitate upper-basic and secondary schools in greatest need of repair and to establish preventive maintenance for schools, and to provide teaching equipment, training, and technical assistance.

Repeaters & Dropouts: Only three-fourths of secondary students were promoted in 1994-1995, and the global retention rate was 16.5 percent, meaning one in every six students was held back. The global dropout rate that year was 8.7 percent, reflecting a continual problem in Tunisian schools of students' falling out of the educational system along the way. A review of the size of each grade level indicates that as students progressed through secondary school, their numbers diminished with each grade, the result of which was that in 1995-1996 the grade 7 class of secondary students was only 36 percent as large as the grade 1 secondary class.

Secondary-Level Vocational & Nonformal Education: In addition to the technical skills-training classes included within the regular public secondary schools, private schools, and the special technical-training secondary schools, on-the-job training and apprenticeships have been utilized in Tunisia as alternative methods of preparing skilled workers for employment. For example, local artisans such as the potters and ceramics workers of the eastern coastal city of Nabeul have long used the apprenticeship method to train skilled crafts workers. Besides the more organized apprenticeships, on-the-job, and vocational training programs, informal training has traditionally been provided at home, especially in the rural areas, in traditional crafts. For example, many rural girls and young women learn to weave traditional kilim, the colorful, geometrically patterned Bedouin dyed-wool rugs of North Africa, in their homes, often using locally grown wool they have spun into yarn. As Tunisia increasingly engages itself in tourism as a means of economic development and advancement for the country, the crafts produced by local artisans become increasingly valuable and marketable. To this end, the Tunisian government has established a cooperative society of artisans (SOCOPA) to assist in marketing artisanal crafts in Tunisia and abroad. Throughout Tunisia, SOCOPA display rooms and stores attract buyers and tourists interested in purchasing locally produced crafts ranging from basketwork to pottery to glassware to leatherwork to finely detailed gold and silver jewelry to delicately embroidered clothing.

The Tunisian educational reforms currently underway include fostering public-private partnerships between Tunisian schools and the business sector, leading to greater collaboration on such educational programs as on-the-job training and apprenticeships. The goal of Tunisia's efforts in this area is to better match the skills needed by business and industry with those in which young Tunisians are being trained in order to reduce unemployment and stimulate the private economy. Additionally, efforts are being made to train students for self-employment so they can earn a living even when wage-labor jobs are in short supply.

Higher Education

Rapid growth in the student population of Tunisia's higher education system in the decades since independence has posed a challenge to educators and administrators interested in developing a high-quality, well-integrated system of public institutions to satisfy the demands of the labor market and the interests of students. Over a 25-year period student enrollments in the higher education system grew more than ten-fold, jumping from an enrollment of 10,350 in the 1970-1971 academic year to an enrollment of 112,630 in the 1995-1996 academic year. The average annual growth rate in higher education over these years ranged from 6.6 percent to 18.1 percent, with the greatest leap occurring at the start of the 25-year run. Tunisia's higher education system consequently was due for widespread reforms and restructuring by the 1990s, reforms which were supported in the latter part of the decade in large measure by a World Bank loan. Explaining the rationale behind Bank funding of this "Higher Education Reform Project" in Tunisia, one Bank analyst wrote in 1997:

Higher Education in Tunisia, an overwhelmingly state-owned, state-operated and state-funded sector, is currently relatively well organized, well staffed and oriented towards quality. However, the combined effect of demographic pressure, increased internal efficiency at pre-university level, and automatic access for all secondary education graduates to higher education will result in the doubling of enrollments within the next 10 years; such an expansion will create a considerable strain under current financial, managerial and pedagogical conditions.

Consequently, the Bank has supported Tunisian efforts to increase the amount and quality of higher education, improve management and heighten the flexibility of the higher education sector, and make public higher education more financially sustainable. The Higher Education Reform Project was estimated to cost about US$150 million, of which US$80 million was anticipated to come as a World Bank loan. Various partner donors in the international community (e.g., the EU and bilateral donors) have supplemented the funding provided by the World Bank to facilitate the desired reforms in Tunisia's higher education system.

Public & Private: Tunisia has seven publicly funded universities, encompassing a total of 90 higher-education establishments in all: Université Ezzitouna (the university for Islamic studies), Université de Tunis, Université de Tunis El Manar, Université 7 novembre àCarthage, Université de La Manouba, Université du Centre, and Université du Sud à Sfax. The total enrollment in academic year 2000-2001 was 207,388, with the Université du Centre having the greatest number of students (41,149) and the Université Ezzitouna having the smallest number (888). In addition, six Instituts Supérieurs de Formation des Maîtres (ISFM), which are training institutes for primary-level teachers, matriculated 1,538 students, and eleven Instituts Supérieurs des Etudes Technologique (ISET) enrolled 15,138 in 2000-2001.

At the close of the 1999-2000 academic year 21,442 diplomas were awarded to students graduating from the first and second cycles of tertiary education. The average success rate for the different cycles of higher education studies that year was 64 percent. Of the 207,388 students enrolled in the three cycles of higher education in the public universities and institutes in 2000-2001, almost 52 percent (107,673) were women approximately 48 percent (99,715) were men, a notable achievement for women, considering past discrepancies between male and female school enrollment and completion rates, and a tribute to the efforts of the Tunisian government to promote gender equity in education.

University education in Tunisia is provided virtually free of charge, and the seven public universities and two sets of public institutes charge no tuition but only a registration fee. Students at the universities generally live the first two years of their studies in dormitories, after which they are free to rent apartments. Fees for student room and board are charged based on family income level, with scholarships provided by the National Offices of Students (l'Offices des Oeuvres Universitaires one in the North, one in the Center, one in the South) for students who cannot afford to cover these costs on their own. Students unable to pass the bacc but otherwise qualified for higher-level studies may choose to attend private universities and postsecondary schools such as the Free University of Tunis, provided they have the financial means to cover the costs of private schooling.

Admission Procedures: Admission to public universities in Tunisia is relatively automatic once students have passed the bacc. At the close of their secondary studies, students list their preferences of the schools and areas of study they wish to pursue at the tertiary level; several weeks after passing the bacc, graduates learn which university or institute has accepted them. For students who fail the bacc but can afford to study privately, admissions procedures vary depending on the school or institute of higher education to which they apply.

Administration: The Ministry of Higher Education administers Tunisia's publicly funded postsecondary education system through an elaborate array of government bureaus and agencies. Besides a ministerial oversight committee (comité supérieur du ministère ) and a board of directors (conseil de direction ), the Ministry includes a cabinet, administrative and financial inspections department, common services, and specific services. The cabinet is further composed of seven bureaus and a group of consultative committees, while each of the services contains several departments.

Teaching Styles & Techniques: The style of teaching in Tunisia traditionally has emphasized rote learning of a set curriculum over the development of creative thinking, critical reasoning, and problem solving skills, a problematic situation noted as early as 1982 (see Jones 42). Tunisian education officials and professionals recognized in the 1990s that this style of education needed to be changed since many Tunisian students could not apply their classroom learning to real world situations outside of school. University courses typically have been delivered in a lecture format, but there is increasing recognition of the value of interspersing on-the-job training, apprenticeships, research, and other forms of practical assignments with academic coursework so that students are given the benefit of learning to apply the concepts they are taught in classrooms before they graduate.

Professional Education: As noted above, the public university system contains two sets of institutes, ISET and ISFM, whose mission is to prepare professionals in the areas of engineering, technology, and teaching. ISFM graduates are qualified to teach primary education. Higher levels of education require diplomas conferred by other university programs preparing teachers and faculty in specific areas of instruction and expertise. In addition, training in law and in medicine is provided through various faculties of the public university system located around the country. The Ministry of Professional Training and Employment, created March 3, 1990, has the responsibility of overseeing the training programs that prepare skilled and highly skilled workers, technicians, and master technicians in Tunisia.

Research Centers & Institutes: With the reorganization of Tunisian higher education in the 1990s came the establishment of a large number of publicly funded research centers and institutes throughout the country. Additional plans for research centers include attaching them to university "poles" in the various geographical regions of Tunisia so that each area of the country has its own university center replete with research facilities. Nine research centers exist in Tunisia for the sciences and technology in the new millennium, located in Tunis, Sfax, Salambo, and Hammam Lif. Ten research centers exist for humanities and the social sciences, all in Tunis except for one located in Kairouan, including a national institute dedicated to preserving Tunisia's cultural heritage and archaeological artifacts. Five additional research centers for the agricultural sciences are located in Ariana, Sfax, Medénine, and Tunis.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

Government Education Organs & Agencies: Besides the Ministry of Higher Education already described, the Tunisian public education system includes first and foremost the Ministry of Education as well as several other ministries whose functions also include the administration of training and educational programs and programs serving children and youth. These are the Ministry of Youth, Childhood, and Sports, the Ministry of Women's and Family Affairs, and the Ministry of Professional Training and Employment. Like the Ministry of Higher Education, all the other education-related ministries consist of complex bureaucratic structures serving specific functions and goals.

Because of its central role in administering public education in Tunisia, discussion here will focus on the Ministry of Education. This Ministry was most recently reorganized in 1998 and is composed of a ministerial oversight committee (comite supérieur du ministère ), a board of directors (conférence de direction ), and a permanent evaluation committee coupled with the following structures: the cabinet, the general, administrative, and financial inspection department, the general department of common services, specific services, general departments, and a National Commission for Education, Science and Culture. Each of these ministerial organs is likewise composed of various sub-units, including regional departments to some extent so the Ministry's work can be appropriately decentralized.

Educational Budgets & Expenditures: In the 1990s Tunisia spent about 19 percent of the national budget on education, 7 percent on healthcare, and 6 percent on defense. In the mid-1990s government expenditures on education were equivalent to 7.7 percent of the GNP, and preprimary, primary, and secondary education expenditures accounted for 79.7 percent of all public funding for education. At the turn of the millennium, educational expenditures reportedly were almost 30 percent of the total national budget, which allocated 60 percent to social expenditures. In 2000, approximately 3.54 percent of Tunisia's national budget of about US$7.256 trillion went to the Ministry of Higher Education. The World Bank loan granted to Tunisia in 2000 for the Education Quality Improvement Project, valued at US$99 million, represented additional funding for education, supplemented by other grants and loans provided to Tunisia in the form of overseas development assistance for educational programming and improvements.

Nonformal Education

Adult Education: Until recently Tunisians have had little opportunity to change their careers. Based on recent recommendations made by Tunisian government leaders, however, this is likely to soon change. As Tunisia adjusts to the demands of the information age and prepares its population for the new service-sector jobs appearing on the horizon, particularly in the high-technology and scientific fields, additional opportunities will open for adults to return to school to resume their studies, supplement their education, or change careers. This was made evident in President Ben Ali's presentation in October 1999 of his recommendations for necessary education reforms, especially in the area of higher education. The private business sector already provides ongoing seminars, computer-related courses, and business-management courses for businessmen and businesswomen. Expanding educational programming in other areas of study for the general adult population also will be of clear benefit to Tunisia as the country seeks to compete with its more economically developed business partners across the Mediterranean in Europe and around the globe.

One clear exception to the present relative lack of opportunity for adult study in Tunisia is the well-known and well-regarded Habib Bourguiba School of Living (Modern) Languages, located in Tunis with a network of language training centers throughout the country. The Habib Bourguiba Institute is a university institution linked to the University of Tunis-El Manar. Its primary objective is to teach modern languages to allstudents and employees, adult Tunisians and foreigners alike. The Institute also carries out applied research on pedagogical methods for teaching modern foreign languages to adults. Courses are available in modern standard Arabic, Tunisian Arabic, specialized Arabic, general and specialized English, German, Spanish, general and specialized French, Italian, Persian, Russian, Chinese, Hebrew, and Turkish. Courses are offered in Tunis and in 23 other centers in other cities around Tunisia through day and evening courses and summer sessions. The day courses are available in intensive and semi-intensive versions depending on the number of hours one wishes to study each week (16 for intensive, 8 for semi-intensive). The annual courses last from October through June, and a national examination is given to culminate course studies and to qualify students for the diploma issued by the Institute. In all of the Institute's courses, cultural activities are blended in with formal language study to reinforce and complement classroom learning. These activities take the form of music, pronunciation exercises, videos, assemblies, and calligraphy during the courses themselves as well as parallel activities conducted after class hours such as cultural workshops conducted by specialists in oriental dance, theater, Arabic music, the traditional culinary arts, and diction, film showings, and Arabic educational games. Additionally, guided visits and excursions outside of class hours and during weekends provide Institute students with the opportunity to visit and learn about Tunisia's historical and archaeological treasures, Arabic Muslim civilization, and modern Tunisia. The summer courses carry a residential option as well.

Distance Education: Efforts to develop new methods for delivering education at a distance are underway in Tunisia as of 2001, with special attention being given to developing computer technology so that courses can be conducted via the Internet. The European Commission at the turn of the millennium visited Tunisia and several other countries to assess government and business policies on information technology and determine how the European Commission could encourage the growth of an information society. Regarding Tunisia, an analyst working with the Commission noted in the year 2000, "The development of information society (including IT, telecom, new technologies) is understood by many high ranking Tunisian officials as a strategic focus, that should be part of Tunisia's preparation to play an important part in the service sector in the Mediterranean when the free trade area opens in 2008." One challenge yet to be overcome seemed to be that posed by Tunisian government censorship. The analyst observed, "We should note that the major brake on Internet development in Tunisia is essentially political: censorship policy applied on the Internet is an important block to all activities on the Net." By 1999 Tunisia had four Internet service providers.

Television and radio have long been used as educational tools throughout Tunisia, where many families even in remote rural areas have access to their own satellite dishes (parabol ) with which they can receive not only transmissions from Tunisia's television broadcasting stations but also from Europe, other parts of the Maghreb, and the Middle East. In 1997 there were about 920,000 televisions in Tunisia (about 1 for every 10 people), and 2.06 million radios (224 per 1,000 people), making entertainment and educational programming accessible to the vast majority of Tunisians, particularly as Tunisia continued its electrification campaign throughout the countryside. In 1998 seven AM radio stations were operating in Tunisia, 20 FM radio stations, and two short-wave radio stations, while 19 television broadcast stations and some low-power stations were transmitting television programs around the country.

Micro-Credit & Micro-Enterprise Training: The Tunisian government, Tunisian women's associations, and international aid donors have cooperated since March 1999 to make micro-credit loans and grants available especially to rural women in order to stimulate local enterprise and prepare greater numbers of self-employed individuals who can generate income for themselves and their families and spark economic growth in their communities. The Ministry of Women's and Family Affairs, created in August 1992 by President Ben Ali, manages the technical assistance funds for women's micro-enterprise from the Tunisian government side in partnership with women's nongovernmental organizations in Tunisia and community development NGOs who assist in organizing and training the micro-credit beneficiaries. Tunisian funds provided for this program are issued through the Tunisian Solidarity Bank (Banque Tunisienne de Solidarité ) at low interest rates, with interest accruing to the benefit of the partner NGOs.

Rural Women's Associations: Besides the micro-credit training projects described above, special government support is being provided for implementing a national action plan for rural women. The plan, adopted by a ministerial council of the Ministry of Women's and Family Affairs in December 1998, involves the creation in each governorate of a regional commission headed by the governor charged with the task of planning and carrying out a customized plan of action for the rural women in the governorate. Activity centers for rural women are envisioned that will help mobilize community participation and respond to rural women's needs regarding information and training.

Teaching Profession

Training & Qualifications: As noted above, teacher training takes place largely through a set of institutes established to prepare primary-education teachers. The question of how to best upgrade teachers' skills and improve the quality of curriculum design and methods of instruction, as already mentioned, has received special attention from educators and government educational officials in Tunisia since the late 1990s. Similarly, improving pedagogical research throughout the country, both at special research institutes and through the applied research conducted on a daily basis by teachers in their classrooms, is the subject of recent study among educators and administrators who want to ensure that Tunisia is ready for the demands it must face as jobs become technologically more complex and Tunisian students must be prepared to meet the demands of a rapidly shifting job market.

Unions & Associations: National organizations and community associations are increasingly being organized in Tunisia where members participate in developing and implementing programs whose goals often resemble those of Tunisia's more formal educational programs and institutions. The National Union of Tunisian Women, for example, promotes rural education, healthcare, and micro-enterprise development for women and girls. The National Chamber of Women Heads of Enterprises (Chambre Nationale des Femmes Chefs d'entreprises ) offers management training to women and assists women in preparing investment proposals. Additionally, attached to some of the government ministries are branches and organs that carry out education-related work with specific emphases. For instance, the Center for Research, Study, Documentation, and Information on Women is a scientific arm of the Ministry of Women's and Family Affairs and monitors women's progress in social and economic areas, some of them related to education and training. As international donor agencies provide funding to support the development of civil society, Tunisia is bound to flourish in the area of community mobilization and participation, having already gotten off to a good start with Tunisian government-sponsored social welfare and assistance programs and rural development initiatives under President Ben Ali, who has consistently worked to provide the necessary support for the social and economic development of Tunisia's population, both rural and urban. The President's efforts have been well appreciated across Tunisia and have built him a strong base of public support.


General Assessment: Tunisia has come a very long way in a few short decades in its efforts to spread educational institutions and programs to the Tunisian people, no matter how far apart they may live from the capital. Whereas few women and relatively few men in the rural countryside were literate before independence, school participation rates throughout the country are now sufficiently high that Tunisia is faced with the challenge of creating enough institutes of higher education rapidly enough to meet the needs of the growing numbers of young women and men reaching university age. With vigorous national programs to extend educational efforts and diversify the types of programming and courses offered to Tunisia's youth, coupled with foreign assistance from international donors and other national governments, Tunisia's government appears poised to satisfy the educational requirements of the near future. Considerable challenges remain to be met, however, so that the extension of education proceeds in an equitable manner for women and men, urban and rural, and so Tunisia will be ready to adapt to the demands of the changing global economic environment in which it is increasingly and consciously becoming involved.

Proposed Education Reforms: As President Ben Ali observed in announcing his new priorities for Tunisia's social and economic development in October 1999, key challenges to be met in Tunisia over the next few years, all of which have bearing on education, include: 1) increasing employment opportunities, especially to meet the swell in labor expected to occur from 2000 to 2004; 2) consolidating educational reforms and gains and preventing school dropouts before age 16, strengthening pre-primary education, and promoting and facilitating distance learning; 3) investing more aggressively in information technology and telecommunications, and in scientific and technological research; 4) continuing economic reforms, stabilizing finances, and increasing private investment so Tunisia becomes better prepared to compete economically in a globalizing world; 5) continuing poverty-reduction measures, including access to basic services and better social security provisions; 6) upholding women's equality, preserving the importance of family, and promoting cultural activities; and 7) encouraging regional growth through public investments, by providing fiscal incentives to private investors, and by giving regions greater autonomy over their economic affairs. In order to meet these challenges, Tunisian schools will need to be retooled to a major extent so that students emerge better equipped to apply their school learning to problem-solving in the world of work and so they are trained in the types of job skills the Tunisian economy will need.

Among the reforms in the educational sector that the World Bank identified for Tunisia in its country assessment of March 2000, the most significant appear to involve upgrading teacher skills so instructors are better prepared to deliver high-quality educational programming adapted to student abilities, interests, and needs, revising the curriculum at the basic- and secondary-education levels so that students are given the skills they will need in an increasingly technological and scientifically oriented world, and improving the match between university-level training programs and the needs of the job market so graduates will be able to find employment and will not be faced with a future where their education seems to have little value in the real world. Melded with these efforts to improve education in Tunisia must always be the vision of a motivated student population whose efforts are rewarded by progressive advancement through the educational grades and cycles and who do not become discouraged by overly zealous educators whose instructional demands do not match the students' abilities or preparation levels. What must be turned around clearly is the unfortunate problem of high rates of student retention and dropoutTunisia cannot afford to lose its students along the way, neither can it afford to educate students so poorly that they are unable to function in a world of increasingly complex demands where their skills will be tested ever more sharply.

Tunisia has done an admirable job of moving from a level of economic underdevelopment to one of great promise and accomplishment. The best the country can do for the Tunisian people in this new millennium is to offer them educational programming that provides them the keys to a future of rapidly transforming opportunities and challengeskeys forged in an educational atmosphere of warm discussion, heated debate, thoughtful inquiry, and experimental reasoning where each student's abilities are sharpened in the unique direction to which that student is attuned so that each individual can contribute his or her best to the community and the larger society as a successful member of the continually evolving, collaborative social venture popularly called Al Jamhuriyah at-Tunisiyah.


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Barbara Lakeberg Dridi

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Republic of Tunisia

Major Cities:
Tunis, Monastir, Kairouan

Other Cities:
Béja, Bizerta, Gabès, Hammamet, La Goulette, Mahdia, Menzil-bourguiba, Moknine, Nabeul, Qafsah, Sfax, Sousse


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report dated August 1994. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


TUNISIA is a land abounding in contrasts. It is not the stereotypical African desert country, even though it is enveloped by a large percentage of arid land. In fact, it was once called "the green land," describing the days when it served as a granary of Rome, and the wheat, wine, and olives introduced by the Phoenicians were sent north across the Mediterranean. Tunisia is Mediterranean in its affinity for the inland seas and in its proximity, both culturally and politically, to southern Europe. The countryside west of the capital city of Tunis is decidedly more European than African. The tree-lined roads are reminiscent of southern France, and the resort areas on the Gulf of Hammamet, which include 700 miles of white sand beaches, are similar to those of the Côte d'Azur.

Historically, Tunisia has been at the crossroads between Europe and the Middle East. Bathed in centuries of Phoenician, Roman, and Arab civilizations, it was then westernized by several decades of French presence. The legacies left behind have helped to shape this land into the most modern and sophisticated country in North Africa. History still abounds in the ruins of Carthage, Utica, and Dougga, as well as in the modern cities of Tunis and Kairouan.

To a generation of Americans and British, Tunisia is the memory of major battles fought during World War II in North Africa. In the quiet greenery of its military cemeteries and scattered burial plots lie thousands of victims of the battles of El Alamein, Kasserine, Long Stop Hill, and Hill 609. However, the intervening years have softened the image, and new generations of Westerners are converging on Tunisia. Its closeness to Europe makes Tunisia even more attractive, for, in a short time, one can change continents, culture, and civilization.



Tunis is built on the west bank of a shallow salt lake on Tunisia's northeastern Mediterranean coast. Originally a Phoenician trading post, it has been the capital of what is now Tunisia since the 13th century. It comprises two adjacent districts, widely different in characterthe old Arab town (the medina ) with its narrow, shop-lined streets, and the new French-influenced city of wide avenues and tall buildings. The souks, where anything from hand-woven rugs to used buttons can be found, the famous Zitouna Mosque, old residences noted for their tiles and blue grillwork, and narrow alleys that twist and turn are some of the memorable sights in the medina. The new city, developed during the French Protectorate of 1881 to 1956, resembles a typical western Mediterranean metropolis, and surrounds the old section.

Greater Tunis covers an area of more than 1,600 square miles. It has a population of 1.64 million, of whom perhaps 30,000 are Europeans, mainly French and Italian. French and Arabic are spoken; little English is heard.

Tunis has four seasons, with spring and fall the most pleasant. Summers are hot and dry, although sea breezes moderate the heat. Winters are rainy and damp, with days of brilliant sunshine intervening. Except at the highest altitudes, the temperature rarely drops below 40°F.

Agriculture remains a major source of income. Olives and cereals are the principal crops grown. There are several manufacturing companies in Tunis that produce carpets, cement, textiles and clothing.

Tunis is the center of government, and an active commercial center and seaport. The large international airport, Tunis-Carthage, is five miles from the city and, although there are many large, good hotels in town, the beach resorts on the outskirts attract most of the European visitors. Car rental agencies operate both in the city and at the airport. Detailed information about tours and hotel accommodations is available from Office National de Tourism Tunisien at avenue Mohammed V, Tunis.

Currently, more than 60 countries maintain resident diplomatic missions in Tunis. The city has been the site of the Arab League's international headquarters since 1979.


In Tunis, the American Cooperative School, designated as a U.S. Government-sponsored institution and established in 1959, has facilities for 160 children from kindergarten through tenth grade.

The teachers at American Cooperative are qualified members of the U.S. and international communities. Instruction is in English, although French is taught in all grades. The curriculum is similar to, and compares favorably with, those in U.S. schools.

Almost all American children in Tunis attend American Cooperative.

Girl Scout, Brownie, Boy Scout, and Cub Scout troops are very active. The groups hold weekly meetings after class hours. American Cooperative plans periodic activities for children, such as sporting events and dances. It also has an active Hyper Club for students in grades five through nine; activities have included a bowling night, ski trip, beach parties, and a sight-seeing trip to Roman ruins. Other extracurricular activities include computer training, choral and instrumental music, and school yearbook.

Public schools and private Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim schools are available at all levels, including high school. A few private French nurseries operate in the city and its suburbs.

Tunisian schools are similar to those in France. From an American point of view, they have a rigid curriculum and long hours of class work. Fluency in French is imperative, and some classes are conducted in Arabic.

Americans have sent their children, with mixed results, to one of the three French lycées operating in Tunis and La Marsa. The tuition is considerably less than at the American Cooperative School, but parents must pay for textbooks and supplies. Uniforms are required.

Many junior and senior high school children attend schools in Morocco, Italy, Spain. The U.S. Torrejon American High School in Spain is operated by the U.S. Department of Defense. It is a coeducational institution, with instruction in English.

Notre Dame International School in Rome, conducted by the Brothers of the Holy Cross, provides a liberal education in accordance with American tradition. The faculty is mainly American, and instruction is in English. Classes are for grades four through high school. Its sister school for girls is the Marymount International School. The faculty consists mostly of nuns of the Order of the Sacred Heart of Mary.

St. Stephen's School is a four-year coeducational school emphasizing college preparatory work. It is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.


Tunis and its environs offer good facilities for tennis, golf, hunting, scuba diving, and some fishing. Swimming, sailing, and windsurfing are also popular, but the beaches close to and in Tunis used for swimming have been found from time to time to be contaminated and unsafe. Americans should check with the U.S. Embassy Medical Unit before going to the beach. Tunis has three municipal swimming pools, two of which are heated in winter; the weather is suitable for outdoor swimming from June through September.

Public tennis courts are available in most of the suburbs, and private courts can be found in several places around the city and at resorts. In Tunisia, white is still worn on the court, but is not mandatory everywhere. Tennis balls should be brought from home; local ones are expensive and of poor quality.

Some Americans play golf on the 18-hole course at La Soukra, about seven miles from Tunis. The course is good from October to June, but very dry in summer. The greens are a mixture of sand, crushed olive pits, and crude oila new experience for most American golfers. Lunch and dinner are served in the clubhouse, which may also be used for large receptions. Annual dues are high, but nonmembers can play at daily or weekly rates. The magnificent new 18-hole course at the resort of Port El Kantaoui in northern Sousse, about a three-hour drive from Tunis, is good for a golf weekend. Created by eminent golf-scape architects, the course is star-shaped and covers four miles and 170 acres. Each of the 18 holes is on a different kind of terrain. There is a luxurious clubhouse and equipment to rent.

Softball games and jogging programs are enjoyed by the American community. In addition, bowling is available at a standard six-lane alley at La Baie des Singes Hotel in a northern suburb of Tunis.

Saltwater fishing and scuba diving are popular sports. Little freshwater fishing exists in Tunisia because only one river flows year round. Motorboats may be rented, but no facilities are available for chartering boats for offshore fishing. Spearfishing with scuba equipment is prohibited, but is permitted while using snorkeling gear. No facilities currently exist for refilling scuba bottles.

Wild game is in season from September to June. A shotgun can be used for small-game hunting. Open-season dates vary only slightly each year and are published each August. Quail, duck, woodcock, snipe, partridge, and wild boar are the most common game. The latter is found in the mountainous regions close to the Algerian border. Hunters are limited exclusively to shotguns in the pursuit of game, and 12-gauge is the most common. Rifled slugs are required for boar hunting; buckshot is prohibited. Hunters must have a permit for the weapon, a hunting license, and insurance.

Camping is popular among Americans. Many undeveloped and a few developed campsites exist in the countryside. All equipment should be brought from home, as it is both scarce and expensive in Tunisia.

Kasr Sa'id, known as one of the most beautiful racetracks in North Africa, is about five miles from Tunis. The racing season begins October 1 and lasts through May. Purebred Arab and English race-horsessome locally bred and some importedand imported trotters compete for the purses. Kasr Sa'id has a riding club; another is in La Soukra.

Sailing centers around the yacht clubs at La Goulette and at Sidi-bou-Sa'id, the exquisite artists' village near Tunis. Various types of boats, including cruisers, sailboats, sloops, and ketches are available. There is no single racing class of boats in Tunisia.

The visitor can make endless sight-seeing and picnic trips to the Roman, Punic, and Byzantine ruins scattered throughout Tunisia. Le Bardo Museum in Tunis contains the largest and most beautiful collection of Roman mosaics in the world, as well as Roman and Punic statues, coins, jewelry, and other interesting exhibits.

Tunisia's main places of interest are all within easy driving distance of Tunis, and are connected by good blacktopped roads. The port city of Bizerta is 40 miles to the north through pleasant countryside. The ruins of ancient Utica may be visited just off the Bizerta highway. Sousse (87 miles from Tunis) and Sfax (166 miles) are central Tunisian seaports. The old Arab sections of both cities are still encircled by ancient ramparts and watchtowers. Sousse, a popular tourist attraction because of its beautiful beaches, has a small, excellent museum devoted to Roman and early Christian mosaics. Nearby are catacombs as extensive as those in Rome. Just north of Sousse is the huge new complex called Port El Kantaoui, with its 18-hole golf course, magnificent harbor, luxury hotels, villas, riding school, tennis courts, pools, and beaches.

Many other smaller resorts and tourist centers can be visited. Tunisia is continuing an extensive program to improve tourist facilities throughout the country, including attractive modern hotels ranging from first class to economy. Ain Draham, in the cork and oak forests of the Kroumirie Mountains 110 miles west of Tunis, offers a change of scene and climate. At an altitude of 2,600 feet, Ain Draham is pleasantly cool in summer and often has snow in winter. It offers excellent boar hunting. About an hour south of Tunis are the picturesque seaside towns of Hammamet and Nabeul where one can swim off broad sandy beaches. At Nabeul, Tunisian artisans work on rugs, baskets, and their famous pottery.

About 350 miles south of Tunis is Djerba, a palm-covered white sand island, which retains much of the original Arab architecture. According to local tradition, it was the home of the indolent, dreamy lotophagi (lotus eaters) of Homer's Odyssey. On the island is a Jewish colony, which may antedate the Diaspora. Its beautiful synagogue at Hara Kebira is well worth a visit.

The oases of Tozeur and Nefta, which produce fine dates, are 310 and 350 miles, respectively, southwest of Tunis on the Algerian Sahara border and on the edge of the extensive Chott Djerid, a dry salt lake. Tozeur has, perhaps, the most luxurious oasis. Its 200 springs feed thousands of the best date palms. Tozeur's buildings are built with unfired yellow bricks; the town can be toured on donkey or camel. Nefta's oasis resembles a bowl. The town, made up of sand-colored homes and holy places, is situated on a plateau. A guide is needed for a trip through the oasis on donkey.

Motor trips to Djerba and the oasis country make pleasant four-or five-day journeys. The best time of year to visit these areas is from late fall to early spring. Daily flights to Djerba from Tunis are available all year.

Roman ruins are scattered throughout Tunisia. The ruins of Utica can be reached from Tunis or Bizerta. Utica was a Phoenician colony founded in 1100 B.C. After entering by a great arched gateway, the visitor will see the marble flooring of a mansion set in a garden. Mosaics depicting sea fish decorate a water basin and the pool of a former fountain. Remains of several other houses reveal decorated flooring of Phoenician, Roman, and Byzantine periods. Phoenician tombs contain interesting remains.

Carthage, historically the most famous ruins, is closest to Tunisonly 20 minutes by car. When the Romans, furious at humiliations inflicted upon them by the Carthaginians, conquered Carthage in 146 B.C., they razed and plowed it into the ground. Later they rebuilt the city, making it their provincial capital of North Africa. The Vandals further destroyed the city in 439.

More extensive ruins can be seen at Dougga (70 miles), Thuburbo Majus (32 miles), and Sbeitla (160 miles). Dougga was a major Roman city with paved streets. Its theater, built in A.D. 168 to seat 3,500, resounds again when classical plays and other performances are staged. El Djem, 125 miles south of Tunis, features a coliseum almost as large as the one in Rome.

Train and bus transportation is available to most sites, but public transportation may be uncomfortable or inconvenient for longer distances. It is an advantage to have a car for trips, although many local travel agencies and hotels now operate modern air-conditioned buses.


The theater season in Tunis is November through May. Two companies present a series of six to eight well-known French-language plays. The Tunis Symphony Orchestra gives monthly concerts from November through May, with guest soloists and touring groups appearing occasionally. Theater and symphony performances take place at the Municipal Theater in downtown Tunis.

Tunis and its suburbs have about two dozen movie theaters that offer a wide selection of American and English films, with French dialogue dubbed in. Italian, Spanish, Mexican, and Egyptian films are also occasionally shown. Most films, however, are French produced. Cultural centers, notably the French and Tunisian, offer films at little or no charge to the public.

Many special occasions are celebrated in Tunisia. The Orange Festival of Cap Bon in January; the Festival of the Hawks in El Haouaria in April; music and dancing festivals in Hammamet, Djerba, Dougga, and Bizerta during the summer; the International Cultural Festival of Carthage in July; Monastir's Drama Festival in August; the spectacular Festival of the Sahara in November; and a number of other events which lure visitors from Tunis.

Restaurants in Tunis and environs are attractive and the food is very good. Among those recommended are the Strasbourg, the Hungaria, the Malouf, and Chez Slah. The national dish is couscous semolina (a specially processed wheat) prepared with vegetables, meat, fowl, or fish, and a piquant sauce called harissa (hot red peppers). Another favorite local dish is brik, a thin, fried pastry envelope with an egg, meat, or tuna stuffing.

In the summer, outdoor dining and dancing places may be found along the coast. Many restaurants in the city are closed from mid-July to September, during the beach season.

The International Women's Club is an active organization providing services to the international communities. All American women and wives of U.S. citizens residing in Tunisia are eligible to join; one-third of the total membership is composed of people from other countries. The club eases the adjustment to life in Tunisia, and provides a center for service projects and social activities.

Tunisians are kind and hospitable, and this is reflected in their warm style of entertaining. At nonofficial parties, informality is the keynote; meals are usually buffet style, with food always in great abundance. Tunisian Muslims generally do not eat pork, so alternatives must be provided when they are guests. Alcoholic beverages may be served, but soft drinks or fruit juices should also be offered.


The seaport town of Monastir, the birthplace of former President Habib Bourguiba, is situated in northeast Tunisia, on the southernmost point of the Gulf of Hammamet. It is about 80 miles southeast of Tunis and just south of Sousse. A fort has existed on this point since the dawn of history, warding off invaders who threatened from the sea. Up until the end of the seventh century, Monastirfirst as Rous Penna of the Carthaginians and later as the Roman Ruspinahas played an uninterrupted role as the defensive stronghold of the coastline. The area was further built up as a military fortification by the Aghlabites in the eighth century.

One building from this erathe Ribat still stands today as a majestic reflection of the past. Built in the eighth century and then fortified and enlarged in the ninth and 11th centuries, the Ribat was originally a defensive fortress and a place for monastic seclusion. Today, the Ribat exudes the charm of a historical shrine. The Hall of Prayer, on the first floor, has been converted to a Museum of the Islamic Arts. A vast array of objects preserved from the past are displayed and carefully labelled.

Not only known as a military stronghold, Monastir was also a holy city from the 11th century onward. A number of sacred legends date from that era. One of the legends said that entry into heaven could be ensured with a three-day stay in Monastir. Another legend, told by the Prophet himself, was that Monastir had the distinct privilege of containing a gate to heaven.

Monastir today uses its history and location to great advantage. As a seaside resort, it welcomes visitors to enjoy the sunshine and local curiosities. Since Tunisia's independence in 1956, the government has introduced an infrastructure that has rejuvenated the economy of Monastir. The Chraga quarter has been restored and a new roadway has been constructed. Located in the heart of Monastir, the Chraga offers craft shops (where the traditional arts of tapestry, pottery, basketwork, wrought iron work, and other decorative and practical items are displayed and sold), cafe terraces, and restaurants where visitors can try local specialties. The Habib Bourguiba Mosque, rebuilt recently at the edge of this quarter, is an example of classic religious architecture.

Nostalgia is found throughout Monastir. Leaving the medina, the visitor can't help but notice the high battlement walls flanked by square towers. These are the only parts of the 18th century ancient fortified enclosure that remain standing. The century-old streets also reveal ancient Monastir and its 12 gates. In contrast to the old parts of Monastir, the city is also proud of its modern buildings. Green areas, squares, and modern intersections adjoin the old areas. A convention center was recently built to house international meetings.

University life in Monastir is developing around schools of chemistry and dental surgery affiliated with the University of Tunis. There is also a residence hall for girls, a library, and a stadium that seats 20,000.

Monastir is becoming a favorite spot for the international film world. Franco Zeffirelli shot Jesus of Nazareth here, and, in 1981, a studio was constructed to film indoor scenes.

A number of festivals and cultural events are held in Monastir during the summer. From the end of July through the beginning of August, an international folk festival is held every other year. In the intervening years, there is an international theater festival. A fair and exhibition are held from August 1 through 15.

Hotels run along the coastline to the little fishing port between the two peninsulas. On Sidi Ghedamsi Island, linked to the coast by a causeway, is the tourist complex of Cap Monastir. The area boasts many different sporting facilities including a golf course, a marina, and a fishing port. Due to its proximity to the Skanes-Monastir airport, Cap Monastir is recognized as one of the area's most comprehensive tourist centers. Monastir's current population is 59,000.

North of Monastir, in a residential area, is the Presidential Palace of Skanes. The residence is richly decorated with Arabian ornaments, marble, and decorated earthenware. It is situated in the middle of an exotic park. Beyond the park lies the oasis of Dkhila, known for its palm wine. Hotels line the beaches of Dkhila, where numerous water sports may be enjoyed. Visitors can participate in windsurfing, water skiing, and sea excursions. Beginner's lessons in horseback riding, tennis, and other sports are given at the hotels by qualified instructors approved by the Ministry of Youth and Sports. At night, discotheques play the latest European and American hits, but the Tunisian folk customs of belly dancing and snake charming may also be enjoyed.


Kairouan is a city of 116,000, located 100 miles southwest of Tunis in the center of a vast plain. Kairouan is the third most holy city in the Islamic world, after Mecca and Medina. Founded in 670 by the warrior, Oqba Ibn Nafaa, it grew from a simple military outpost to the greatest cultural center of the Maghreb. During the Kharijite Revolt of 758-761, the city was pillaged, but restored during the Aghlabite Dynasty (800) on an even grander scale. The Aghlabites gave the city some of its most beautiful monuments. They developed all spheres of activity in Kairouan, and soon the city rivalled all other great civilization centers of the Mediterranean.

Kairouan (also spelled Qairawan) is comprised of an old city encircled by a hugh wall of uniform brick with many imposing doorways. The ramparts were built in 1052 by Al-Moezz, the Fatimite, and restored by the Husseinites in the 18th century. The modern city, on the other side of the ramparts, has conformed to an ancient architectural style evident in its recently completed cultural and commercial center.

Long a holy city to Muslims, Kairouan's religious vocation is evident everywhere. According to legend, seven visits to Kairouan equalled one to Mecca. The city is especially known for its mosques and tombs. Its Great Mosque is the most fascinating Islamic structure in Tunisia. Dating back to the eighth century, the mosque draws thousands of visitors in prayer and admiration. The Great Mosque is the focal point of the city's medina. The vast inner sanctuary stretches out like a fortified stronghold with its imposing architecture. From the entrance, one can see the marvelous archways and immense marble-laid courtyard. The columns, done in various architectural styles; the interior of the prayer hall; the bas-relief work; the floral and calligraphic designs; and the crystal chandeliers all make this mosque one of the most beautiful in the Muslim world. Kairouan is also endowed with 50 other mosques in its medina.

The proliferation of religious activities does not prevent the inhabitants of Kairouan from enjoying life. The joyous occasion of Mouled (or Mouloud), the Prophet's birthday, brings pilgrims from all around to the city to join in lighthearted celebration. In addition to the makroudh small cakes made of hard wheat paste stuffed with dates and soaked with honeythat are a year-round specialty of Kairouan, the city's women also prepare assida a sweet dishto mark the beginning of the festivities.

Kairouan is also known for its handicrafts. Metal engraving, weaving, and saddle-making are all carried out in the city. But, the most important handicraft which, along with the Great Mosque, has made Kairouan famous, is the art of carpet-weaving. The National Office of Handicraft encourages the development and production of carpets and has set up a quality control system whereby each carpet is examined by specialists in the control center before being granted the official seal of approval. The National Office of Handicraft houses a Museum of Rugs; the Museum of Islamic Art is located opposite the Great Mosque.

Lodging in Kairouan is pleasant and reasonably priced. The deluxe Aghlabite Hotel, on the city's outskirts, has a swimming pool, fine restaurant, and wooded grounds. Other hotels are located in the central city and play an important role in the activities of Kairouan. The range of restaurants in the city run from the deluxe to the corner cook-shop, giving the visitor a wide variety of local cuisine.


BÉJA has a history dating to ancient times. Situated 65 miles west of Tunis in the Marjardah Valley, the city was the site of Vacca, a Punic town and Roman colony. Béja exports wheat and has been a major agricultural market since at least the first century B.C. Sugar refineries and an agricultural research station help employ the estimated 56,000 residents.

BIZERTA (also spelled Bizerte), on the Mediterranean, is Africa's northernmost town. Once the Roman city of Hippo Zarytus, there are reminders throughout the area of the various civilizations that succeeded one another. Oil refining and fish canning are the two principal industries. A beach resort, Bizerta is also a major exporting area and seaport. Bizerta exports fish, phosphates, iron ore, and cereals. The town is connected to Tunis, 50 miles southeast, by road and rail. Visitors will find cooler weather in Bizerta during the summer season. Its population is approximately 112,000.

GABÈS , (also spelled Gabis) located in east central Tunisia on the Gulf of Gabès, is 200 miles south of Tunis. It is a fishing port and center of an oasis known for date palms and textile milling. Founded by the Romans, Gabès was one of the chief Tunisian headquarters for the French Saharan garrison. The economy of the city was focused entirely on the needs of the army. Since then, Gabès has developed an infrastructure and industry that has made the city important throughout the country. A power station and an oil refinery have been constructed here. A large port and a railroad terminus link Gabès with the rest of Tunisia. The current population of Gabès is about 109,000.

HAMMAMET is a small fishing village which attracts numerous tourists each year with its marvelous gardens, and its luxurious hotels concealed behind orange trees, palm trees, bougainvilleas, and a thousand other perfumed plants. Located in northeastern Tunisia on the Gulf of Hammamet, at the southern base of the peninsula ending in Cap Bon, Hammamet is about 30 miles southeast of Tunis. The city's fort, built on the sea in the 15th century, has long arched passages, galleries, and square towers. In the main courtyard of the fort, there is a small museum of traditional costumes. During World War II, Hammamet served as the headquarters for the German general Erwin Rommel. Hammamet has an International Cultural Center where, during summer, there is an open-air theater and an International Cultural Festival. Hotels in Hammamet are built to blend in with the natural surroundings; there is an agreed maximum height for buildings so as to not overshadow the natural beauty. Hammamet boasts clean beaches and a wide variety of leisure activities, including swimming, tennis, golf, and horseback riding. There are also terrace cafes, restaurants, shops, and two art galleries. Hammamet's population was about 51,000 in 2002.

LA GOULETTE (also called Halq al-Wādī and Goletta) is the port of Tunis, seven miles from the capital. Its harbor manages most of the country's imports and roughly half the exports, principally fruits, vegetables, iron ore, and phosphates. The city is a renowned bathing resort and residential area of Tunis. La Goulette boasts remnants of Hispano-Turkish battlements nearby. About 79,000 people live in the city.

MAHDIA , (also spelled al-Mahdiyah) a fishing port and resort town, is 30 miles south of Monastir. The all-powerful Obaid Allah, known as the Mahdi, developed the town in the 10th century as a stronghold and capital of the Fatimite dynasty. Economic activities center around olive cultivation, olive-oil production, fishing, fish canning, and a thriving handicrafts industry. The population of Mahdia is about 44,000.

Ten miles southwest of Bizerta lies MENZIL-BOURGUIBA (also spelled Manzil Bū Rugaybah and formerly known as Ferryville). Named after Tunisia's president, Habib Bourguiba, the town is a modern one. Much of its growth took place during the French Protectorate (1881-1956) with the development of adjacent Sidi Abdallah's naval base and dockyard. Today Menzil-Bourguiba is a heavy industry center. Roads and a railway link the town with Bizerta. The population is about 49,000.

MOKNINE is a market town of 49,000, located 13 miles south of Monastir. Part of its population is Jewish, and the traditional jewelry items they make are among the exhibits in the town's small folk museum.

NABEUL (also spelled Nabul) is the administrative capital of Cap Bon, located at the southern end of the base of Cap Bon Peninsula, about 40 miles southeast of Tunis. Ancient Phoenician ruins are found along the shore; the Romans destroyed the Phoenician settlement in 146 B.C., later rebuilding it as Neapolis. Today, it is one of Tunisia's most important towns because of its special activities: ceramics, embroidery, and pottery; perfume distilleries using the oldest formulas; needlework and lace. Pottery is an art dating back to Roman times; there are hundreds of workshops in Nabeul producing both glazed and porous pottery. Functional utensils, curios, jars, and ornaments are made. The workshops of blacksmiths, weavers, embroiders, and lacemakers may also be visited. The city's weekly marketLe Vendredioffers regional specialties, including tapestries, curios, agricultural products, and camels. The current population of Nabeul is 57,000.

QAFSAH (also spelled Gafsa) is a popular irrigated fruit-growing oasis, in the eastern part of the country, about 115 miles west of Sfax. The original town was destroyed by the Romans, rebuilt, and became a center of Byzantine, Arab, Berber, and Ottoman leaders. Today, Qafsah is a major shipping center for phosphates. The area is populated primarily by nomads and cultivators of olives, dates, and cereals. Qafsah's population is roughly 80,000.

SFAX (also called Sāfagis) is Tunisia's second largest city and a bustling commercial center. Situated in eastern Tunisia on the Gulf of Gabès, it is about 150 miles south of Tunis, and is the terminus of the Sfax-Gafsa railroad. The town was bombarded by the French in 1881 prior to their occupation of Tunisia and during World War II, when it was used as an Axis base until captured by the British in 1943. With Gabès farther south, the city serves as a major port for the export of phosphates, olive oil, cereals, and sponges. Offshore oil has been discovered in the area. Once the site of Phoenician and Roman colonies, Sfax was briefly held by Sicily (1150) and by the Spanish (16th century), and was later a stronghold of Barbary pirates. The current population of Sfax is 266,000.

Fishing and tourism provide the economic mainstays of SOUSSE (also spelled Sūsah and Sousa), located in a convenient central position on the eastern coast 75 miles south of Tunis. Once the ancient Phoenician trading post of Hadrumetum, Sousse has kept its ancient walled city in original form. The eighth century Ribat was built as one of the fortified monasteries defending North Africa from Christian attacks. Its watchtower gives a splendid view of the medina, as does the garden terrace of Sousse's museum. The city grew rapidly under the French Protectorate (1881-1956), and today is a prominent trade area. Sousse is a popular resort, with beautiful sand beaches, opportunities for horse and camel riding, and many excellent hotels. It is an export point for olive oil, and its ancient remains include Christian catacombs. About 153,000 people live in Sousse.


Geography and Climate

The Republic of Tunisia lies at the northernmost tip of Africa. Together with Morocco, Algeria, and northwestern Libya, it forms the Maghreb (the Arabic name for the northwest), a place of common history, language, ethnic groups, and culture.

The country's area of 63,378 square miles is slightly smaller than Missouri. Tunisia has 1,000 miles of Mediterranean coastline. Northern Tunisia is the most heavily populated part of the country, and is mountainous and relatively fertile, although elevations rarely reach 3,000 feet. The north also claims Tunisia's one major river, the Majardah. The central section of the country is semiarid highland with poor soil, little rainfall, and scant population. The south is arid and barren, except for occasional oases, as it merges with the Sahara. The desert makes up about half of Tunisia's total square miles.

Tunisia's climate is temperate, with mild winters and hot summers. The countryside becomes dry and brown in summer and quite green in winter. Summers in Tunis, the capital, are characterized by high temperatures and low humidity; evenings are pleasant. Winters are short, rainy, humid, and chilly. The temperature rarely is below freezing. Snow occurs in the northwestern mountain region. From mid-May until mid-October, the sky is usually cloudless and little rain falls. In an average year, only 120 days have any rainfall.


Tunisia's population is estimated at 9.7 million; 98 percent are a mixture of Berber and Arab origin, and about one percent are European. The French comprise the largest foreign community, and the influence of the French language and culture is still quite strong. The population is young and increasingly urban.

In the 15-year period following the country's independence in 1956, the Tunisian population increased by 45 percent. As jobs are sought in urban areas, there has been a decrease in the rural population of Tunisia; in 1995 that decrease was 38 percent.

Islam is the state religion, and nearly all Tunisians belong to the orthodox Sunni sect. Other religions are tolerated; Christian and Jewish denominations continue to exist.

In 1995, an estimated 67 percent of Tunisians age 15 and over could read and write. Tunisia's relatively high literacy rate is due in large part to the strong emphasis placed on universal education. The official language is Arabic, but French is widely spoken in urban areas and is used by the government as a second working language.


After 75 years of French protectionism, Tunisia gained independence in 1956. Tunisians then voted to abolish the monarchy. Today, Tunisia has a republican form of government with strong executive powers.

Habib Bourguiba, who had served as Tunisia's president since 1957, was ousted from power on November 7, 1987. The new president, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, instituted a number of political reforms to curb the excesses of his predecessor and calm domestic unrest. One of the most significant political reforms was the legalization of opposition political parties in 1988. The president is elected to five-year terms and appoints the prime minister, the cabinet, and 23 provincial governors. In 1994 and in 1999, President Ben Ali was reelected without opposition. The Constitutional Democratic Party is the dominant political party of Tunisia.

Legislative authority is vested in a 182-member Chamber of Deputies. Elections to this legislative body are held every five years. In 1994 the government changed the electoral code to guarantee that the opposition would be able to win seats.

The former religious tribunals have been integrated into secular courts to form a single three-level judiciary: first-instance courts; courts of appeal; and the highest judicial body, the Court of Cassation, which ultimately resolves cases not solved in the lower courts. All judicial proceedings are in Arabic. In addition to the existing auditing court, there is also an administrative jurisdiction.

Women share equal rights with men on the basis of a personal-status code established shortly after independence. This code is considered a model for Arab and developing Third-World countries. Polygamy is illegal.

The Tunisian flag is red, with a central white disc containing a red crescent and a red star.

Arts, Science, Education

Tunisia's cultural and artistic heritage is a blending of Phoenician, Roman, Arab, Turkish, French, and Berber influence. Museums have magnificent collections of Roman mosaics and statues, Phoenician coins and jewelry, and early Arab manuscripts. Archaeological sites scattered through the country are constant reminders of the abundance of Tunisia's legacy. Remains of Punic ports; a Roman coliseum, aqueduct, numerous temples, and villas; and Turkish forts are all part of the country's living past.

The University of Tunis was established in 1960 under the Ministry of National Education. Entry requires passing the baccalaureate and is very selective. Most of the faculties are in the Tunis metropolitan area; others are in Sousse (medicine), Sfax (medicine), and Monastir (science). Institutes affiliated with the university also provide advanced study in public administration, management, press and communications, commerce, languages, and education.

The university, however, only represents the pinnacle of an educational system that has expanded rapidly since independence. Today, more than a million students, almost 90 percent of school-age children, attend public schools. To earn the high school baccalaureate degree they must attend at least 13 years of school and pass the qualifying exams. This achievement-oriented system results in a high literacy rate (67 percent). Concurrently, with the expansion of education, the government promoted the Arabization of instruction. Thus, many students who do not continue their educations beyond the primary level are literate in Arabic rather than French.

Commerce and Industry

The Tunisian Government has prepared a series of economic development plans aimed at raising the standard of living, diversifying agriculture, and promoting industry. Economic planning is centered on resolving Tunisia's persistent unemployment and trade deficit problems.

The largest economic sector is services, accounting for about 54 percent of GDP. Tourism, the largest source of foreign exchange, was severely affected by the Gulf War in 1991, but has since recovered. The manufacturing and industry sectors comprise 32 percent of GDP. Agriculture comprises about 14 percent.

Oil exports provide Tunisia with a large source of foreign exchange earnings. National oil production from existing fields peaked at 5.4 million tons in 1981 and now remains roughly at 3.4 million tons. Oil exploration is currently being conducted throughout the country, and involves several American firms. In 1967, the oil field at El Borma, in southern Tunisia, was established. It has 55 million tons of recoverable reserves and currently produces over three million tons. The offshore Ashtart field, in the Gulf of Gabès, produces more than 20 percent of Tunisia's annual crude oil production.

Since 1981, there have been new finds at Zarzis and El Franig-Sabria. Natural gas production is limited at present, but royalties from Algerian gas flowing through Tunisia and possible future production from the large offshore field at Miskar and several recently discovered fields promise substantial quantities of natural gas, as well as some oil.

Phosphates and some iron, fluoride, barite, lead, and zinc are also exploited. The government-owned phosphate company is the largest company in Tunisia in both number of employees and capital investment.

New industries, including textiles; paper pulp manufacture from esparto grass; a steel mill; an oil refinery; assembly plants for trucks, automobiles, and tractors; as well as the production of enriched phosphate fertilizers, have been created. An industrial complex has been developed at Gabès, based on a phosphoric acid plant, and a new port was established there in 1972. Additional fertilizer and chemical plants are being planned for the Gabès area.

Tourism is also an important foreign exchange earner for Tunisia, providing the largest source of foreign exchange earnings. Large investments in this sector from other Arab countries have led to rapid expansion of tourism infrastructure. Over 3.8 million tourists visit Tunisia annually, spending over $1 billion.

Tunisian artisans, under the leadership of L'Office National de l'Artisanat, are striving to preserve their traditional crafts, including rug making, pottery, jewelry, and iron-work.

Tunisia is meeting the challenges of economic problems and population pressures with a determination that has attracted interest from many aid-giving countries. Other than from the U.S., which has been an important source of such aid, there has been active interest in Tunisian development from Germany, Kuwait, France, Italy, Canada, Sweden, Norway, the former U.S.S.R., the People's Republic of China, Bulgaria, Belgium, and many others.

The Chambre de Commerce is at rue des Entrepreneurs, 1000 Tunis.


Tunis Air and Air France fly daily direct flights to Paris. Daily flights to Rome are provided by Tunis Air and Alitalia. Most of these flights can be coordinated with flights from Paris or Rome to New York or Washington. KLM flies weekly to Amsterdam, and Tunis Air flies there twice weekly. Several flights to Frankfurt are available on either Lufthansa or Tunis Air, and there are six weekly flights to Casablanca. Five international airports provide serviceTunis/Carthage, Monastir, Jerba, Sfax, and Tozeur.

Personal air travel from Tunis may be paid for in Tunisian dinars which have been purchased at a bank with foreign exchange. In this case, the official exchange attestation must accompany the dinar payment. Tickets may also be purchased with a check from a convertible dinar account. All airlines accept the American Express card. Some travel agencies and airlines accept other credit cards as well. Costs for short trips are about 30 percent higher than for longer flights. No direct sea transportation is available from Tunis to the U.S., but weekly sailings of large, comfortable ferries to Naples, Genoa, and Marseille are possible on Italian (Tirrenia), and Tunisian lines. Crossings take 22 to 24 hours, and reservations must be made months in advance if a vehicle is involved. Those interested can contact NAVI-TOUR, 8 rue d'Alger, Tunis, for information on the Italian and Tunisian lines.

Local transportation is crowded and only marginally satisfactory because of overcrowding and unreliable schedules and equipment. Buses travel the more heavily populated sections of Tunis, and electric trains and buses serve the outlying suburbs. Service to most areas ends by midnight.

Taxis are plentiful in Tunis but, can be almost impossible to find at certain hours and in some areas. They carry a maximum of three passengers. Fares are metered and inexpensive within the city. For a trip to the suburbs, the price should be predetermined. All the larger Tunisian cities are connected by well-kept, hardtop roads. The railroad system covers almost 1,400 miles, and serves all of the large cities; long-distance bus service also exists.


Local and long-distance telephone service is good, although occasional interruptions occur. Direct dialing is available for many international calls. Overseas calls are expensive when initiated in Tunisia, but are only about half the price if the call is made from the U.S. Telegraph service is worldwide, and also expensive. Transit time for international mail is 10 to 14 days.

Local radio stations broadcast in both French and Arabic on standard AM frequencies. There are local FM stations; one broadcasts in Arabic, another in French. A shortwave radio offers wider reception, with broadcasts from Voice of America (VOA), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and the Armed Forces Radio Service.

A few television channels broadcast in Tunisia. A domestic channel features programs mainly in Arabic. A second TV channel features 90 percent of its programming in French, following a cooperative agreement which was signed with the France II TV channel. Most of the programs are in color. An Italian channel, RAI 1, offers programming relayed from Italy. Both the Arabic-language channel and the Italian channel operate daily from the afternoon through late evening. The French-language international channel operates from 11:00 a.m. until midnight, except on weekends when it begins in the afternoon.

Only sets incorporating the PAL/SECAM system are suitable. They may be purchased locally or in Europe.

The International Herald Tribune arrives in Tunis from Paris late on the same day of publication, and is available at newsstands or by subscription. International editions of Time and Newsweek may be purchased within a few days of publication. Several French-and Arabic-language dailies are published in Tunis; daily newspapers from France are also available. The U.S. Embassy library is open to all, and facilities at the British Embassy, United States Information Service (USIS), and American Cooperative School may be used with permission.


Tunisian physicians represent almost all medical specialties. Most have received all or part of their training in France. Many do not speak English. Small private hospitals (clinics) and laboratory and X-ray facilities are available in Tunis. Many American women have their babies in Tunisia, although primiparas (first pregnancy/delivery) are strongly discouraged from delivering in Tunis.

Local pharmacies stock a wide range of French products. A number of dentists provide adequate general dental services. Currently, no orthodontists or periodontists practice in Tunis. There are no facilities for handicapped individuals. Public sanitation standards, although constantly improving, are still somewhat lower than in Western Europe. Trash and garbage are picked up daily, including Sunday, in Tunis and its suburbs. A municipal sewage system has been enlarged and made more efficient. Drinking water should be boiled.

Americans generally maintain good health in Tunisia, but diseases such as tuberculosis, intestinal infections, intestinal parasites, hepatitis, and schistosomiasis require some precautions. Raw fruits and vegetables must be properly cleaned, and raw shellfish avoided.

Malaria is present only in certain remote areas, and malaria suppressants, in most cases, are not required.

Mandatory inoculations include those for yellow fever (within six days of traveling from infected area). Recommended immunizations are for polio and diphtheria-tetanus, plus gamma globulin for hepatitis. Rabies pre-exposure immunization is also advised.

Clothing and Services

A normal Mid-Atlantic wardrobe is suitable for Tunis. Lightweight, washable clothing is worn from May through October; light woolens are recommended for the rest of the year. Winters are cold, damp, rainy, and windy, making raincoats with zip-out linings very practical. An umbrella and rain boots are also useful.

Clothing can be purchased locally, but the choice is limited and the prices are high, especially for imported clothes. French and British materials are good, and available most of the time. Although there are good seamstresses and tailors in Tunis, their work is expensive. Locally made sandals and summer shoes are comfortable and inexpensive, but not durable.

Children need few heavy winter garments. Sweaters and warm jackets are the most practical choices. A substantial wardrobe (especially of shoes) is advised.

Meat, poultry, fish, excellent fresh vegetables, and fruit are available year round. Tunisia has no commercial frozen food industry yet, so fruits and vegetables are available only in season. Prices are set by the government and posted in the marketplace. With the exception of bread and some dairy products, which are subsidized by the government, food is as expensive as in Washington.

Pasteurized and sterilized milk, eggs, and other dairy products are available, but occasional shortages occur. Tunisian and Italian brands of sterilized milk are good and have a long shelf life. Few imported foods are sold locally; they are expensive, and supply is sporadic.

The colorful central market in downtown Tunis has hundreds of stalls where produce, meat, fish, and dairy products are sold. Pork can be purchased there and at a few other locations in the Tunis area. Smaller central markets are found in most neighborhoods. Several large chain stores offer self-service grocery facilities.

Most services are available in Tunis. Shoe repair, dry cleaning, beauty care, radio repair, etc., all are easily obtained, but some services are not up to American standards. Dry cleaning is expensive and, occasionally, clothes are damaged in the process. Few commercial laundries exist.

Domestic Help

Domestic services are available and inexpensive. Most servants speak French; few have any knowledge of English. The employer sometimes provides food, lodging, and uniforms. Local customs require additional expenses, such as daily transportation costs and holiday gratuities.

Domestics are not included in the Tunisian government's social security system, but some customs must be respected; e.g., provision for one free day a week for full-time help, and 12 days, paid vacation after one year of employment. No regulation exists for separation pay, although it is usual to give a week's salary for each year of employment.


No nonstop or direct flights are available between North America and Tunis. Air travel from the U.S. to Tunis is via Frankfurt, Paris, or Rome. Sea travel is via Marseille or Naples.

Valid passports are required for all visitors arriving in Tunisia; visas are not required for a stay of four months or less, or for nationals of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, the U.S., and certain other countries.

There are no restrictions on the importation of pets but, to avoid administrative delays, pets should accompany owners when possible. Owners of dogs and cats must provide a good health certificate, a rabies vaccination dated more than one month and less than six months before the entry date and (for dogs) a distemper certificate. Adequate veterinarian services are available in Tunis.

Religious denominations represented in Tunis are Muslim, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Jewish, and Greek and Russian Orthodox. Catholic and Protestant services are in French and English. Mass is said in English at St. Jeanne d'Arc Church, located near the U.S. Embassy. St. George's Church, in the medina, is Anglican and holds Sunday services in English. Jewish services are conducted every Friday and Saturday at the Grand Synagogue, 43 avenue de la Liberté.

The time in Tunisia is Greenwich Mean Time plus one hour. The official currency is the dinar, divided into 1,000 millimes. Among the foreign banks represented by branches are Bank of America and Citibank. Tunis is the main financial center. The metric system of weights and measures is used.

Special Note: Visitors to Tunisia will find no restrictions on travel within the country, but care must be exercised in visiting certain frontier regions.


Jan.1 New Year's Day

Jan. 18 Revolution Day

Mar. 20 Independence Day

Mar. 21 Youth Day

Apr. 9 Martyr's Day

May 1 Labor Day

July 25 Republic Day

Aug. 13 Women's Day

Oct. 15 Evacuation Day

Nov. 7 Commemoration

Hijra New Year*

Id al-Adah*


Id al-Fitr*

Mawlid an Nabi*



The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Crowther, Geoff, and Hugh Findlay. Morocco, Algeria, & Tunisia: A Travel Survival Kit. Berkeley, CA: Lonely Planet, 1989.

Dixon, Mary. Tunisia. Let's Visit Places and Peoples of the World Series. New York: Chelsea House, 1988.

Fox, Mary Virginia. Tunisia. Chicago: Childrens Press, 1990.

Hopwood, Derek. Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia: The Tragedy of Longevity. New York: St. Martin Press, 1992.

Moudoud, Ezzeddine. The State & Regional Dispurity in Developing Countries: Tunisia in Historical Perspective. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1988.

Nelson, Harold D., ed. Tunisia: A Country Study. 3rd ed. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1988.

Rogerson, Barnaby. Tunisia. Chester, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1991.

Tunisia: Crossroads of the Islamic & European Worlds. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1986.

Woodward, Jerome. The City of Tunis. Clifton, NJ: Kingston Press, 1990.

Zartman, I. William, ed. Tunisia: the Political Economy of Reform. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1991.

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Republic of Tunisia
Al-Jumhuriyah at-Tunisiyah



Situated in northern Africa, Tunisia is bordered by Algeria on the west and Libya on the southeast and by the Mediterranean Sea on the north, where it has a coastline of 1,148 kilometers (713 miles). Tunisia has an area of 163,610 square kilometers (63,169 square miles), making it slightly larger than the state of Georgia. Its capital city of Tunis is located on the country's northern coastline.


Tunisia's population was estimated at 9,593,402 in 2000, compared with 8,790,000 in the 1994 census. In 2000 the birth rate was 17.38 births per 1,000 population while the death rate was 4.98 deaths per 1,000 population. The population is expected to reach 11.2 million by 2015 with a projected annual population growth rate of 1.17 percent.

The Tunisian population is almost entirely of Arab descent (98 percent). Europeans make up 1 percent of the population, and Jewish and other ethnic groups make up the rest. Tunisia's population is young: 30 percent of the people are below the age of 14, and only 6 percent are older than 65. The population is increasingly concentrated along the eastern coast, with 43 percent either living in the capital city or on the mid-eastern and northeastern coasts. There has been a large population shift from the countryside to the cities due to increased job opportunities in the urban areas; since 1984, 86 new towns have been created.

Tunisia was the first Arab country to initiate nationwide birth-control programs. Since the creation of the Department of Family Planning and Population in 1966, the birth rate has fallen sharply, from 3 percent in 1966 to 1.17 percent in 2000. This drop is the result of an increase in the standard of living, widespread access to education, and improved health care. The number of women who are entering the labor force increased by 12 percent in 2000, and women's rights are actively promoted.


When Tunisia achieved its independence from France in 1956, a 1-party state was established by President Habib Bourguiba. During his 31-year tenure, economic policy focused on state ownership and high levels of protection from outside competition. At this time the economy was based primarily on agriculture, oil, and phosphates. Although this degree of government control led to inefficiency and waste, the economy remained stable due to revenue from the export of oil and phosphates during the 1960s and 1970s. The collapse of the price of oil in the 1980s meant that Tunisia could no longer rely on oil as its principal source of foreign exchange. Tunisia's agricultural and tourism sectors deteriorated simultaneously. Under advice from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Tunisia promptly adopted a 3-pronged program of structural adjustment: to reduce the size of the public sector , to reduce tariff barriers, and to create a stable macroeconomic climate.

Following the adoption of the adjustment program in 1986, the Tunisian economy has shifted from being largely state-controlled to being based on market principles. The economy is now diverse, with a large services sector, a healthy tourism industry, and a growing manufacturing sector. Despite these improvements, the Tunisian government is still faced with a serious unemployment problem. In 2001, there were 480,000 unemployed Tunisians, or 15.4 percent of the workforce.

As the economy improved, the amount Tunisia received in Official Development Assistance more than halved, from US$559 million in 1990 to US$278 million in 1995. Since 1996, the European Union has been the main source of assistance, with France, Italy, and Germany as the main donors. Tunisia's external debt remains high, having risen from US$3.5 billion in 1980 to US$11.078 billion in 1998. Most of this debt is owed to private creditors, and the Tunisian government has issued international bonds (financial notes promising repayment of a given amount by a given date, plus interest).


After gaining independence from France on 25 March 1956, Tunisia became a republic headed by President Habib Bourguiba, who promptly assumed the title, "president for life." Since his ascension to office, Tunisia has been largely a 1-party state. The president's left-wing party, the Socialist Destourien Party (PSD), is dominated political life and punished its opponents with censorship and imprisonment. The 1960s saw a short-lived socialist experiment that finally gave way to increased economic liberalization in the 1970s under the influence of Prime Minister Hedi Nouira. By the middle of the 1980s, the state started to face serious problems as the ailing Bourguiba became increasingly unable to effectively rule the country. Bourguiba's presidency was marked by serious economic instability towards the end of the 1980s, followed by serious civil unrest. A party called the Islamic Movement (MTI), an effective organization with a large base of support, challenged the government's stability. In response to this movement, the president appointed General Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, a former head of the security services, to be the minister of the interior. His main task was to dismantle the MTI. Following thousands of arrests and the successful dismantling of the MTI, the president appointed Ben Ali the prime minister.

According to the terms of the Tunisian Constitution and based on the opinion of a team of medical doctors who declared Bourguiba unfit to govern, Prime Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali assumed the duties of president on 7 November 1987. Ben Ali started to dismantle the old oppressive regime by allowing increased freedom of the press, releasing political prisoners, and legalizing political parties. The PSD party was renamed the Rassemblement Constitutionnel Democratique (RCD) and legislation was passed implementing a multi-party system. Today there are 6 legal opposition parties in Tunisia, but most of them lack the necessary resources to be effective, and they are still prohibited from criticizing government policies. President Ben Ali's government has brought with it economic and political stability, focusing extensively on health care, women's rights, and education. Despite these reforms, Tunisia is still essentially a 1-party state.

The principle source of revenue for the Tunisian government is taxation. According to the EIU Country Profile, more than 50 percent of government revenues come from direct taxation and 40 percent from domestic or foreign borrowing. In 2000, the corporate rate of taxation in Tunisia was set at 35 percent, except for those businesses involved in the fishing, agriculture, or handi-craft industries, which are taxed at a 10 percent rate. Normal business expenditures such as depreciation (the decline in value of a physical asset as it is used over time), social security contributions, and costs are deductible. Due to generous government incentives, exporting businesses are exempt from all major taxes in Tunisia. Personal income tax is paid on a progressive basis ranging from 15 to 35 percent. Non-residents have to pay tax only on income earned from Tunisian sources. There is a 17 percent value-added tax (VAT) on sales that is applicable to most items and transactions.


Since 1995 the Tunisian government has invested heavily in the country's infrastructure . There are 20,000 kilometers (12,428 miles) of good-quality roads linking all parts of the country; 18,226 kilometers (11,326 miles) of these roads are paved. Having such roads is a considerable feat given that Tunisia is a large country with differing and often inhospitable terrain. There is only 1 modern highway in the country, but a second (from Tunis to Bizerte) is under construction and is expected to be completed by 2002. After 1996, there was a rapid growth in the number of licensed vehicles, which has led to heavy congestion and pollution. The government has made plans to modernize the railway system that is operated by a company called SNCFT. The railways have traditionally transported phosphates and fertilizers, although the number of passengers has been increasing by about 5 percent a year. Still, the SNCFT ran at a loss throughout 2000. There are a total of 2,168 kilometers (1,347 miles) of rail lines in the country.

There are 6 international airports in Tunisia: Tunis-Carthage, Monastir-Skanes, Jerba-Zarzis, Tozeur-Nefta, Tabarka, and Gafsa. The national airline, Tunisair, flies to many European and Middle Eastern countries with the exception of Israel. In turn, most European and Middle Eastern carriers fly into Tunis. The Tunis-Carthage airport has a capacity of 4.5 million passengers a year. There are 8 commercial seaports and 22 smaller ports within Tunisia, known for their inefficient customs officers and bad links to railways and roads.

Tunisians receive their electricity from the state-owned company, Société Tunisienne de l'Electricité et du Gaz (STEG), which can produce 1,974 megawatts of power at full capacity. More than 90 percent of the country's electricity is generated by this company. There are 29 radio stations and 19 television stations. Telecommunications services in Tunisia are poor, rates are high, and Internet use is not common. According the EIU Country Profile 2000, the country had only 30,000 Internet users at the beginning of 1999 and only 2 government-controlled Internet service providers.


The Tunisian economy is a diverse one with services contributing 60 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 1998 and industry contributing 28 percent. In the 1960s and 1970s, when there was heavy state control, oil and phosphates were central to the economy. These sectors have diminished in importance since the 1980s with increases in the manufacturing of textiles and

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Tunisia 31 223 198 N/A 4 3.4 14.7 0.06 30
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
Egypt 40 324 122 N/A 1 0.5 9.1 0.28 200
Libya 14 233 126 0.0 3 N/A N/A 0.00 7
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

electrical equipment. The agricultural industry employs nearly a quarter of the labor force, but its output is dependent upon the weather; during drought years this sector's contribution to GDP can fall from 16 percent to 12 percent, the contribution in 1998.


Agricultural output is central to the Tunisian economy, accounting for 12 to 16 percent of the GDP, depending on the size of the harvest. This sector provided jobs for 22 percent of the country's labor force in 1998.The 2 most important export crops are cereals and olive oil, with almost half of all the cultivated land sown with cereals and another third planted with more than 55 million olive trees. Tunisia is one of the world's biggest producers and exporters of olive oil, and it exports dates and citrus fruits that are grown mostly in the northern parts of the country. The center of the country is used largely to raise cattle, the Sahel region is famous for its olive groves, and the southern part of the country is known for its date production. Tunisia remains one of the few Arab countries which is self-sufficient in dairy products, vegetables, and fruit and almost self-sufficient in red meat. Since the 1980s, agricultural output has increased by about 40 percent, and exports of food have risen considerably. At the beginning of 2000 the government entered into talks with the European Union seeking a free-trade agreement for its agricultural goods. The remainder of Tunisia's agricultural production consists of several smaller export products including tomatoes, peppers, artichokes, melons, onions, potatoes, sugar beets, almonds, apricots, and wine.

Tunisia's labor-intensive agricultural sector uses very low levels of fertilizers and pesticides. Because farms are not highly mechanized, plowing a field may take 5 times longer than in the United States. Most of the land is split into very small farms making production much less efficient. Some 80 percent of farms are smaller than 20 hectares, and only 3 percent are larger than 50 hectares. Transportation and storage facilities are poor, leading to high levels of waste. Severe droughts, like the one experienced in 2000, have proven to be enormously costly.

Annual agricultural production can vary significantly from year to year due to Tunisia's unpredictable and largely irregular rainfall patterns. Almost all of Tunisia's water is used in irrigation, and the government is seeking more efficient methods that will conserve water. Its national plan aims to increase water resources from 2.1 to 3.5 cubic meters billion per year by building 21 large dams, 203 hillside dams, 547 reservoirs, and 1,580 deep wells by the end of 2001.

The fishing industry employs 25,000 people and catches an average of 93,000 tons of fish a year. However, coastal fishing has declined dramatically since 1995 due to pollution and the depletion of fish stocks. Fish is Tunisia's second most important food export after olive oil, and the government has made strong efforts to improve processing and storage facilities in order to match European standards. The government has also invested heavily in the upgrading of its ports and the improvement of its fleets.



The production of oil in Tunisia began in 1966 when 2 main oil fields in the southern part of the country were tapped: El Borma and Ashtart. Over the years, many smaller oil fields have been discovered, and by 2000 there were 28 known oil deposits. In 1999, just over 4 million tons of crude oil was produced, and it is estimated that Tunisia has 55 million tons (400 million barrels) of total oil reserves. In spite of the fact that Tunisia has fairly small oil reserves compared with those of other countries in the region, overseas companies still consider it worth the risk to prospect for oil because the tax laws are favorable to even the smallest of discoveries. In 1999 more than US$100 million was invested in exploration, with some 40 separate explorations being carried out in 2000. Petroleum products, such as motor fuels, fuel oil, and liquefied petroleum, are not being produced to full capacity because of the small size of the state-owned refinery at Bizerte on the northern coast.


Prior to 1966, gas was largely imported via the TransMediterranean pipeline that transports Algerian gas to Italy. In that year, British Gas invested US$600 million into the Miskar field in the Gulf of Gabés, a site that produced 168 million cubic feet of gas per day in 2000, a figure that was forecast to rise to 230 million in 2001. Given plans by British Gas to invest an additional US$450 million in 2001, it is likely that this industry will continue to grow and become increasingly important.


Tunisia is one of the world's largest producers of phosphates, which are found mainly in mines in the southern part of the country. Private-sector activity is limited in this industry which is dominated by the state-owned Compagnie des phosphates de Gafsa. A reduction in exports, falling world gas prices, and rising labor costs led to financial difficulties within the company in the mid-1990s, but it recovered with the upturn in world prices. In 1999, about 8 million tons of phosphates were produced. Tunisia also has reserves of other important minerals including iron ore, lead, zinc, and sea salt. The production of iron ore has been steadily declining since 1993 as reserves neared depletion.


Manufacturing accounts for 20 percent of Tunisia's GDP and employs 20 percent of the country's labor force in 5 different sectors: textiles, food processing, mechanical and electrical industries, construction materials, and chemicals. Almost one-third of the manufacturing sector is involved in the production of textiles, a sector that grows an average of 6 percent a year. In 1999 the textile industry accounted for 6.7 percent of the GDP. Some 1,800 firms are involved in textile production, 700 of which are partly or totally owned by foreign companies. Textile exports were valued at more than 3 billion Tunisian dinars in 1999, a figure equal to 23 percent of total exports; however, the sector is heavily dependent on Europe for its raw materials and faces the challenge of increased competition from Asia.

Manufacturing overall continues to perform better than any other sector, having grown an average of 5.2 percent a year since the early 1990s. However, product quality is variable, and much of the labor force is under-skilled. Manufacturing is dependent upon imports of raw materials, spare parts, and capital goods and is challenged by increasing competition within its European export markets. Tunisia signed an association agreement with the European Union in 1995 which will lead to free trade in industrial goods with Europe by 2008. In 1996, the government initiated a project aimed at industrial modernization.



Employing 270,00 people, the tourism sector is of vital importance to the Tunisian economy, contributing 6.2 percent to the GDP each year and 16 percent to foreign exchange earnings. In 1999 Tunisia welcomed 4,832,000 tourists, three-quarters of whom were French, German, Italian, or British. In the wake of the Gulf War (1990-91) the number of tourists fell sharply, and in 1995 there was a brief downturn due to an economic decline in the European Union. The sector has been growing steadily since that date. Important Tunisian tourist destinations include the historic site of Carthage and the many locations in the desert where the film Star Wars was shot.

The government has identified the need to attract tourists from Central and Eastern Europe. Development has slowly started to expand beyond the principal resort areas, and more moderately priced restaurants are beginning to open. Tunisia is becoming increasingly popular as a multi-seasonal destination because of its range of climactic conditions, its popular skiing resorts, and its attractive beaches. It still remains heavily dependent on the European market. Compared to the rest of north Africa, revenue per tourist remains fairly low: US$340 compared with US$468 in Morocco and US$850 in Egypt (all 1999 figures). This low amount is mostly due to the lack of opportunities for tourists to spend their money.


The financial-services industry is largely regulated by the Central Bank of Tunisia. In 1999 there were 8 development banks, 2 merchant banks, 13 commercial banks, and 8 offshore banks . The banking system continues to be highly inefficient, holding large amounts of debt. In 2001 the sector is planning to open itself up to foreign competition following agreements signed with the European Union and the World Trade Organization.

The financial markets in Tunisia are composed of a semi- privatized stock exchange (partly owned by the government and partly owned by the private sector) known as the Bourse des Valeurs Mobiliéres (BVM), plus various bond and stock/bond funds. The government opened the BVM in 1990 primarily to encourage foreign investment, but it has not succeeded in its aim due to the overvaluation of stock, illiquidity (unavailability of hard money), and a lack of investor confidence. In response, the government privatized the managing company, BVM, and set up a state-controlled watchdog, a central share depository, and a guarantee fund. In 2001, there were 23 mutual funds, 87 investment funds, and 25 risk capital funds totaling US$1.24 billion.


In the 1960s and 1970s, Tunisia's chief exports were oil and mining products; after the 1980s, the chief exports became manufactured or processed goods. The export of textiles grew significantly in the 1990s and amounted to 43 percent of total exports in 1999. Olive oil, chemicals, shoes, and leather goods are also increasingly important exports. Given that the manufacturing industry is the largest, many intermediate goods such as textiles, machinery, and electrical equipment are needed in the process, and these materials have to be imported. The European Union, Tunisia's principal trading partner, buys 81 percent of Tunisian exports and provides 71 percent of its imports. France alone accounted for 26.3 percent of total Tunisian trade in 1999.

Tunisia has kept substantial large external trade deficits that have amounted to over US$2 billion since 1995. In 1999 the trade deficit stood at US$2.5 billion on exports of US$5.8 billion and imports of US$8.3 billion. These serious deficits are due to 5 main causes: a sharp drop in traditional exports such as crude oil and phosphates; Tunisia's need to import most of its capital equipment; the practice of converting raw and semi-processed imports into end products for re-export ; long-standing deficits in energy and agricultural trade balances; and an increase in disposable income that has led to a surge in the number of imports of consumer goods .

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Tunisia
Exports Imports
1975 .856 1.424
1980 2.198 3.540
1985 1.738 2.757
1990 3.526 5.542
1995 5.475 7.903
1998 5.750 8.338
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.
Exchange rates: Tunisia
Tunisian dinars (TD) per US$1
Jan 2001 1.3753
2000 1.4667
1999 1.1862
1998 1.1387
1997 1.1059
1996 0.9734
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

Tunisia took steps toward free trade by joining the World Trade Organization (WTO) and by signing an association agreement with the European Union in July, 1995. Tunisia will have to increase its exports and put an end to its trade deficit, a daunting task given that Tunisian exports have very low value-added status (increase in the market value of a product at a particular stage of production). Plans are underway to solve this problem by encouraging the domestic manufacture of intermediate goods that Turkey is forced to import in order to produce goods for export. The government has implemented several measures to ease this process, such as doing away with the red tape that hampers exports and allowing exporters improved access to credit.


The goal of the Tunisian central bank is to maintain a stable dinar so that the economy can function competitively abroad. Since the end of 1995 the government has gradually devalued the dinar against the U.S. dollar, French franc, Italian lira, and German mark to help Tunisian exporters be competitive abroad. In July 2000 US$1 was equal to 1.186 Tunisian dinars, and 1 EU euro was equal to 1.265 Tunisian dinars.

In 1996 a foreign exchange crisis occurred when Tunisia's foreign-currency reserves fell to alarmingly low levels. This problem was an important reason for the adoption of the IMF structural adjustment program . Since 1995 foreign reserves have fluctuated between US$1.6-2.2 billion and in January 2000 rose to an all-time high of US$2.3 billion.


The distribution of income in Tunisia, like that in many developing countries, is quite unequal. The top 20 percent of the people in Tunisia earn 46.3 percent of the country's total income while the 20 percent at the bottom of the scale earn only 5.9 percent of income. The majority of wealthy Tunisians live in Tunis and are able

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Tunisia 1,373 1,641 1,771 1,823 2,283
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
Egypt 516 731 890 971 1,146
Nigeria 301 314 230 258 256
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.

to purchase the most expensive imported goods from up-scale shops. Still, unlike many less developed capitals in the Middle East, there is a real sense of community in Tunis and a desire to create an egalitarian society.

When President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali came into office in 1987, about 22 percent of the Tunisian population was living below the poverty line, impelling him to declare an all-out war on poverty in his inaugural speech. In 1992 he created the National Solidarity Fund whose goal was to promote 1,144 disadvantaged regions throughout the country, at an estimated cost of US$500 million. Since 1996, more than US$300 million has already been raised. Created in 1998, the Tunisian Solidarity Bank has also offered thousands of micro-credit loans (loans of very small amounts to help get a small business started, for example) to young graduates and small business owners.

Currently, the 6 percent of the population who are under the poverty line receive heavy subsidies from the government. Tunisia's first involvement with the World Bank in 1960, an education project, is testimony to the country's commitment toward the reduction of poverty and the redistribution of wealth. Various indicators also show a substantial improvement in the living standards of all Tunisians over the past 20 years. Average life expectancy increased from 67 in 1984 to 72.4 years in 1999. The annual rate of population growth dropped from 1.7 percent in 1994 to 1.1 percent in 2000. The per capita income

Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Tunisia
Lowest 10% 2.3
Lowest 20% 5.9
Second 20% 10.4
Third 20% 15.3
Fourth 20% 22.1
Highest 20% 46.3
Highest 10% 30.7
Survey year: 1990
Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

increased from 952 dinars in 1986 to 2,644 dinars in 1999.


In 1999 the labor force stood at 3.3 million, a substantial increase from the 1995 figure of 2.84 million. Some 22 percent of the labor force is employed in agriculture, 23 percent in industry, and 55 percent are in services. The public sector employs around 25 percent of the labor force. The official unemployment rate in 2000 was 15.4 percent, leaving the number of people without a job at 480,000. It is likely that the real rate of unemployment is significantly higher than the official figure, with some estimates putting it as high as 20 or 25 percent. About half of the unemployed are under the age of 25, many of whom are unskilled. The country has a national literacy rate of over 70 percent, and about 90 percent of the workforce under the age of 35 is literate. Although job-training programs and secondary educational institutions produce many skilled workers, many young people still cannot expect to find jobs with high-paying salaries. According to the EIU Country Profile, 70,000 jobs will need to be created outside agriculture to create full employment . There is also a large underground

Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Tunisia 28 8 8 3 12 8 34
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
Egypt 44 9 7 3 17 3 17
Libya N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
aExcludes energy used for transport.
bIncludes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

economy whose production is estimated at 15 percent of the GDP, and in which workers have no legal protections against adverse working conditions.

According to law, Tunisian workers have the right to form labor unions, and about 30 percent of the work-force is unionized. There is 1 national labor confederation, the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), to which all unions belong. Wages and working conditions are agreed upon through collective bargaining between the UGTT and the employers' association, and these agreements apply to about 80 percent of the public sector. The Labor Code sets a standard 48-hour workweek for most sectors and requires one 24-hour rest period. The industrial minimum wage is 170 dinars (US$155) per month for a 48-hour workweek and 149 dinars (US$136) for a 40-hour workweek. The agricultural minimum wage is 5.20 dinars (US$4.74) per day. The law prohibits forced child labor and sets the minimum age for employment in manufacturing at 16 years. The minimum age for light work in agriculture and some other non-industrial sectors is 13 years. The law also requires children to attend school until age 16.


1574. Tunisia becomes part of the Ottoman Empire.

1705. Husseinite Dynasty is established.

1881. French Protectorate is established on 12 May 1881. Anti-colonial resistance, led mostly by the Neo-Destour party, persists for most of the 75 years of French domination.

1956. Independence from France is declared on 20 March.

1957. The Republic of Tunisia is proclaimed. Habib Bourguiba becomes the first president on 25 July.

1959. The first Constitution of the Republic of Tunisia is adopted on 1 June.

1960. First Tunisian project is funded by the World Bank.

1963. The French evacuate Bizerta, their last base in the country.

1966. The production of oil begins.

1986. The International Monetary Fund's Structural Adjustment Program is adopted.

1987. Prime Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali succeeds the ailing President Bourguiba.

1990. Tunisia becomes a member of GATT.

1994. President Ben Ali is re-elected and an opposition party accedes to Parliament for the first time.

1995. Tunisia becomes the first country south of the Mediterranean to sign an association free-trade agreement with the European Union.

1995. Tunisia joins the WTO.

1998. The Tunisian Solidarity Bank starts to offer thousands of micro-credit loans to young graduates and small businesses.

1999. After the first-ever contested presidential elections, President Ben Ali is re-elected to a third term by an overwhelming majority. The Democratic Constitutional Rally keeps its majority in the Chamber of Deputies, but the opposition gains 20 percent of the 182 seats. The number of women in Parliament increases to 21.


The international community recognizes that Tunisia has made serious and successful attempts at economic reform. As of 2000 more than 800 foreign companies were investing in the country. The World Bank has recommended that Tunisia speed up the sales of its publicly-owned companies, but this process has been overshadowed by an aggressive campaign to free up 93 percent of import-related businesses from state control and a major regional free-trade agreement. Having become a member of the World Trade Organization, Tunisia has also shown its serious commitment to free trade. Although Tunisia has moved somewhat slowly, especially in the telecommunications sector, the reforms that it has undertaken since 1990 have been far-reaching. Currently, Tunisia needs to concentrate on privatization to ensure continued and increased efficiency.


Tunisia has no territories or colonies.


Economist Intelligence Unit. Country Profile: Tunisia. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 2000.

McMahon, Janet. "Tunisia: Progress through Moderation." Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. <>. Accessed July 2001.

Morrisson, Christine, and Talbi Bechir. Long-Term Growth in Tunisia. OECD, 1996.

Salem Norman. Habib Bourguiba and the creation of Tunisia. London: Croom Helm, 1984.

Tunisie: Site du Gouvernement .<>.Accessed May 2001.

Tunisia Online. <>. Accessed May 2001.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook 2000. <>. Accessed July 2001.

U.S. Department of State. FY 2000 Country Commercial Guide: Tunisia. <>. Accessed May 2001.

World Bank. Republic of Tunisia: Towards the 21st Century. 2 vols. Report No. 14375 TUN. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 1995.

World Bank. World Development Report 2000. Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2000.

Salamander Davoudi




Tunisian dinar (TD). One Tunisian dinar equals 1,000 millimes. The notes in circulation are 5, 10, 20, and 30 dinars, and there are coins of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 500 millimes, and 1 dinar.


Textiles, machinery, electrical equipment, phosphates, chemicals, olive oil, hydro-carbons.


Textiles, mechanical and electrical equipment, vehicles, petroleum and derivatives, iron and steel, plastics, cereals.


US$52.6 billion (purchasing power parity, 1999 est.).


Exports: US$5.750 billion (1998). Imports: US$8.338 billion (1998).

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Tunisia
Region (Map name): Africa
Population: 9,705,102
Language(s): Arabic, French
Literacy rate: 66.7%
Area: 163,610 sq km
GDP: 19,462 (US$ millions)
Number of Television Stations: 26
Number of Television Sets: 920,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 94.8
Number of Radio Stations: 29
Number of Radio Receivers: 2,600,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 267.9
Number of Individuals with Computers: 219,100
Computers per 1,000: 22.6
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 100,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 10.3

Background & General Characteristics

Like Algeria and Morocco, Tunisia inherited the structure and characteristics of its press from the French. A protectorate within the former French colonial empire of North Africa between 1881 and 1956, Tunisia absorbed much of the cultural and intellectual traditions imposed upon it over the span of three generations. The colonial Tunisian press began in 1889 with the founding of Le Petit Tunisien and followed the traditional French model: all newspapers were highly editorialized and represented the official position of the government. Independent views were discouraged and nationalistic sentiments muzzled, and in 1933 French officials closed down all newspapers and periodicals suspected of disseminating autonomist views. All that remained were newspapers destined for the colonial residents and the Tunisian cultural elite. When it gained its independence in 1956, Tunisia retained almost the same press structure. For the next 20 years, it made the transition from colony to autonomous statehood under the authoritarian leadership of President Bourguiba, once a journalist with the suppressed nationalist daily La Voix du Tunisien.

In 2002 there were seven major daily newspapers in Tunisia, all of them published in Tunis, the capital, and owned either directly by the state as a public corporation (L'Action, Al Amal, and La Presse ) or privately owned but openly pro-government. It is worth noting that Arabic-language dailies have often represented a reforming, nationalistic trend against French language and culture in the former French colonies of North Africa. Nevertheless, most of the Arabic-language dailies published in Tunis (El Horria, Essahafa, Assabah ) are the translated versions of French-language newspapers (Le Renouveau,La Presse, and Le Temps ) and are owned by them. Ironically, the most widely read daily is now the Arabic-language Ach Chourouk, with a circulation of 110,000. The lack of even one major opposition newspaper has been a recurring argument for those who maintain that freedom of the press has not yet become a reality in Tunisia.

In terms of circulation, the most important Tunisian newspapers are:

  • Al Chourouk, in Arabic, circulation 110,000
  • L'Action (1932), in French, circulation 50,000
  • Al Amal (1934), in Arabic, circulation 50,000
  • Assabah (1951), in Arabic, circulation 50,000
  • La Presse (1936), in French, circulation 40,000
  • Le Temps (1975), in French, circulation 42,000
  • Le Renouveau, in French, circulation 23,000

L'Action and its Arabic edition Al Amal are the official newspapers of the largest, pro-government political party in Tunisia, the Rassemblement Constitutionnel Démocratique (RCD). It is the new name for the old Parti Socialiste Destourien (PSD), which holds 148 seats in the house of representatives, the Tunisian Chambre des Députés, against 34 seats belonging to a moderate opposition.

For a population of 9,705,102 (2002), a GDP of 62.6 billion (2000), and a literacy rate of 67 percent, Tunisia has an aggregate daily newspaper circulation of 375,000 (circulation per 1,000: 26). It publishes a total of 22 daily newspapers and consumes 12,500 metric tons of news-print every year. It also publishes over 210 national periodicals (weekly and monthly), with an aggregate circulation of 900,000 and oversees the distribution of more than 700 foreign magazines and newspapers throughout the country.

Economic Framework

The majority of Tunisian newspapers rely on government subsidies for their economic survival. The Tunisian government also pays for the publication of official announcements and the purchase of equipment and news-print. These subsidies are distributed to pro-government and opposition newspapers alike, and a presidential decree (April 10, 1999) stipulated the amount of yearly official subsidies allotted to the newspapers published by the opposition parties. What could be interpreted as an unusual democratic generosity represents in fact a subtle, but effective control of the opposition's newspapers, as it erodes their ability to provide alternate viewpoints or articulate any real criticism of government policies.

Press Laws

Tunisia inherited from its former French colonial occupant a political structure and a cultural environment that permits the censorship of the press for the purpose of preserving public order. The French government instituted the first press codes during its colonial protectorate in Tunisia (1881-1956) and never hesitated to muzzle the press or to shut down nationalistic publications. After Tunisia gained its independence in 1956, similar press codes remained in effect under the 21-year, single-party regime of President Habib Bourguiba. The leader of Tunisia in 2002, President Zine Ben Ali, was once its former chief of military intelligence. After assuming power in 1987 (and being re-elected in 1994 and 1999, Ben Ali took a personal interest in the country's press code. It was amended twice, in August 1988 and August 1993. Then, on the occasion of the celebration of the International Freedom of the Press Day (May 3, 2000), President Ben Ali convened a meeting with government officials, journalists and newspapers editors for the purpose of developing suggestions and guidelines to reform the press code. According to official sources, the meeting was called by the president to "improve the performance of the media in general." Ben Ali thus castigated Tunisian editors and journalists: "Every morning I find your newspapers on my desk and I have to say that I do not find anything interesting to read any more." When his guests explained that the timidity of the Tunisian press was due to the self-imposed censorship and prior restraint required of all newspapers by the Ministry of Information, Ben Ali replied: "Write as you see fit. Be critical, as long as what you say is true. Please write, and if anyone ever bothers you, just contact me!"

The president's encouragement for truth and boldness in the press has failed to impress a number of outside observers. They routinely complain that the Tunisian press walks the party line and dares not criticize government policies or even report instances of corruption or incompetence on the part of public officials.

The latest reform of the press code was officially adopted by the Tunisian House of Representatives on April 30, 2001, by a vote of 176 yes, 6 abstentions, and no dissensions. While the new code still prescribes prison terms and fines for "sedition and the spreading of false news," it removes the crime of "slander against the public order," (article 51) which had been used in the past as a vague and standard charge against opposition journalists. It also requires editors to hire at least 50 percent of their staff from candidates holding advanced degrees in journalism and lessens the length of time a newspaper can be suspended from six to three months (article 73). Freedom of the press and freedom of speech were also re-affirmed in the recent constitutional reform adopted by a vast majority of voters in the referendum of May 26, 2002 (article 5).


As with other countries of Northern Africa, one should maintain a sense of perspective when dealing with censorship and the freedom of the press, especially when the frame of reference is a Western point of view. According to "Reporters Without Borders," the "Committee to Protect Journalists," and the "Committee for the Defense of Liberties and Human Rights in Tunisia (CRLDH)," three watchdog organizations located outside of Tunisia, newspapers and periodicals representing the views of political and religious minorities are routinely suspended, fined, and otherwise prohibited. Journalists have also been harassed and even brutalized by plain-clothes Tunisian police. Al Tariq Al Jahid, an opposition newspaper, was seized in March of 2001, while Hamma Hammami, publisher of the Tunisian Communist Workers' Party newspaper, El Badil, was sentenced on February 3, 2002, to nine years in prison for "spreading false news, and inciting rebellion." (The sentence was later reduced on appeal to a three-year term.) Still, Tunisia is not a dictatorship where editors are threatened and journalists tortured, as is the case in several countries of the region. Actual censorship of the press is infrequent, since most journalists and editors choose to operate within the guidelines established by the Tunisian government.

News Agencies

Tunisian newspapers rely on two international press agencies: Agence France-Presse (AFP) and the Associated Press (AP). They also use the Maghreb Arabe Press (MAP), and the state-owned Tunisian press agency Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP), located in Tunis.

Broadcast & Electronic News Media

The Internet is operated by a single Internet service provider (ISP), and now reaches over 110,000 users in Tunisia. The government sponsors an official Web site, Radio broadcasting has considerably extended its coverage since it first began to transmit in 1936. Today there are 7 AM, 20 FM and 2 short-wave stations in Tunisia, including the national (RT) and international (RTCI) stations, reaching 2.06 million radio sets. In 2001 there were 26 television stations and 920,000 television sets in the country. An increasing number of national newspapers now have an online version available on the Internet (La Presse, Le Renouveau, Essahafa, Al Horria ), as do the country's most prominent monthly magazines (Réalités, L'Economiste Maghrébin, La Tunisie Economique ).

Education & Training

The Université de Tunis offers a degree in Journalism through its Institute of Press and Information Sciences (Institut de la Presse et des Sciences de l'Information, or IPSI). Continuing education is offeredto professional journalists at the Centre Africain de Perfectionnement des Journalistes et des Communicateurs (CAPJC). The number of professional journalists in Tunisia has increased by a factor of 50 percent in the last 10 years (639 in 1990 and over 1,000 in 2002), and there were 71 foreign correspondents accredited in 2001. A journalist can work legally only if he or she holds the professional journalist card delivered by the government. The profession is controlled by two pro-government organizations: the Association des Journalistes Tunisiens and the Association Tunisienne des Directeurs de Journaux, both dominated by members of the RCD ruling political party.


Tunisia has a growing, modern and professional press. However, it lacks the diversity of opinion necessary to assert itself and make it emerge from the patronizing tutelage of the government. While it is true that Tunisian authorities stifle true freedom of the press, it must also be kept in mind that the country seeks to establish itself as a pro-Western, moderate Islamic nation. The government claims that it must impose guidelines upon the press because of the threat represented by Islamic fundamentalists and radical activists. Most outside observers are not convinced by this argument. They point out that the stifling of free speech in the defense of civil liberties is a rationalization unlikely to reach its intended goals. However, the critics of the Tunisian government also find themselves in a difficult predicament. Democracy, free speech, equality under the law, and freedom of the press are western political concepts. African nations have struggled for decades to free themselves from the constraints of their colonial past. To some, freedom of the press is an imported idea unsuitable to Islamic regimes whose political structures and traditions go back more than a thousand years.


Abdelmalek, Triki. "Freedom of the Press in Tunisia." Thesis. University of Missouri-Columbia, 1989.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). World Factbook 2001. Directorate of Intelligence, 2002. Available from

Committee to Protect Journalists. Available from

Lofti M'Timet. "A Comparative Analysis of Mass Media Systems in the Maghreb: Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco." Thesis. University of Minnesota, 1986.

The Press in Tunisia. London: Article 19 (International Centre Against Censorship), 1993.

Tunisia: Attacks on the Press and Government Critics. London: Article 19 (International Centre Against Censorship), 1991.

UNESCO Statistical Yearbook UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 1999.

Eric H. du Plessis

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Tunisia (tōōnē´zhə, tyōō–), Fr. Tunisie, officially Republic of Tunisia, republic (2005 est. pop. 10,075,000), 63,378 sq mi (164,150 sq km), NW Africa. Occupying the eastern portion of the great bulge of North Africa, Tunisia is bounded on the west by Algeria, on the north and east by the Mediterranean Sea, and on the southeast by Libya. The capital and largest city is Tunis.

Land and People

Tunisia has a highly irregular coastline that affords many bays and several fine harbors, notably Bizerte, Qabis, Safaqis, and Susah. Part of the Atlas Mts. runs through N Tunisia; but, unlike Morocco and Algeria, the mountains in Tunisia rarely exceed 4,000 ft (1,219 m) in elevation. In the south, below the Chott Djerid (a great salt lake), stretches the Sahara Desert. The population, which is largely Berber and Arab, lives mainly near the coast, in urban areas. Most Tunisians are Sunni Muslims; there is a small Jewish community dating back to ancient times, although most have emigrated to Israel or France. Tunisians of all backgrounds have migrated to France in significant numbers. Arabic is the official language, but French also is spoken.


Although the mining, energy, tourism, and manufacturing sectors of the economy are important, and the country has become increasingly middle class, over half of Tunisia's workers are engaged in farming. The agricultural sector, however, accounts for less than 15% of the GDP. The leading crops are olives, wheat, barley, tomatoes, citrus, sugar beets, dates, and almonds. Livestock raising and fishing are also important. Because irrigation is inadequate, agricultural production varies widely according to rainfall.

Petroleum was found (1964) in the Sahara not far from the Algerian border, and production began in 1966; subsequent oil discoveries have increased production significantly. Recent developments in the extraction of natural gas, centered in the Gulf of Gabes, have made the country more self-sufficient. Tunisia has large phosphate reserves and iron ore is found in quantity. Zinc, lead, and salt are also mined.

Tunisia's industries (located primarily in Tunis) produce textiles, leather, steel, and foods and beverages. Tourism is also an important economic activity. Petroleum, phosphates, chemicals, textiles and clothing, and olive oil are the country's leading exports; its imports are headed by textiles, machinery and equipment, hydrocarbons, chemicals, and food (particularly cereals). France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Libya are the main trade partners.


Early History

The coast of Tunisia was settled in 10th cent. BC by Phoenicians. In the 6th cent. BC, Carthage rose to power, but it was conquered by Rome (2d cent. BC), and the region became one of the granaries of Rome. It was held by Vandals (5th cent. AD) and Byzantines (6th cent.). In the 7th cent. it was conquered by Arabs, who founded Al Qayrawan. The region became known as Ifriqiya and the Berber population was converted to Islam. Successive Muslim dynasties ruled, interrupted by Berber rebellions. The reigns of the Aghlabids (9th cent.) and of the Zirids (from 972), Berber followers of the Fatimids, were especially prosperous. When the Zirids angered the Fatimids in Cairo (1050), the latter ravaged Tunisia.

The coasts were briefly held by the Normans of Sicily in the 12th cent. In 1159, Tunisia was conquered by the Almohad caliphs of Morocco. The Almohads were succeeded by the Berber Hafsids (c.1230–1574), under whom Tunisia prospered. In the last years of the Hafsids, Spain seized many of the coastal cities, but they were recovered for Islam by the Ottoman Turks. Under its Turkish governors, the beys, Tunisia attained virtual independence. In the late 16th cent. the coast became a pirate stronghold (see Barbary States). The Hussein dynasty of beys, established in 1705, lasted until 1957.

European Influence and Nationalist Aspirations

In the 19th cent. the heavy debts that the beys had contracted gave European powers cause for intervention. France, Great Britain, and Italy took over Tunisia's finances in 1869. A number of incidents, including attacks by Tunisians on Algeria (a French possession since 1830), led to a French invasion of Tunisia. The bey was forced to sign the treaties of Bardo (1881) and Mersa (1883), which provided for the organization of a protectorate under a French resident general. The protectorate was opposed by Italy, which had economic interests and a sizable group of nationals in Tunisia. Italy's attitude grew increasingly belligerent, and, in the years immediately preceding World War I, threats of annexation were made.

A nationalist movement developed fairly quickly in Tunisia. In 1920 the Destour (Constitutional) party was organized. In 1934 a more radical faction, led by Habib Bourguiba, formed the Neo-Destour party. In World War II, Tunisia came under Vichy rule after the fall of France (June, 1940). Major battles of the war in North Africa were fought in Tunisia (see North Africa, campaigns in). After the war nationalist agitation intensified. In 1950, France granted Tunisia a large degree of autonomy. The French population in Tunisia, however, opposed further reforms, and negotiations broke down. Bourguiba was arrested (1952), and his imprisonment precipitated a wave of violence.

Tunisia since Independence

In 1955, France granted Tunisia complete internal self-government. Full independence was negotiated in 1956, and Habib Bourguiba became prime minister. The country became a republic in 1957 when the bey, Sidi Lamine, was deposed by a vote of the constituent assembly, which then made Bourguiba president. Bourguiba followed a generally pro-Western foreign policy, but relations with France were strained over Algerian independence, which Tunisia supported, and the evacuation of French troops from Tunisia. The French naval installations at Bizerte were the scene of violent confrontation in 1961; France finally agreed to evacuate them in 1963.

Relations between Tunisia and Algeria deteriorated after the latter gained its independence from France in 1962, and border disputes between the two countries were not settled until 1970. Bourguiba's support for a negotiated settlement with Israel in the Arab-Israeli conflict caused strains in its relations with other Arab countries. Domestically, Bourguiba's policies emphasized modernization and planned economic growth. An agrarian reform plan, involving the formation of cooperatives, was begun in 1962, but it was halted in 1969 due to harsh implementation and corruption.

The 1970s saw increasing conflict within the ruling Destour party between liberals and conservatives, as well as public demonstrations against the government. However, Bourguiba's socialist government enjoyed a long period of favorable relations with France and became a moderating influence in the Arab League. In 1981, Bourguiba authorized the legal formation of opposition political parties, indicating a possible shift in the direction of democracy, and multiparty legislative elections were held for the first time in 1981. By 1986, six opposition parties had legal status. Nonetheless, the 1980s were largely characterized by popular unrest and labor difficulties, as well as a search for the aging Bourguiba's successor.

In 1987, Bourguiba was ousted by Gen. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, ostensibly for reasons of senility. The new regime restored diplomatic relations with Libya and signed a treaty of economic cooperation with Libya, Algeria, Mauritania, and Morocco (see under Maghreb). Ben Ali initially moved toward liberal reforms, but after the 1989 elections, in which Islamic activists made a strong showing, he instituted repressive measures against them. During the 1994 election campaign, the government arrested political dissidents and barred the Islamic party Al Nahda from participating. Running uncontested and endorsed by all the legal opposition parties, Ben Ali drew nearly 100% of the vote.

In 1999, Ben Ali was again reelected with nearly 100% of the vote; he faced a token challenge from two opposition candidates. A constitutional amendment, approved in 2002 in a referendum by a similar margin, permitted the president to run for more than two terms. In 2004 and 2009 Ben Ali was reelected a lopsided share (94% and 89%) of the vote; he again faced only token opposition. The landslide victories of Ben Ali and the government party were marked by intimidation and credible accusations of vote-rigging.

In Dec., 2010, protests began against Ben Ali's government, sparked by the self-immolation of an unlicensed vendor who had his stall confiscated by police and fed by anger over high unemployment, rising prices, and government corruption. The demonstrations continued into the next month, and intensified after police killed a number of protesters. Ben Ali's rule collapsed in a matter of weeks, and he went into exile in Jan., 2011. He later was convicted in absentia of embezzlement and other charges.

An interim government was formed, with Fouad Mebazza, the parliament speaker, as president and Mohamed Ghannouchi remaining as prime minister. Though the cabinet included opposition members, the presence of former ruling party officials in the government was opposed by some, and the political environment remained unsettled. Ghannouchi resigned the following month and Beji Caid Essebsi succeeded him. Elections for a constituent assembly (to write a new constitution and form an interim government) were planned for July, but subsequently they were postponed to October.

The moderate Islamist Ennahda, led by Rachid Ghannouchi, won more than two fifths of seats in the assembly, with most of the rest of the seats going to several left-of-center parties and independents. Ennahda formed a coalition with secular opposition parties, and in December Moncef Marzouki of the Congress for the Republic party was elected president; Ennahda's Hamadi Jebali was appointed prime minister. Secular parties concerned over persistent Islamist violence quit the government after the Feb., 2013, assassination of Chokri Belaid, a secular politician. Ennahda refused to back Jebali's attempt to form a technocratic government, and after he resigned, Ennahda's Ali Larayedh became (March) prime minister of a new government with two secular parties; several prominent cabinet posts went to independents.

The assassination of opposition politician Mohamed Brahmi in July led to a new round of protests against the government and calls for a government of national unity. In September Ennahda agreed to talks on establishing a caretaker government and holding new elections, in October a road map for the process was finalized, and in Jan., 2014, Medhi Jomaa, a former industry minister, became caretaker prime minister. Also in January, the national assembly approved a new constitution, which reduced the powers of the president.

In the Oct., 2014, elections, Nidaa Tunis, an alliance of former Ben Ali officials, businesses, intellectuals, and unionists, won the largest number of seats, with Ennahda placing second. In the November presidential election, former interim prime minister Essebsi, the Nidaa Tunis candidate, placed first, and Marzouki second; Essebsi won the December runoff. In Feb., 2015, a government was formed that included Nidaa Tunis, Ennahda, and two additional parties, with Habib Essid as prime minister. Tunisian Islamist militants targeted tourist sites in deadly attacks (March, June) in 2015.


See W. Knapp, Tunisia (1970); H. C. Reese et al., Area Handbook for the Republic of Tunisia (1970); R. Said, Cultural Policy in Tunisia (1970); A. Marsden, British Diplomacy and Tunis, 1875–1902 (1972); D. L. Ling, Morocco and Tunisia (1979); R. I. Lawless et al., Tunisia (1982); L. Anderson, The State and Social Transformation in Tunisia and Libya, 1830–1980 (1986).

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Official name: Republic of Tunisia

Area: 163, 610 square kilometers (63,170 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Ash-Shanabī (1,544 meters/5,065 feet)

Lowest point on land: Chott el Gharsa (17 meters/56 feet) below sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 1 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 350 kilometers (217 miles) from east to west; 792 kilometers (492 miles) from north to south

Land boundaries: 1,424 kilometers (884 miles) total boundary length; Algeria 965 kilometers (600 miles); Libya 459 kilometers (285 miles)

Coastline: 1,148 kilometers (713 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Tunisia juts into the Mediterranean Sea on the northern coast of the African continent. Along with Algeria, Morocco, and the northwestern portion of Libya, Tunisia is situated in the Maghreb, a region in which fertile coastal lands give way to the Atlas Mountains of North Africa and then to the expanses of the Sahara Desert. Tunisia has a total area of 163,610 square kilometers (63,170 square miles), or slightly more than the state of Georgia.


Tunisia has no territories or dependencies.


Along the Mediterranean coast, temperatures are moderatethe average temperature is 18°C (64°F). Temperatures in the southern interior, which forms part of the Sahara Desert, are very hot. The summer season in the north (MaySeptember) is hot and dry. In the winter months (OctoberApril), the climate is mild with frequent rains. Temperatures at the capital city of Tunis range from 6°C (43°F) to 14°C (57°F) in January, and 21°C (70°F) to 33°C (91°F) in August. Rainfall reaches a high of 150 centimeters (59 inches) in the northern part of the country, while in the extreme south, yearly rainfall averages less than 20 centimeters (8 inches).


Tunisia can be divided into northern, southern, and central regions, determined in part by topography and quality of the soil and in part by the incidence of rainfall, which decreases progressively from north to south. The Mediterranean Sea influences the climate in the north, and the Sahara Desert influences the weather in the south.


The Mediterranean Sea forms Tunisia's northern and eastern borders.

Sea Inlets and Straits

In the north, the shoreline is indented by the Gulf of Tunis. Immediately to the south of Cape Bon is the Gulf of Hammamet. Farther to the south is the largest of Tunisia's gulfs, the Gulf of Gabès.

Islands and Archipelagos

Jerba and Qarqannah Islands are located in the Gulf of Gabès.

Coastal Features

The eastern shoreline is smooth and sandy, and the northern shoreline is rocky. Lagoons and salt flats fringe the narrow, gravelly coast of southern Tunisia. Cape Bon forms the southeastern shore of the Gulf of Tunis, with the coast curving sharply to the south.


Two large chotts or shatts (salt lakes) are located in Tunisia's southern region: the Chott el Djerid (the largest lake in the country) and the Chott el Gharsa (the nation's lowest point). The Chott el Djerid is dry during half the year, but it floods to form a shallow salt lake during the winter months.


The most important river system in Tunisia, the Medjerda, rises in Algeria and drains into the Gulf of Tunis. It is the only river that flows perennially; Tunisia's other watercourses fill only seasonally. In the central Tunisian steppes, occasional waterways flow southward out of the Dorsale after heavy rains, but they evaporate in salt flats without reaching the sea.


Southern Tunisia is part of the Sahara Desert. The interior of the desert is almost totally barren and uninhabited except for oases that occur along a line of springs. The Grand Erg Oriental, at the edge of the Saharan dunes, is interrupted by the flat-topped Monts des Ksour.


The western part of central Tunisia along the border with Algeria is moderately elevated and known as the High Steppes. There are many hills in the desert region of the south.


The Atlas Mountains, which begin in southwestern Morocco, terminate in northeastern Tunisia. The principal sub-mountain chain within the Atlas, the Dorsale, slants northeastward across the country from the Algerian border to Cape Bon. The country's highest point, Mount Ash-Shanabīwhich reaches 1,544 meters (5,065 feet) near the Algerian borderis part of this range; most of the peaks, however, average less than 300 meters (984 feet) and rarely exceed 1,000 meters (3,280 feet). The Dorsale is cut by several transverse depressions, among them the Kasserine (Al Qasrayn) Pass.


Tunisia's famous Roman Caves, west of ElHaouaria on the Cape Bon peninsula, are actually ancient, eroded sandstone mines that date to the sixth century b.c. The oasis of Mides is known for the canyons that border it on two sides. The canyons that form the Selja Gorge have walls as high as 200 meters (656 feet).


Northern Tunisia, a generally mountainous region that comprises about 25 percent of the country, is sometimes referred to as the Tell. It is a heavily populated area of high ground located close to the Mediterranean Sea. The region is bisected from east to west by the Medjerda River and is divided into subregions made up of the Medjerda Valley and the several portions of the Tell.

The western part of central Tunisia, along the border with Algeria, is moderately elevated and known as the High Steppes. The Tunisian portion of the Sahara Desert consists of plateaus, tablelands, and eroded hills.


Roman ruins can be found throughout the country.


El-Jem, an ancient colosseum almost as large as the one in Rome, is located on a plateau south of the capital city, Tunis. It could seat an estimated thirty thousand people.



Brown, Roslind Varghese. Tunisia. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1988.

Darke, Diana. Passport's Illustrated Travel Guide to Tunisia. Chicago: Passport Books, 1996.


Wilkinson, Stephan. "North Africa: Looking for an Oasis." Conde Nast Traveler. March 1995, p.72.

Web Sites

ArabNet: Tunisia Geography. (accessed April 17, 2003).

Lonely Planet: Tunisia. (accessed April 17, 2003).

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Country statistics


163,610sq km (63,170sq mi) 9,779,400

capital (population):

Tunis (674,100)


Multi-party republic

ethnic groups:

Arab 98%, Berber 1%,


Arabic (official), French


Sunni Muslim 99%


Dinar = 1000 millimes

Republic in n Africa. Tunisia is the smallest country in North Africa. The nw mountain ranges are a comparatively low extension of the Atlas Mountains. In the centre is a depression, containing the Chott Djerid salt lake. In the s lies part of the Sahara Desert. The fertile coastal lowlands include many fine Mediterranean ports, such as Bizerte and the capital, Tunis. Kairouan is the fourth most holy city in Islam.

Climate and Vegetation

Coastal regions have a Mediterranean climate, with dry, sunny summers and mild winters with moderate rainfall. Rainfall decreases and temperatures increase to the s. Some cork oak forests grow in the n mountains. The s plateaux are covered by steppe with coarse grasses. The Sahara is barren, except around oases.

History and Politics

By tradition, the Phoenician Queen Dido founded Carthage in 814 bc. In 146 bc, the Romans destroyed the city, and subsumed the region into the Roman Empire. In ad 640, the Arabs invaded. The Berbers slowly converted to Islam, and Arabic became the principal language. In 1159, the Almohad dynasty conquered Tunisia. From 1230 to 1574, Tunisia was ruled by the Hafsids.

Spain's capture of much of Tunisia's coast led to the intervention of the Ottoman Empire, and the rule of Turkish governors (beys) continued into the 20th century. In the 16th century, Tunisia's harbours were a refuge for Barbary pirates. In 1881, France invaded and Tunisia became a French Protectorate in 1883. French rule aroused strong nationalist sentiment, and Habib Bourguiba formed the Destour Socialist Party (PSD) in 1934.

Tunisia was a major battleground of the North Africa campaigns in World War 2. In 1956, it gained independence. In 1957, the bey was deposed and Tunisia became a republic, with Bourguiba as president. In 1975, Bourguiba was proclaimed president-for-life. He pursued a moderate foreign policy and modernizing domestic policies. The first multi-party elections were held in 1981.

In the 1980s, Bourguiba's failing health created a succession crisis and he was deposed by Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in 1987. The PSD became the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), and Ben Ali won a landslide victory in 1989 elections. He was re-elected in 1994 and 1999. The hegemony of the RCD remains a problem for its emerging democracy. In 2003, a bomb attack on a synagogue on the resort island of Djerba killed 21 people; the attack was blamed on al-Qaeda.


Tunisia is a middle-income developing country (2000 GDP per capita, US$6500). It is the world's sixth-largest producer of phosphates. It also exports crude oil. Agriculture employs 26% of the workforce. Tunisia is the world's fourth-largest producer of olives. Other major crops include barley, dates, grapes for wine-making and wheat. Fishing and livestock-raising are also important. Tourism is a vital source of foreign exchange (1999 receipts, US$1954 million). It has been an associate member of the European Union (EU) since 1969.

Political map

Physical map


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Culture Name


Alternative Names

Republic of Tunisia or Tunisian Republic. In Arabic the name of the capital, Tunis, includes the whole country. The old Roman province of Africa under the Arabs became first Ifriqiya, then later Tunisia.


Identification. Originally Tunis was a satellite town of Carthage, located about 6.2 miles (10 kilometers) inland from the Mediterranean Sea. Carthage with its port was the historic urban center in the region from the ninth century b.c.e. through the eighth century c.e. Since Carthaginian times the rural hinterland around Carthage, later Tunis, has approximately corresponded to the contemporary boundaries of Tunisia. It has sometimes been part of a larger empire, as when it was the Roman province of Africa, sometimes an independent unit, as under the medieval Hafsid dynasty, but always distinct. Today Tunisia is part of the larger Arab world, with which it shares a language and many cultural elements, including a political identification. Within this broader identity, the sense of Tunisian uniqueness remains strong.

Location and Geography. Tunisia is located in north-central Africa, between Algeria and Libya, with an area of 63,200 square miles (164,000 square kilometers). It has a lengthy Mediterranean coast and is very open to Mediterranean influences. Tunisians are a maritime people and have always maintained extensive contacts by sea with other Mediterranean countries. The main cities are all on the coast, and contemporary development, including tourism, is also concentrated on the coast. Some ecologically significant wetlands are found along the coast. From a physical and economic point of view, there is considerable variety in the country, from cork oak forests in the north to open desert in the south, but this physical variety has not produced cultural variety.

Mountains play a role in Tunisia as determiners of climatic variation and refuge for political outsiders. A chain of mountains separates the grain-producing areas of northern Tunisia from the high, dry plateau to the south, where animal husbandry dominates, and the semiarid coastal plains where olive cultivation is common. The highest point is Mount Ash-Sha'nabi, near Al-Qasrayn (Kasserine), at 5,050 feet (1,544 meters). The country is heavily dependent on rainfall, which falls mostly between September and May, and in northern Tunisia averages around 20 inches (50 centimeters) a year. The mountains in the northwest attract heavier rain and even snow in the winter. The longest river in the country is the Medjerda, which rises in Algeria and flows through Tunisia to the sea. Many drainage systems end in saline lakes. Southern Tunisia extends into the Saharan desert, and includes some notable oases; people live wherever there is water.

Demography. In the 1994 census, Tunisia's population was 8,785,711. In 2000 the population was estimated at 9.6 million with a natural increase rate of 1.6 percent. The urban population is 64 percent and tending higher. About 19 percent of the population lives in Greater Tunis. The adult literacy rate is 69 percent (58 percent for women, 80 percent for men), and the life expectancy is 70 years (69 for men, 71 for women). The per capita gross domestic product (GDP) was $2,283 (U.S.) in 1998. The United Nations Development Program's report for 2000 placed Tunisia in the middle rung of development, ranking 101st out of 174 countries.

Almost all Tunisians are Arabic-speaking Muslims. Berber languages are spoken in a few villages in southern Tunisia, and there is a small remnant of the historic Jewish population, now concentrated in Tunis and on the island of Jerba off the southern coast. Before the migration of Jews to Israel and France, most towns had a small Jewish community, and Tunis itself was 1015 percent Jewish. Neither of these minorities now reaches 1 percent.

Linguistic Affiliation. The language of Tunisia is Arabic. As elsewhere, the spoken language differs considerably from the written language. The regional dialects are tending to disappear under pressure from mass media centered in Tunis. The main second language is French. The educational system is geared to produce bilingualism in French and Arabic, with a few elite schools now focusing on English. Only a minority of Tunisians, however, are comfortable in French. Fluency in French is a status marker, and so social considerations, as well as the practical ones of an opening to the world, have impeded full Arabization. Knowledge of other European languages is largely a function of television exposure and tourism.

Symbolism. Perhaps because Tunisia is a relatively small and homogeneous country, the sense of national identity is strong. It is constantly maintained by reference to recent national history, particularly the struggle against French colonialism (18811956) and the subsequent efforts to create a modern society. The struggle was more political and tactical than violent, though there were some violent outbursts. This narrative is constantly rehearsed, in the sequence of public holidays, in the names of streets, and in the subject matter of films and television shows. The sense of difference is also reinforced by the achievements of the national football (soccer) team in international competitions.

The Tunisian flag did not change during or after the colonial period. The flag has a red star and crescent, symbolizing Islam, in a white circle in a red field. It derives from the Ottoman flag, reflecting Ottoman suzerainty over Tunisia from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Tunisia's geographical location has meant that many different peoples have entered and dominated the country. Probably the original population was Berber speaking. The parade of invaders began with the Phoenicians, who settled Carthage, used it as a trading base, and eventually entered into a losing conflict with Rome. Under the Romans, who dominated Tunisia for several centuries, Christianity also entered the country. After the decline of the Romans, the Vandals invaded from the west, followed by a Byzantine reconquest from the east. The Byzantines were replaced by Muslim Arabs from the east, but by land, in the seventh century. Tunisia has been predominantly Arabic-speaking and Muslim since then, though dynasties have come and gone. After 1574, Tunisia was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. The Spanish held parts of Tunisia briefly before the Ottomans, and the French ruled Tunisia during the colonial period from 1881 to 1956.

Tunisia was ruled by the Husseini dynasty of beys from 1705 to 1957. The beys of Tunis and their government tried to construct a modern Tunisia during the nineteenth century to fend off stronger European powers. After France took over Algeria in 1830, pressure on Tunisia grew. In 1881, the bey of Tunis accepted a French protectorate over the country. France set up a colonial administration, and facilitated the settlement in Tunisia of many French and other Europeans, mainly Italians. About a generation after the establishment of the protectorate, a nationalist movement emerged, seeking a modern and independent Tunisia. The Destour (Constitution) Party was founded about 1920, and in 1934 an offshoot known as the Neo-Destour Party became dominant under the leadership of Habib Bourguiba (19032000).

Parallel to the political movement, a strong labor movement also emerged. Usually working together, the political and labor wings struggled against French colonialism until independence in 1956. A republic was declared in 1957, with Bourguiba as the first president. The independent government carried out many social reforms in the country, with regard to education, women's status, and economic structures. During the 1960s the government followed a socialist policy, then reverted to liberalism while retaining a substantial state involvement. In 1987 Bourguiba was declared senile and replaced by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (1936), but without a major shift in policy. Contemporary policy is pragmatic rather than ideological.

National Identity. By the end of the nineteenth century, Tunisians distinguished between Moors, Turks, Jews, Berbers, Andalusians, Arabs, and various sorts of Europeans. Few of these distinctions are relevant today. Some groups were assimilated, others such as the colonial Europeans eventually retreated. None of the invasions and population movements left traces in the ethnic structure of the country. The geography of the city of Tunis and its hinterland, and the effort to create a national culture, have proved stronger than diverse ethnic origins in shaping Tunisian identity.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Tunisia is dominated by its capital city, Tunis. The other main cities are along the coast, and include Bizerte, Sousse, Sfax, and Gabès. These precolonial towns have an older nucleus, or medina, surrounded by modern administrative and residential neighborhoods and by slums. The classical town in Tunisia includes a main mosque, a market, and a public bath. All three are sites for interaction. Friday prayers are essentially linked with urbanity, the market attracts people for trade and exchange, and the public bath expresses a certain concern with personal cleanliness from a time when houses did not have their own bathrooms. The cities are well supplied with water, electricity, and other public services. Garbage and sewage, formerly just dumped, are now treated and sometimes recycled.

The old urban neighborhoods contain magnificent examples of traditional Islamic urban architecture, both public buildings such as mosques and markets as well as elite residences. Houses rich and poor are built around a courtyard, which serves as a family work space away from strange eyes. Entrances are designed to prevent passersby from seeing into the building. The older pedestrian neighborhoods are often not readily accessible to automobiles, while the newer suburbs are built with cars in mind. Generally, buildings in Tunisia are painted white with blue trim.

Some rural people live in villages, but away from the coast many live in scattered homesteads, near their fields. People seek privacy by distancing themselves from neighbors. Formerly, Tunisia had a substantial nomadic population, which lived in tents, but this is now exceptional. Water scarcity is a problem for Tunisia. The annual per capita availability of renewable water is low and puts Tunisia in the water-scarce category. Tunisia has managed to tap all its water resources and to provide for all urban areas and some rural areas, but the system is stretched to its limit. Rural people may have to haul water from a distance, and with considerable effort. City water is brought from distant mountains, since the coastal areas rely heavily on rainfall alone.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Traditional Tunisian cuisine reflects local agriculture. It stresses wheat, in the form of bread or couscous, olives and olive oil, meat (above all, mutton), fruit, and vegetables. Couscous (semolina wheat prepared with a stew of meat and vegetables) is the national dish, and most people eat it daily in simple forms, and in more complex forms for celebrations. Bread with stew is a growing alternative. Tunisians near the coast eat a lot of seafood, and eggs are also common. Tunisians tend to eat in family groups at home, and restaurants are common in tourist areas and for travelers. In the countryside, tea is served in preference to the urban coffee. Tunisians also fast from dawn to dark during the month of Ramadan.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Sweet or colorful dishes symbolize religious holidays, usually in addition to couscous. For weddings and other happy occasions, sweets are added to the couscous. Animals are slaughtered for religious gatherings, and the meat is shared among the participants as a way of symbolizing the togetherness.

Basic Economy. Tunisia is historically an agricultural country, and agriculture now absorbs 22 percent of the labor force; about 20 percent of the country is farmland. Rain-fed agriculture dominates and concentrates on wheat, olives, and animal husbandry. Wheat is mostly used domestically, and Tunisia is a major world producer of olive oil. Animal husbandry for domestic consumption is significant, especially sheep and goats, but also cattle in the north and camels in the south. Citrus and other tree crops are produced both under rain-fed and irrigated conditions, and are often exported. About 6 percent of the arable land is irrigated and is used to grow the full range of crops, but perhaps is most typically used for vegetables and other garden crops. Dates are grown in irrigated oases. The long coastline orients Tunisians toward the sea and toward fishing.

Land Tenure and Property. Traditionally, much agricultural land and urban property was held as collective property, either undivided inheritances or endowed land. From the mid-nineteenth century this system has been giving way to the predominance of individual land and property ownership. The state itself is a major property owner.

Commercial Activities. Most aspects of life in Tunisia have been monetized, apart from some subsistence farming. Subsistence farmers can be recognized because they cultivate a variety of crops, while market-oriented farmers concentrate on a few. Most Tunisian farmers expect to sell their crops and buy their needs. The same applies to craftsmen and other occupations. Rural Tunisia is covered by an interlocking network of weekly markets that provide basic consumption goods to the rural population and serve as collecting points for animals and other produce. Among the very poor in Tunisia are self-employed street vendors, market traders, and others in the lower levels of the informal sector.

Major Industries. The national government after independence continued to develop phosphate and other mines, and to develop processing factories near the mines or along the coast. There is some oil in the far south and in the center. Efforts to develop heavy industry (such as steel and shipbuilding) are limited. More recently light industry has expanded in the clothing, household goods, food processing, and diamond-cutting sectors. Some of this is done in customs-free zones for export to Europe.

Considerable small-scale manufacturing is done in artisanal workshops for the local market. These workshops, often with fewer than ten workers including the owner, are the upper level of the informal sector. Overall, manufacturing accounts for 23 percent of the labor force.

The service sector is also substantial in Tunisia. Employment in services is about 55 percent of the labor force. A major service industry is tourism, mostly along the coast and oriented toward Europeans on beach holidays with excursions to historical sites. Contact with tourists has been a major source of new ideas. Banking and trade are also well developed, both internationally and in terms of a network of markets and traders in the country.

Trade. Exports include light industry products and agricultural products, such as wheat, citrus, and olive oil. Imports include a variety of consumer goods and machinery for industry.

Division of Labor. The national division of labor reflects education and gender. There are many relatively complex jobs, whether for the government or not, that require specific educational skills and background. Thus the educational system provides a major input into the division of labor.

Many Tunisian men, and some families, now live and work abroad. This began with migration to France in the early twentieth century. Tunisians now also migrate to various European countries, and to oil countries such as neighboring Libya or the more distant Persian Gulf nations. Remittances and other forms of investment at home are significant, and returned migrants play a role in many communities. Since many men from the marginal agricultural areas have migrated in search of work, agricultural labor has been feminized. Intellectual and professional Tunisians also migrate, but the paths are more individual.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. Tunisian society is marked by class distinctions, with considerable upward mobility and fuzzy class awareness. Class distinctions based on wealth are the most apparent, with enormous differences between the wealthy bourgeoisie living in the affluent suburbs of Tunis and the rural and urban poor. Wealth in one generation leads to improved education in the next. Status through ancestry is relatively unimportant.

Symbols of Social Stratification. The symbols of social stratification are basically in style and level of consumption.

Political Life

Government. Tunisia is a republic headed by a president. There is a prime minister, a council of ministers, and an elected national assembly. Local administration works through officials appointed by the minister of interior. Urban areas organized in municipalities also have a town council.

Leadership and Political Officials. The political party that took the lead in the nationalist movement from 1934 to 1956 has essentially been a single party since independence in 1956. This party was initially known as the Neo-Destour Party, then in the 1960s was called the Destour Socialist Party, and since the deposition of Bourguiba in 1987 is named the Democratic Constitutional Rally. The word that has remained in its name is "constitution" (destour in Arabic), which implies a concern with legality. This party has historically been relatively well structured with active local branches organized in a rational hierarchy. There is a parallel structure for women. The formerly autonomous labor union movement has now essentially been coopted. Successful political careers involve slow advance in the party hierarchy.

Some opposition parties are allowed to operate legally, but have little influence. In the 1999 elections, the government introduced a form of proportional representation to allow opposition parties to enter parliament despite relatively low voting scores. The twenty-one women in parliament represent 11.5 percent of the membership.

Social Problems and Control. Crime is low, and public order is generally quite peaceful in Tunisia, though there have been one or two outbreaks of rioting around economic issues in different parts of the country. The concern of the government to maintain order is reflected in the growth of police forces in recent years. Political dissidents of all kinds are given very little freedom to act. Even traffic police are severe.

Military Activity. Tunisia's relatively small army has seen little action.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Part of the contract between government and people is that government officials take the lead in promoting welfare and development. These programs are done either with foreign bilateral assistance or through the government's own resources. They include programs in the areas of health, family planning, environment, agricultural and regional development, and major infrastructure construction, such as dams and irrigation projects.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Since independence, the government has worked to create a sense of individual citizenship, with citizens dealing individually with the state. Thus in practice it restricts the activities of nongovernmental organizations. The more political organizations, such as human rights, women's rights, or environmental organizations, are either coopted or suppressed. The government and the party themselves offer a range of associations for women, youth, and labor, and it is difficult to compete. After independence, the labor union organization entered into a long struggle to maintain its independence of government control, but eventually succumbed. Efforts to create water user associations in rural areas were limited by laws restricting their right to collect and spend their own money. An important form of nongovernmental organization is the sports clubs, essentially football clubs, which are usually dominated by figures from the national elite.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. In family and household settings, the men are responsible for producing an income, whether through self-employment in agriculture or through a job, while women are responsible for managing the household. In agricultural households, this may involve transforming the raw material of agriculture into useful itemsspinning and weaving wool from family sheep, preparing the wheat into couscous, or preserving fruit and vegetables. Women work in agriculture either in a family context, especially when men are absent, or sometimes as wage labor on the large farms in northern Tunisia. Women who work for wages in agriculture are paid about half the rate for men. This rate is sometimes justified on the grounds that they do not produce as much, but this is also a strategy to maintain low overall wages. In the wider community, the division of labor is less strict, and there are many women who now occupy jobs in government, industry, and the private sector. In the late 1990s, women were 36 percent of professional and technical workers, and 13 percent of administrators and managers. Their per capita share of GDP, however, was about half the national average.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Independent Tunisia under Bourguiba made a major effort to improve women's status by encouraging education and employment, improving the conditions of marriage, and encouraging family planning. This has reduced rather than eliminated the gap between the status of women and men. Women still endure a lot of stress trying to follow a career or enter public life in a male-dominated society. Some men resent the formal employment of women when unemployment of educated men remains high, and also scorn the idea of women in public life.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Choice of marriage partners may be by arrangement between families or the result of individual selection based on acquaintances made at school or work. There is some preference for cousins, in part because cousins are considered to be of equal status. Girls are not supposed to marry beneath them. Mothers search for brides for their sons, and may scrutinize possible candidates during the women's periods in the public baths. Once an engagement is settled on there is a complex series of visits between the two families. Sometimes disputes over gifts or etiquette leads to a collapse of the engagement, or one or the other of the partners may back out. The marriage ceremony itself involves the shift of the bride from her house to her groom's house, while the groom waits outside, so that he may enter into the bridal chamber where she is waiting. After the consummation of the marriage, there is a period of seclusion until the young couple reenters society.

The legal aspects of marriage are covered by the Personal Status Code, introduced right after independence (1956) by Bourguiba. This code generally had the effect of protecting women's rights and encouraging companionate marriage. The code prohibited polygamous marriages and forced marriage for girls, established a minimum age for marriage, and required judicial divorce rather than repudiation. Later amendments allowed women to initiate divorce.

Domestic Unit. The household in Tunisia is based on the patriarchal family. Beliefs and practices sustain the notion of the dominant male head. Most households are based on the nuclear family. Apart from the urban poor in the old city of Tunis, most households at all income levels consist of a separate house, together with its courtyard and annexes. Within the household, tasks are assigned on the basis of age and gender, as well as personal skills. Changes in educational and employment patterns have made the companionate marriage between equals more common.

Inheritance. Inheritance, following Islam, is partible, with male heirs receiving twice the share of equivalent female heirs. Bequests are allowed only to those who would not otherwise inherit. Certain kinds of property, such as farmland, may not actually be divided in use, though a record of the inheritance situation is maintained. Formerly, property could be kept as a unit by making it endowed for the family, but this is now rare.

Kin Groups. Tunisians recognize the extension of kinship beyond the nuclear family, and maintain the network of connections. As elsewhere, these links are more alive among the wealthy and powerful, where the stakes are higher, and among the very poor, where they are a major resource.

Where a family retains a connection with an ancestral "saint," the annual festival of this saint serves as a family reunion, and sacralizes the group, meaning those descended in the male line from the ancestor. In the parts of interior Tunisia where pastoralism once dominated, these connections extend to a "tribe" (here called an arsh ) such as the Zlass around Al-Qayrawan (Kairouan) or the Freshish and Mateur around Al-Qasrayn and Sbetla. This is a larger identity based on extension of kin ties. These units and their chiefs were recognized in the colonial system, but were rejected by the independent government. The ties are now only occasionally activated, for instance in elections and marriages.


Infant Care. Infants are cared for by their mothers or older siblings in a family setting. Most newborns are breastfed.

Child Rearing and Education. Once children can walk, their fathers may play more of a role in their upbringing, especially for boys. At age six, the state takes over socialization for both boys and girls through virtually universal primary school. The schools are well-organized and managed, though perhaps underequipped.

Higher Education. The paths of children begin to diverge after primary school. Some remain on an academic track, while others undertake vocational education. Child labor is relatively uncommon, but boys may begin to work as apprentices when they are teenagers. Those who remain on an academic track eventually pass a "baccalaureate" type of examination, which governs their subsequent career. The academic elite continue on to one of the university faculties in Tunis or elsewhere.


Tunisians are relatively egalitarian in their interpersonal relations, but there is a strong sense of etiquette. People should be addressed respectfully. A man should not show too much curiosity towards the women in his friend's family, and may not even know their names. In some cases, men do not visit each other's homes because the women would inevitably be present. Some people with a sense of their own status do not visit those they consider lower in rank. These rules are relaxed in the urbanized upper classes.

Modesty codes for women prevail in some areas. In traditional urban society, women were supposed to be circumspect in their behavior. They were supposed to limit trips outside the house to certain culturally approved destinations, such as the public bath or the tombs of their relatives in the cemetery. In certain sectors of Tunisian urban society, women cover head and body in public with a rectangular white cloth, the safsari. Rural women follow different dress practices, but may adopt urban forms on visits to the city. These older practices are rarer now, and the "modern" veil has been officially discouraged, so there is no common dress code.

Men are also supposed to show respect for each other. A man is not supposed to smoke in front of his father, and he is not supposed to carry his own child in the presence of his father. Brothers might frequent different cafs so that the presence of a brother would not inhibit relaxation. Traditional male dress included loose trousers and shirt, with perhaps a robe over that, and a red-felt skullcap. Again, practices are now less uniform than in the past, with the differences reflecting degrees of modernity, or level of education and income.


Religious Beliefs. As Muslims, Tunisians accept the oneness of God and the power of his word as expressed in the Koran. For many purposes, people refer to the texts of the Koran and of certain related texts such as the Hadith (authentic traditions). The Shari'ah, or Islamic law, is central to people's understanding of what is proper. Together these texts lay down correct behavior and lead to certain everyday rituals. In practice there is a certain amount of variation in belief and practice. The variation corresponds broadly to the social position of families and individuals.

The religious calendar provides the main occasions for the expression of these beliefs. The five daily prayers, the weekly cycle organized around the Friday midday prayer, and the yearly festivals structure time. The annual cycle includes the fasting month of Ramadan. There is also the Feast of the Sacrifice, which coincides with the annual pilgrimage to the holy places of Mecca and Medina. On this feast, every householder must sacrifice a ram in emulation of Abraham's willingness to express his faith by sacrificing his son, who was then miraculously replaced on the altar by a ram. Another festival, traditionally more associated with sufi orders, is the Prophet's Birthday. The feast of Ashura, commemorating the martyrdom of the grandson of the prophet Muhammad at the battle of Kerbala, may be celebrated in Tunisia by visits to tombs and bonfires. The dates of these celebrations are all set according to the Islamic lunar calendar, which does not follow the seasons.

Religious Practitioners. Islam does not recognize a sacerdotal priesthood. The formal religious specialists are experts in Islamic law and practice, including religious judges, prayer leaders and others who care for mosques, and traditional teachers of Arabic and religious texts. These posts are limited to men. Informal religious specialists also include men (and sometimes women) who are seen as the vessels of divine grace (baraka ) and who thus have the power to heal, foresee the future, interpret dreams, or mediate with God on behalf of petitioners. This divine grace may be attributed because of the individual's actions or it may be inherited. Between the formal and the informal are the leaders of Sufi orders. Since the 1970s a reform movement has grown up in Tunisia. This movement is based on a close adherence to the Koran and other sacred texts, and is opposed to some of the heterodox practices described below. It also has political implications, and at times functions as an opposition party. Thus its prominent leaders are more political than religious. Most are now in exile or prison.

Rituals and Holy Places. The main life-crisis rites are ritualized through Islambirth, naming, circumcision (for boys), marriage, pilgrimage, and death. Muslims are enjoined to make the pilgrimage to the holy places of Mecca and Medina, located in Saudi Arabia. For Tunisians, as for most Muslims, the holy places are a "center out there." Both the departure on pilgrimage and the return are ceremonialized by visits to mosques, family gatherings, and gifts. Of course, the stay in the holy places is also part of this rite of passage. To reflect the new status, a returned pilgrim should be addressed as "hajj," meaning pilgrim.

Tunisia is also a land of wonder as expressed in the numerous holy places scattered in rural and urban areas. These shrines in principle contain the tomb of a holy person, often male, and serve as key points for links between the human and the divine. Some shrines are the object of an annual festival that draws together people from a particular community (such as a village, extended family, or tribe) to honor the saint. These festivals intensify and reinforce the solidarity of that group. Each town or community is likely to have one shrine that serves as the symbolic focal point for that group. People make individual visits to a shrine for many other reasons, including a specific request for help from the shrine's "saint," or to thank the saint for favors granted. Thanking the saint may turn into an annual ritual of reconnection between the individual and the saint, and through the saint with God. Properly, only God can grant favors, and the saint is merely the intermediary, but there is some slippage toward the idea of the power of the saint to help directly.

An examination of these shrines shows that many reflect unusual features in the landscape, such as caves, hilltops, springs, unusual trees, or points on the coastline. Presumably this saint cult incorporates certain features of an older nature cult.

Some people believe that saints, those connected with spirits or jinns, may also be angry if they feel slighted, because, for instance, people overlooked an annual visit of reconnection. Thus they send their jinns to afflict those who slight them. Cure for the affliction consists of diagnosing the source and placating the saint so that the affliction is reversed. The curing usually also involves a reaffirmation of family ties, since it is effective only if it takes place in a group context. Although heterodox in Islamic terms, this complex serves as a folk explanation for illness or misfortune. While formal Islam is heavily male oriented, this "saint cult" allows more scope for women to take initiatives or even to display divine grace themselves. Conceptually linked with the complex of beliefs in saints are the mystical associations, known as "Sufi ways" or "orders." Here the stress is rather on a mystical loss of self in the divine, with the help of the teachings of a saintly individual. These Sufi orders are less evident in Tunisia than they used to be. Until the early twentieth century, their national leaders were often linked to the court of the bey of Tunis, they often had political roles, and their prestige was high. Later they suffered from their association with colonial power. The shrines associated with key figures in the history of these associations also often function as "saints" shrines, and often also as the centers of curing cults.

Death and the Afterlife. Muslims believe that the soul lives on after physical death. Corpses are buried quickly, the same day or early the next morning, in cemeteries reflecting the social identity of the dead person. The corpse is washed, wrapped in a shroud, carried to the cemetery by a group of mourners, and buried in a tomb. The body is laid on its left side facing Mecca. There are periodic commemorations of the death, after seven and forty days, and sometimes after a year. Survivors also make visits to the tomb, men and women separately, and leave offerings for the soul of the dead person.

Medicine and Health Care

Tunisia has a modern system of health care with hospitals and clinics well distributed in the country. In addition, there are private doctors and hospitals. The University of Tunis has a medical school. Some doctors in the capital have formed associations to promote public health awareness, notably around the question of preventing pollution.

Traditional healers include bonesetters, dream interpreters, herbalists, and other specialists. Tunisians often seek mystical healing in a religious context. Modern alternative medicine, including acupuncture, is also found in cities.

Secular Celebrations

The national holidays are all evocations of the recent past of the country, and celebrate the markers of the nationalist history. They include independence from France (20 March 1956), the proclamation of the republic (25 July 1957), the adoption of the first constitution of the republic (1 June 1959), the final evacuation of the French military from Tunisia (15 October 1963), and the "change-over" when President Ben Ali was sworn in to replace Bourguiba (7 November 1987). These days are generally holidays from work.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. The government and some wealthy benefactors support the arts. One way of doing so is through national and local festivals devoted to one form or another of music, poetry, or folklore. These festivals include competitions, with prizes for the winner.

Literature. Tunisia has produced some fine writers, more in Arabic than in French.

Graphic Arts. Paintings, mosaics, and murals by Tunisian artists are commonly seen.

Performance Arts. Music plays a major role in everyday life in Tunisia, and many people are amateur musicians who perform in a circle of friends and neighbors. Professional performers appear in restaurants and nightclubs as well as in festivals. Tunisian drama is especially known for experimental theater, as well as for classical plays. Tunisian filmmakers have established a collective reputation for solid films, many of which deal with a coming-of-age in the recent historical past, so they are both psychological dramas and re-creations of the national narrative.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The physical and social sciences are both concentrated in the University of Tunis. Also affiliated with the University of Tunis is the Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches conomiques et Sociales. There are other scientific research institutes, such as the Oceanographic Research Institute on the coast at Salammbo, near Tunis. Also attached to the University of Tunis is a center focusing on the national independence movement. Research quality is high, and many Tunisian scholars in these areas publish in Tunisian and non-Tunisian journals, usually in French.


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Nicholas S. Hopkins

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The people of Tunisia are called Tunisians. The population is almost entirely of Arab descent. The small European population consists mostly of French and Italians.

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This entry consists of the following articles:

tunisia: overview

tunisia: personal status code

tunisia: political parties in

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Tunisia •astrantia • Bastia •Dei gratia, hamartia •poinsettia •in absentia, Parmentier •Izvestia •meteor, wheatear •Whittier • cottier • Ostia •consortia, courtier •protea • Yakutia • frontier • Althea •Anthea • Parthia •Pythia, stichomythia •Carinthia, Cynthia •forsythia • Scythia • clothier • salvia •Latvia • Yugoslavia • envier •Flavia, Moldavia, Moravia, Octavia, paviour (US pavior), Scandinavia, Xavier •Bolivia, Livia, Olivia, trivia •Sylvia • Guinevere • Elzevir •Monrovia, Segovia •Retrovir • effluvia • colloquia •Goodyear • yesteryear • brassiere •Abkhazia •Anastasia, aphasia, brazier, dysphasia, dysplasia, euthanasia, fantasia, Frazier, glazier, grazier, gymnasia, Malaysiaamnesia, anaesthesia (US anesthesia), analgesia, freesia, Indonesia, Silesia, synaesthesia •artemisia, Kirghizia, Tunisia •ambrosia, crozier, hosier, osier, symposia

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