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Tunisia(to͞onē`zhə, tyo͞o–), Fr. Tunisie, officially Republic of Tunisia, republic (2015 est. pop. 11,274,000), 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 TunisTunis
, city (1994 pop. 674,100), capital of Tunisia, NE Tunisia, on the Lake of Tunis. Access to the Gulf of Tunis (an arm of the Mediterranean) is by a canal terminating at a subsidiary port, Halq al Wadi (La Goulette). Products include textiles, carpets, and olive oil.
..... Click the link for more information. .
Land and People
Tunisia has a highly irregular coastline that affords many bays and several fine harbors, notably BizerteBizerte
, Arab. Banzart, city (1994 pop. 98,900), N Tunisia, on the Mediterranean Sea. It is an important port, strategically situated near the narrowest part of the Mediterranean. The city also has processing industries. Bizerte was founded by Phoenicians.
..... Click the link for more information. , Qabis, SafaqisSafaqis
, city (1994 pop. 230,900), E Tunisia, on the Gulf of Qabis (Gabès), an arm of the Mediterranean Sea. It is Tunisia's second largest city and has exports of phosphates, olive oil, cereals, and sponges.
..... Click the link for more information. , and SusahSusah
, ancient Hadrumetum, city (1994 pop. 125,000), NE Tunisia, on the Gulf of Hammamat, an arm of the Mediterranean Sea. It is a fishing port and export point for olive oil. The city was founded c.9th cent. B.C. by the Phoenicians.
..... Click the link for more information. . 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.
Tunisia is governed under the constitution of 2014. The president, who is the head of state, is popularly elected for a five-year term and may serve for two terms. The unicameral parliament is the 217-seat Assembly of the People's Representatives. Members are elected to five-year terms on a proportional basis from mostly multimember constituencies. The prime minister, who is the head of government, is nominated by the majority party or coalition and appointed by the president; the cabinet is appointed by the prime minister and approved by the assembly. Administratively, the country is divided into 24 governates.
The coast of Tunisia was settled in 10th cent. B.C. by Phoenicians. In the 6th cent. B.C., CarthageCarthage
, ancient city, on the northern shore of Africa, on a peninsula in the Bay of Tunis and near modern Tunis. The Latin name, Carthago or Cartago, was derived from the Phoenician name, which meant "new city.
..... Click the link for more information. rose to power, but it was conquered by Rome (2d cent. B.C.), and the region became one of the granaries of Rome. It was held by Vandals (5th cent. A.D.) and Byzantines (6th cent.). In the 7th cent. it was conquered by Arabs, who founded Al QayrawanQayrawan, Al
, city (1994 pop. 102,600), NE Tunisia. It is a sacred city of Islam. Founded in 670 by Uqbah bin Nafi, an Arab leader, it was the seat of Arab governors in W Africa until 800.
..... Click the link for more information. . 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 StatesBarbary States,
term used for the North African states of Tripolitania, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco. From the 16th cent. Tripolitania, Tunisia, and Algeria were autonomous provinces of the Turkish Empire. Morocco pursued its own independent development.
..... Click the link for more information. ). 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 BourguibaBourguiba, Habib
, 1903–2000, Tunisian statesman, president of Tunisia (1957–87), b. Monastir. Early active in the Destour party, he was at first an advocate of close cooperation with France.
..... Click the link for more information. , 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 inNorth Africa, campaigns in,
series of military contests for control of North Africa during World War II. The desert war started in 1940 and for more than two years thereafter seesawed between NE Libya and NW Egypt.
..... Click the link for more information. ). 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 LeagueArab League,
popular name for the League of Arab States,
formed in 1945 in an attempt to give political expression to the Arab nations. The original charter members were Egypt, Iraq, Jordan (then known as Transjordan), Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria.
..... Click the link for more information. . 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 AliBen Ali, Zine el-Abidine
, 1936–2019, president of Tunisia (1987–2011). Educated in France and the United States, he entered the army and became ambassador to Poland (1980–94), minister of national security (1984–86), and interior minister (1986–87).
..... Click the link for more information. , 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 MaghrebMaghreb
[Arab.,=the West], Arabic term for NW Africa. It is generally applied to all of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia but actually pertains only to the area of the three countries between the high ranges of the Atlas Mts. and the Mediterranean Sea.
..... Click the link for more information. ). 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 EssebsiEssebsi, Beji Caid
, 1926–2019, Tunisian political leader. A lawyer and ally of President Bourguiba, he held several posts in his and President and Ben Ali's government, including interior minister (1965–69), defense minister (1969–70), foreign minister
..... Click the link for more information. 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 Oct. 2011.
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. A draft constitution that reduced women's rights led to protests against the Islamist-led government in Aug., 2012, and the one-year deadline for adoption of a new constitution subsequently passed without agreement on a text. 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 proposed by the National Dialogue Quartet on establishing a caretaker government, adopting a constitution, 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 constituent 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, which hurt the tourist industry into subsequent years, and there was fighting with militants along the Libyan border in Mar., 2016.
In July, 2016, deteriorating economic conditions resulted in Essid's losing a no-confidence vote. A unity government headed by Youssef Chahed took office in August, but it subsequently experienced cabinet tensions, which continued into 2018. An International Monetary Fund aid package contingent on economic policy changes led in 2018 to the introduction of austerity measures, which provoked sometimes violent protests in Jan., 2018. In Nov., 2018, Chahed, who had broken with Essebsi and Nidaa Tunis and formed the National Coalition bloc, formed a new government that did not include Nidaa Tunis. Essebsi died in July, 2019, and parliament speaker Mohamed Ennaceur became interim president.
In October, Kais Saied, a retired professor and social conservative who ran as an independent but had both leftist and Islamist support, was elected president after a runoff. In the parliamentary elections, Ennahda became the largest party but lost a fourth of its seats; Heart of Tunisia, a new party led by businessman Nabil Karoui (who lost the presidential runoff), placed second; and Nidaa Tunis lost nearly all its seats.
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).
Official name: Tunisian Republic
Capital city: Tunis
Internet country code: .tn
Flag description: Red with a white disk in the center bearing a red crescent nearly encircling a red five-pointed star; the crescent and star are traditional symbols of Islam
Geographical description: Northern Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Algeria and Libya
Total area: 63,378 sq. mi. (163,610 sq. km.)
Climate: Temperate in north with mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers; desert in south
Nationality: noun: Tunisian(s); adjective: Tunisian
Population: 10,276,158 (July 2007 CIA est.)
Ethnic groups: Arab-Berber 98%, European 1%, other 1%
Languages spoken: Arabic (official and one of the languages of commerce), French (commerce)
Religions: Muslim 98%, Christian 1%, Jewish and other 1%
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