Tunisia, Republic of: Jumhuriyat Tunis

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Tunisia, Republic of: (Jumhuriyat Tunis)


Tunisia is a state in North Africa. It is bounded on the north and east by the Mediterranean Sea, on the west and southwest by Algeria, and on the southeast by Libya. The Gulf of Tunis separates Tunisia from the island of Sicily (Italy). Area, 164,200 sq km. Population, 5,572,000 (1975). The capital is Tunis. Tunisia is divided administratively into 18 wilayas, or governorates.

Tunisia is a republic. The present constitution was adopted on June 1,1959. The head of state is the president, who is elected by the population together with the National Assembly for a five-year term; the president may not serve more than three consecutive terms. In 1975, after adopting corresponding amendments to the constitution, the National Assembly approved the 1974 proclamation of H. Bourguiba as president for life. The president exercises supreme executive power, determines general government policy, appoints and dismisses the prime minister, other ministers, and state secretaries, and is the supreme commander in chief of the armed forces. The prime minister coordinates government activity and is the president’s official successor.

Legislative power is vested in the National Assembly, a unicameral parliament elected by the population for a five-year term. The franchise is extended to all persons who have reached the age of 20 and have been citizens of Tunisia for not less than five years. The Economic and Social Council is a consultative body of the government and the National Assembly.

The governorates are administered by governors, who are appointed by the president at the suggestion of the minister of internal affairs. The minister of internal affairs appoints the delegates (mutamadin), who administer the delegations, as well as the sheikhs who administer the sheikhates. The governors are assisted by councils, which are consultative bodies of ten to 30 members. Communities with a municipal administrative structure have municipal councils, which are elected for a five-year term.

The judicial system of Tunisia consists of a court of cassation, three appellate courts, and trial courts.

Tunisia stretches from north to south for almost 800 km; the length of the coastline is about 1,200 km. In the north, the coasts are high and faced by cliffs in some places; the east has low-lying coasts and lagoons. The major gulfs are those of Tunis, Ham-mamet, and Gabès. Numerous islands, including Djerba and Kerkennah (Qarqannah), lie off the coast.

Terrain. The terrain of Tunisia consists primarily of plains and hills. About one-third of the country, mainly in the northwest and west, is occupied by the Atlas Mountains, with elevations of 1,000–1,200 m in the eastern spurs of the Maritime Atlas and the Saharan Atlas, and by intermontane plateaus such as the Northern Tell and the High Tell. The highest peak in the country, Djebel Chambi (1,544 m), is located in the eastern part of the Tebessa Mountains. The rest of the territory is occupied by the Tunisian Lowland (lower Tell) in the north and by the Sahel farther south. Closed salt-marsh depressions called chotts are found in central Tunisia. These include the Chott Djerid (area, about 5,000 sq km) and the Chott el-Gharsa (1,300 sq km), which lie below sea level, and other chotts bordered by mountains to the north. In the southeast, the Ksour Mountains divide the coastal lowlands from the hilly plains of the stony and rocky deserts of the Sahara. The sandy desert of Rmel el Abiod, which is the northern extremity of the Great Eastern Erg (Grand Erg Oriental), is located in extreme southern Tunisia.

Geologic structure and mineral resources. In terms of geology, Tunisia may be divided into two parts. The northern part consists of the folded-mantle syncline of the Maritime Atlas and the aula-cogen of the Berberides in the Tunisian Atlas, and the southern part is a platform region (the Saharan Platform).

Several sedimentary strata can be distinguished in Tunisia. Among them are Upper Permian strata of limestone and sandstone, Triassic saliferous-gypsiferous and carbonaceous-terrigenous strata (1,500 m), Jurassic carbonaceous strata (1,500 m), Cretaceous carbonaceous-terrigenous strata (8,000 m), Paleo-gene limestone strata (500 m), and Neogene red terrigenous strata (1,500 m). The tectonic deformations in the Maritime Atlas and Tunisian Atlas are mainly of Oligocène and Miocene age.

Tunisia’s iron ore deposits, with total reserves of 55 million tons (1974) at Djerissa, are associated with the Cretaceous deposits of the Maritime Atlas (Berberide aulacogen). Deposits of phosphorites (1.2 billion tons, at Redeyef and Gafsa) are associated with the Paleogene deposits of the aulacogen and the northern part of the Saharan Platform. Petroleum reserves are about 123 million tons (1973), and natural gas reserves are about 42.5 billion cu m; they are mainly associated with the Triassic and Cretaceous deposits of the Saharan Platform. The main deposits are at el-Borma. The shelf zones hold promise for the future. Other known resources include deposits of lead (360,000 tons) and zinc (200,000 tons) in the aulacogen, mercury (700 tons) in the Maritime Atlas, and fluorite (5 million tons), barite (1.9 million tons), manganese, and calcium salts. The phosphorites have the greatest economic importance.

Climate. Tunisia has a primarily subtropical Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and relatively cool, damp winters. A tropical desert climate prevails in the far south, with frequent siroccos blowing in from the Sahara. In the north, average temperatures are 10°C in January and 26°C in July; in the south, the corresponding temperatures are 21°C and 33°C. The greatest annual precipitation occurs in the Northern Tell (1,000–1,500 mm); in the rest of the Tell, precipitation ranges from 400 to 600 mm, and south of the Tebessa Mountains, from 100 to 200 mm. The precipitation varies greatly from year to year, presenting a frequent threat to crops.

Inland waters. Most of Tunisia’s rivers are of the wadi type. The largest river is the Medjerda (length, 460 km), which is widely used for hydroelectric power generation and irrigation. The remaining wadis are insignificant, and their flow is extremely irregular. Lake Bizerte (an ancient inlet of the sea), which is saline, and Garaet Achkel are located in the north.

Soils and flora. The soil and vegetative cover is primarily of Mediterranean type. Varieties of brown carbonate soils under dry forests and shrubs predominate in the north; weakly podzol-ized brown forest soils are found in the Atlas Mountains, and gray-brown and saline semidesert soils and primitive desert soils predominate in the south.

The natural vegetation is highly degraded. There are thickets of maquis in the mountainous regions along the coast and forests of cork oak and holm oak, Aleppo pine, and thuja in the high mountains. Grassy vegetation mixed with wormwood and xero-phytic grasses (including esparto) predominates in the plains, and saltworts (genus Salsola) in the semideserts. Acacia, genista, and tamarisk grow in the wadi valleys. In the desert are talh, as well as ephemeral grasses that grow after rains.

Among the larger animals, the panther, wild boar, and mouflon have survived in the north. Predators, including the caracal, cheetah, jackal, striped hyena, and fox, and an abundance of rodents are characteristic of the semidesert regions. Predatory and migratory birds are present in great number and variety. There are numerous reptiles. Among the insects, the locust poses a particular threat to agriculture. Commercially valuable fish, including the sardine, tuna, herring, and anchovy, are found in the waters of the Mediterranean. The Djebel Bou Hedma preserve is located in Tunisia.


Geologiia i poleznye iskopaemye Afriki. Moscow, 1973.
Nauka o Zemle. Vol. 52: Tektonika Afriki. Moscow, 1973. (Translated from French and English.)

M. B. GORNUNG and E. D. SULIDI-KONDRATEV (geologic structure and mineral resources)

Tunisians make up more than 98 percent of the population of Tunisia. There is also a small number of Europeans, including French and Italians. The official language is Arabic, and the official religion is Islam of the Sunni branch. Both the Gregorian and Muslim (lunar hegira) calendars are used.

In the period 1965–70, the average annual natural population increase was about 3 percent. About 45 percent of the population is under 15 years of age. The economically active population numbers 1.5 million, of whom about 1.4 million are wage laborers (1973); 54 percent are engaged in agriculture and fishing, 24 percent are employed in industry, construction, and transportation, and 22 percent are employed in trade and the service sphere. The unemployed number about 170,000 (1975).

The average population density is 34 persons per sq km. However, more than three-quarters of the population is concentrated in the north (the Medjerda River valley and the lower Tell), on the eastern coast, and on the island of Djerba, where population densities reach 100–150 persons per sq km, whereas in the central and southern regions population densities do not exceed ten persons per sq km. The urban population is 49.1 percent of the total (1975; including all settlements with more than 2,000 inhabitants). The most important cities are Tunis (population, 970,000, including suburbs, 1975), Sfax, Sousse, Bizerte, and Kairouan.

Tunisia in antiquity; primitive communal system; development and dissolution of slaveholding relations. The area that is now Tunisia has long been inhabited. Implements of the Lower, Middle, and Upper Paleolithic eras have been preserved, along with remnants of the Aterían culture (35th to tenth millennia B.C.), the Ibero-Maurusian culture (tenth millennium B.C.), and the Cap-sian culture. In the fourth to second millennia B.C., land cultivation and livestock raising became well developed, and fortified settlements grew up.

In the 12th century B.C., the Greeks and then the Phoenicians came to the region. The Punic language and Eastern religions spread. Carthage, which became a powerful slaveholding city-state, assumed the leading place among the Phoenician cities that were established in Tunisia. The Carthaginian state ceased to exist as a result of the Punic Wars of 264–146 B.C., and Tunisia became part of the Roman possessions in Africa. During the Roman domination, which lasted from 146 B.C. to A.D. 439, the slaveholding system of antiquity continued to exist in Tunisia. Agriculture, irrigation construction, and cities developed greatly. The country underwent extensive Romanization. Most of the indigenous population, however, preserved the Punic language and Eastern religious beliefs.

Christianity spread in Tunisia in the first century of the Common Era, and by the fourth century it had superseded other forms of religion. In the third century, a worsening of social conflicts that resulted in part from the overall crisis of the Roman Empire led to an upsurge in an anti-Roman movement—in Tunisia as elsewhere—that took the form of religious movements such as the Donatists and Circumcellions. In 439, with the support of the Berbers and rebellious peasants, the Vandals seized Carthage and put an end to Roman rule in Tunisia. Vandal domination accelerated the dissolution of slaveholding relations. In 534, Tunisia came under Byzantine rule, but Byzantium’s efforts to restore the Roman social order were met with stubborn resistance from the indigenous population, particularly the oppressed strata.

The Muslim Middle Ages (late seventh century to 1574); emergence and development of feudal relations. In the seventh century, Tunisia’s popular masses received the support of the Muslim Arabs, whose military detachments arrived on Tunisian territory in 647. In 670 the Arabs founded Kairouan, which became a center for the propagation of Islam in North Africa. In 698 they took Carthage, and in 703 they crushed the last pockets of resistance of the Byzantines and their Berber allies. The arrival of the Arabs and inclusion of Tunisia in the Umayyad Caliphate reinforced traditional contacts with the East and linked the country’s development with the centers of Muslim civilization. Most of the indigenous population adopted Islam and Arab culture in the late seventh and early eighth centuries. Early feudal relations were established in Tunisia.

In 800, Tunisia separated from the Abbasid Caliphate and became an independent state ruled by the Arab dynasty of the Agh-labids (800–909), but it retained religious and cultural ties with the caliphate. In 909, as a result of a rebellion of Shiite Berbers against the Aghlabids, the Ismailite state of the Fatimids was created in Tunisia. The tyranny of the Fatimids provoked strong discontent, which was exploited by the Berber dynasty of the Zirids, who in 1048 founded an independent Sunni state with its center at Kairouan. In response, the Fatimids sent hordes of nomadic Arab tribes into Tunisia. This invasion, which lasted from 1050 to 1052, ravaged and despoiled the country. The destruction of the irrigation systems led to the total ruin of agriculture, crafts, and trade. The last remnants of the Roman and Berber population disappeared. Anarchy reigned, leading to the dissolution of the Zirid state.

In 1160, Tunisia became part of the Almohad state. The large Tunisian state of the Hafsids (1229–1574) took shape during the breakup of the Almohad state. In 1270, the Hafsids repulsed an attack by the Crusaders led by the French king Louis IX. Feudal relations were established in economic and social life. During that period, Tunisia became the chief power of the Arab West (the Maghrib). Trade, crafts, and agriculture revived gradually, a process that was greatly helped by the migration to Tunisia of Arabs from Andalusia, who fled Spain during the Reconquest.

In 1535, Spain seized Tunisia. The struggle against the Spaniards was led by the emirs of nomadic tribes and the Marabouts, who were aided by the Ottoman Empire. In 1574, the Ottoman Turks drove out the Spaniards and made Tunisia a part of the Ottoman Empire.

Ottoman rule (1574–1881); disintegration of feudal relations. The power of the Turkish sultans in Tunisia was purely nominal. Tunisia was ruled by the Tunisian deys beginning in 1591, and later by the beys of the Muradid dynasty (1612–1702), who accorded merely formal recognition to the sovereignty of the Turkish sultan. A rapid restoration of the local traditions of governmental and political life began under the deys. This process was completed by the beys of the Husainid dynasty, who founded an independent Tunisian state in 1705. The Husainids recognized the Turkish sultan only as the religious head of the Tunisian Muslims. The zenith of the Husainid state coincided with the rule of Ali Bey (1759–82) and Hamuda Pasha (1782–1814).

The growth of foreign trade, which resulted in part from the ending of piracy in the 19th century and from the development of commodity-money relations, created a need for social transformations. The first units of the regular Tunisian Army were formed in 1830. Under Bey Ahmed (1837–55), the army was strengthened, government-owned factories and enterprises were founded, and secular educational institutions were opened. The Ahd al-Aman (Fundamental Pact), which extended the principles of the Tanzimat to Tunisia, was published on Sept. 9,1857. The first Tunisian constitution, the Destour, was adopted in 1861 on the initiative of the Tunisian liberal reformer Khayr al-Din al-Tunusi.

The liberal reformers strove to accommodate the traditions of medieval Arab culture with the achievements of European civilization. However, the reforms, particularly the creation of a regular army and navy, along with the building of palaces and embezzlement by the bey’s high officials, exhausted the treasury. The Tunisian government resorted to foreign loans and introduced new taxes to cover the loans. The increased tax burden and the privileges granted by the beys to foreigners provoked a powerful popular uprising in the mid-1860’s, led by Ali ben Gheda-hem. The crushing of the rebellion only facilitated the enserf-ment of the country by the European powers. The Tunisian government ceased payments on its foreign debts. The bankruptcy of Tunisia followed in 1867, and in 1869 the country’s finances were transferred to the control of the International Finance Commission. Tunisia turned into a semicolony of the European powers, among which France played the chief role.

The French protectorate of Tunisia (1881–1956); development of capitalism under the colonial regime. In the spring of 1881, French troops occupied Tunisia and compelled the bey to accept the Treaty of Bardo. The acceptance of this unequal treaty provoked a new popular liberation movement in 1881—82, which spread to most of the country and was led by Ali ibn Khalifah. After the suppression of the new revolt, the Convention of La Marsa of 1883 was signed, giving legal form to the French protectorate of Tunisia. Power passed to the French resident general; the bey and the government were retained only nominally.

A great number of Europeans (about 19,000 in 1881 and more than 156,000 in 1921) settled in the country, and the best lands passed into their hands. The banks, transportation, and most industrial enterprises and farms came under the control of French capitalists. As a result of the dominance in the Tunisian economy of foreign—mainly French—capital, a colonial capitalist sector took shape alongside the traditional sector of the economy. The growth of the colonialists’ farming, the construction of railroads and ports, and the development of transportation and the mining of lead-zinc ores, phosphorites, and iron ore led to the formation of a working class. The national Tunisian bourgeoisie was represented mainly by the owners of small enterprises for the processing of raw agricultural produce.

The first political attacks on foreign domination took place in 1884. The first nationalist societies and groups formed in 1896, and in 1907 they united to form the Young Tunisia Party, headed by Ali Bach Hamba. Anti-imperialist demonstrations took place in the cities under the leadership of the Young Tunisians from 1906 to 1912. From 1914 to 1918, Ali Bach Hamba made several unsuccessful attempts to raise a rebellion.

The struggle against colonial domination intensified under the influence of the liberating ideas of the Great October Revolution in Russia. The Tunisian Federation of the French Communist Party (founded 1920) and the Tunisian General Confederation of Labor (founded 1924–25) played a large role in the development of the labor and liberation movement. In the years immediately following World War I, however, the national liberation movement was headed by the Islamophile, conservative Destour Party (founded 1920).

The world economic crisis of 1929–33 sharply worsened the situation in Tunisia. The discontent of the masses grew, and anti-imperialist organizations again became active. In 1934, Habib Bourguiba founded the leftist nationalist Neo-Destour Party (now the Destour Socialist Party; DSP), which took over leadership of the national liberation movement from the previous Destour leaders, who then formed the Old Destour Party. The Neo-Destour Party led anti-imperialist demonstrations in September 1934.

As a result of the victory of the Popular Front in France in 1936, colonial oppression in Tunisia was lessened. The workers’ and democratic movements became more active, progressive labor legislation was introduced, and reactionary laws limiting democratic freedoms were repealed. However, the strengthening of right-wing forces in France after 1938 led to a renewal of repression. On Apr. 9–11, 1938, the colonialists crushed a popular demonstration, banned the Neo-Destour Party, and arrested Bourguiba and other party leaders. The Tunisian Communist Party (TCP; founded 1939) was also subjected to repression.

During World War II, Tunisia was initially under the rule of the Vichy government (1940–42) and then under the authority of the Italo-German occupation forces (November 1942 to May 1943). The TCP conducted an active struggle against the occupation, and the Communists headed underground groups of the resistance movement in Tunisia. Under these circumstances, the supporters of Bey Muhammad al-Munsif (1942–43) formed the nationalist government of Muhammad Chenik, which attempted to act “independently.” However, this government was replaced by the French colonial authorities after the Italo-German troops were driven from Tunisia.

The victory of the anti-Hitler coalition over fascism in World War II created conditions favorable to the development of a national liberation movement. The Neo-Destour Party, together with the General Union of Tunisian Workers (GUTW; founded 1946 by Farhat Hached), which cooperated with it, retained leadership in the movement. In the period 1946–48, the GUTW led major anti-imperialist demonstrations by the proletariat. The movement was at its high point from 1952 to 1954, when strikes in the cities were combined with actions by partisan detachments of the Tunisian Liberation Army (established by the Neo-Destour Party in 1952). On July 31, 1954, France was forced to proclaim the internal autonomy of Tunisia. On June 3, 1955, the Franco-Tunisian conventions were signed, transferring power to the national government formed by Tahar ben Ammar with the participation of representatives of the Neo-Destour Party. The government proceeded to make preparations for elections to the Constituent Assembly. A further worsening of the crisis of colonial policy forced the French government to sign a Franco-Tunisian protocol on Mar. 20,1956, by which France recognized the independence of Tunisia.

Tunisia after independence (since 1956). Initially, the proclamation of independence had virtually no effect on the economic position of French monopolistic capital in Tunisia. The monarchy was also preserved. Having come to power, the Neo-Destour leaders were obliged to share that power with the feudal elite and the Tunisian commercial bourgeoisie, whose numbers were few. The first measures undertaken by the new authorities were directed toward the creation of national institutions and the gradual replacement of foreign specialists with national personnel. Elections to the National Assembly were held on Mar. 25,1956, and Bourguiba formed his first government. A diplomatic service and an army were established, a civil code was adopted, and administrative and judicial reforms were implemented. On July 25, 1957, the monarchy was abolished and a republic proclaimed. Bourguiba was elected president.

Property that had belonged to more than 200 families of large Tunisian feudal lords and capitalists passed into the hands of the government as a result of decrees calling for expropriation of the property of the family of the former bey of Tunis, “emergency laws” directed against those who had collaborated with the colonialists (1957), and trials of collaborationists (1958). From 1958 to 1961, enterprises of the mining and power-engineering industries and certain enterprises of the processing industry that had belonged to local and foreign (mainly French) private capital were nationalized. Foreign trade, basic banking operations, railroads, intercity motor vehicle transportation, and other facilities were placed under government control. The position of powerful segments of the bourgeoisie was undermined. Conditions favorable to the development of the state-owned sector in the national economy were created.

In 1961 the Tunisian government announced a new economic policy aimed at “gradual decolonization of the economy, elimination of backwardness, increase of production, and improvement of the standard of living of the people.” In 1962 the National Planning Council, under the chairmanship of the secretary of state for finance and planning, A. ben Salah, produced a ten-year development plan based on the concepts of “Destour socialism.” These concepts included coexistence of the three sectors of the economy (government, cooperative, and private), the coordinating and guiding role of the government, and cooperation and social peace between labor and capital. The subsequent period of Tunisian socioeconomic development (until 1969), referred to in the literature as the ben Salah experiment, was characterized by the introduction of planning, the increased role of the government in the economy, and accelerated formation of peasant cooperatives. In accordance with the ten-year plan, new sectors of industry, including ferrous metallurgy, petroleum drilling and refining, and machine building, were created in Tunisia. In 1968,25 percent of the country’s economically active population was in the cooperative movement.

The implementation of socioeconomic changes met with resistance from the imperialist monopolies and internal reactionary forces. In 1957 and 1964 the French government halted the extension of credit to Tunisia. In 1958 and 1961, Tunisia was subjected to military pressure by France, in the form of a barbarous French air attack on the village of Sakhiet Sidi Youssef (Saqiyat Sidi Yu-suf) on Feb. 8,1958, and aggression in Bizerte July 19–22,1961. A reactionary antigovernment plot was discovered in late 1962. In December 1964 the owners of large olive groves in the region of Msaken demonstrated against government measures aimed at the development of the cooperative movement. In 1969 there was direct intervention by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and other credit institutions controlled by foreign monopolistic capital, with the aim of hindering the implementation of agrarian reforms in Tunisia.

Relying on patriotic progressive forces within the country and the support of socialist states, the Tunisian government succeeded in withstanding imperialist pressures in the international arena. Tunisia’s petition to the UN in connection with the imperialist aggression in Bizerte was supported by the Soviet Union and other socialist countries. In 1963, Tunisia obtained the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from its territory.

In September 1969, as a result of the intensification of the internal political struggle in Tunisia, ben Salah and his supporters were removed from the government and then sentenced to long prison terms. In November 1970, Hedi Nouira was designated the new head of government. Implementation of the reforms provided for in the ten-year plan was halted. The so-called coexistence of the three sectors was interpreted mainly in favor of private capital. The changes in economic policy were affirmed by decisions of the eighth and ninth congresses of the Destour Socialist Party (1971 and 1974), which expressed confidence in Bourguiba and Nouira.

In late 1977 and early 1978 there was a great increase in strikes. This was caused by sharply worsening economic conditions for the workers and by the struggles of trade union leaders to free their organizations from the DSP’s supervision. A general strike of Tunisian workers, called on Jan. 26,1978, was suppressed, and many trade union activists, including the general secretary of the General Tunisian Labor Association, Habib Achour, were arrested and brought to trial. The Communists, together with members of the Movement for Popular Unity and the Movement of Social Democrats, are intensifying the struggle for the democratization of Tunisia’s political life. The program of joint action advanced by the Communists demands, among other things, the legalization of democratic organizations, including the TCP.

Tunisia has been a member of the UN since 1956, the Arab League since 1958, and the Organization of African Unity since its creation in 1963. In its foreign policy, Tunisia follows a course of positive neutrality and nonalignment. It supports peaceful coexistence among states with different socioeconomic systems, development of friendly relations with all countries, and solidarity with the countries of the Maghrib. Tunisia supports the struggle of peoples for national liberation and condemns imperialist and Zionist aggression against the Arab states. The Tunisian government has repeatedly declared that the Middle East conflict must be resolved on the basis of the Nov. 29,1947, UN resolution on Palestine. In the belief that a lasting peace can be established in the Middle East only on the basis of a solution to the Palestinian problem and satisfaction of the national rights of the Arab people of Palestine, Tunisia actively supports the Palestine Liberation Organization. It calls for the liquidation of colonialism, the withdrawal of foreign troops from the territories of other countries, the deepening of the process of relaxation of international tension, and universal and complete disarmament.

Tunisia devotes special attention in its foreign policy to the problem of ensuring the security of the Mediterranean basin, transforming it into “a lake of peace, concord, and cooperation.” The Tunisian government is a proponent of close cooperation between the Arab countries and the Western European states. Tunisia has been an associate member of the European Economic Community (EEC) since 1969 and signed a new agreement with the EEC in 1976. At the same time, Tunisia’s relations with the USSR and other socialist countries have become increasingly active since the second half of the 1960’s.

Diplomatic relations between Tunisia and the USSR were established in 1956, and an exchange of diplomatic representatives took place in 1960. In the 1960’s and the first half of the 1970’s, a number of Soviet-Tunisian agreements were concluded regarding the development of cooperation in the economic, technical, trade, scientific, cultural, and other spheres. Groups of Soviet physicians and teachers are working in Tunisia. The chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, A. N. Kosygin, paid an official visit to Tunisia in May 1975. A new Soviet-Tunisian agreement on the development of economic and technical cooperation was signed in April 1976. In April 1977, Prime Minister Hedi Nouira paid an official visit to the USSR.


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N. A. IVANOV (before 1956), O. V. BOGUSHEVICH and A. I. KUZ’MIN (after 1956)

The Destour Socialist Party (DSP; Hizb al-Dusturi al-Ishtiraki) was founded in 1934 and until 1964 it was known as the Neo-Destour Party. It is the ruling party.

The Tunisian Communist Party (TCP; Hizb al-Shuyui al-Tuni-sii) was founded in 1939 from the Tunisian Federation of the French Communist Party, which had existed since 1920. The TCP, which was banned in 1963, operates clandestinely.

The General Tunisian Labor Association (until October 1972, the General Union of Tunisian Workers) was founded in 1946 and operates under the supervision of the DSP. It is a member of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

The Tunisian Union of Youth Organizations was founded in 1972 from the Union of Tunisian Youth, which had existed since 1965, and other youth organizations. The National Union of Tunisian Women was founded in 1956. The Tunisia-USSR Friendship Association was founded in 1956.

General characteristics. Tunisia is an agrarian country with a developing industrial sector, particularly the mining industry. Agriculture accounts for 18.8 percent of the gross national product, and industry for 21.3 percent, of which extractive industry represents 11.3 percent (1974). A number of measures have been implemented to limit the dominance of French capital and to develop the government and cooperative sectors. Tunisia has withdrawn from a customs union with France and has introduced a national monetary unit, the Tunisian dinar, to replace the franc. The state has partly bought up and partly expropriated the lands of foreign colonialists, a total of about 800,000 hectares (ha). Certain foreign industrial and trade enterprises have also been nationalized. New industrial enterprises have been built. Companies under both state and mixed ownership, the latter with the participation of foreign and Tunisian private capital, have been established in power engineering, in transportation, and in other sectors.

Since the early 1970’s, the government’s economic policy has been directed toward expansion of the role of the private sector in the economy. The monopolies of the USA, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Sweden, and other powers have intensified their penetration of the Tunisian economy. Most of the cooperatives have been liquidated. State participation in industry is limited to key sectors and to sectors that show promise for the future, such as power engineering, some branches of heavy industry, and transportation.

Agriculture. Agriculture is the main sector of the Tunisian economy. Agricultural production is devoted mainly to grain crops, but the raising of such crops is also combined with truck farming and subtropical horticulture in the north and with nomadic and seminomadic livestock raising in the south. Tunisia’s land resources are 16.4 million ha, of which cultivated lands represent 28 percent, pastures and grazing lands 20 percent, forests 4 percent, and the unused or little-used lands of the desert and mountain regions 48 percent. Most of the agricultural lands are in the north and northeast; about 80,000 ha are irrigated.

The system of landownership is very complex. In the 1960’s, in the course of nationalizing the waqf lands (lands held by the church) and the landholdings of foreigners, the government pushed the creation of cooperative and state farms on these lands. However, after the liquidation of most cooperatives, which began in the early 1970’s, only 1.8 million ha, of which 800,000 ha were irrigated land, was left for the cooperatives and state farms. Communal landownership continues in the central and southern regions. In 1970, after the return of most of the cooperative lands to the former private owners, the private sector of agriculture occupied 4 million ha of cultivated land, and there were 321,000 landowners, 96 percent of whom had holdings of 1–50 ha.

More than one-third of the sown area is under grain crops, including wheat (average annual yield of 593,000 tons for the period 1970–72, and 810,000 tons in 1974) and barley (176,000 and 300,000 tons, respectively). Insignificant amounts of sorghum, oats, and Indian corn are also grown. Grain crops account for about 40 percent of the total agricultural output. Tomatoes, artichokes, and potatoes are grown on irrigated lands. The cultivation of olive trees is important for Tunisia’s exports. Tunisia is first in Africa in olive production, with about 30 million trees on 730,000 ha. The volume of olive-oil production varies greatly. It was 170,000 tons in 1971, 68,000 in 1972, and 100,000 in 1974. Exports of olive oil were 131,000 tons in 1972, 52,000 in 1973, and 82,000 in 1974. Other important export crops are citrus fruits (annual yield of more than 100,000 tons) and grapes (yield of 155,000 tons in 1974); the grapes are used mainly in wine-making (920,000 hectoliters in 1973). Tobacco and sugar beets are also raised. Date palms (53,000 tons in 1974) are cultivated in the southern oases.

Tunisia has (1974) 690,000 head of cattle, 3.3 million sheep, 660,000 goats, 192,000 donkeys, 65,000 mules, and 180,000 camels. Cottage industries using forest resources are well developed, particularly the gathering of cork oak bark (which averages 50,000–75,000 tons per year) and, in the south, the gathering of esparto (60,000–70,000 tons), which is used in paper production. Landings of fish were 24,400 tons in 1970 and 31,500 tons in 1973.

Industry. Industry is becoming increasingly important in the Tunisian economy. Under the 1962–71 plan, total investments in the economy were 1.245 billion dinars, of which 37 percent went for the development of industry, mainly the processing industry. Drilling for petroleum is of the greatest importance in extractive industry, with oilfields in el-Borma in the far south and the Dou-leb region in the west. Phosphorites are mined in the Gafsa region (which accounts for 80 percent of production) and Kal al-Djerda. Iron ore (in Djerissa), lead, and zinc are also mined (see Table 1). Some natural gas is extracted (202 million cu m in 1974).

Electric power (1.4 billion kilowatt-hr in 1974) is provided mainly by steam power plants, the most important of which is located in Halq al-Wadi. The processing industry, which is concentrated in the large cities, is represented primarily by small-scale and medium-scale enterprises. Food-processing and light industry, especially textile production, employ significant numbers of workers.

The petroleum-processing industry, which manufactured 1 million tons of petroleum products in 1974, is represented by a refinery in Bizerte that was placed under government control in August 1975. A ferrous-metallurgy plant is located in Menzel Bourguiba, and small lead smelters in a suburb of Tunis and in Bizerte represent nonferrous metallurgy. Enterprises of the chemical industry, producing superphosphates and sulfuric acid, are located in Tunis, Sfax, Sousse, Sawaf, and Gabès. Cement plants are located on the outskirts of Tunis and Bizerte. Plants constructed after independence include a sugar refinery in Béja, a spinning mill in Sousse, a weaving mill in Moknine, and textile enterprises in Tunis and Monastir. There is a pulp and paper mill in Kasserine. There are automobile and tractor assembly plants in Tunis, Menzel Bourguiba, and Sousse. More than 2,000 motor vehicles were assembled in 1973, including about 1,800 passenger cars and 200 trucks and buses. Cottage-industry handicrafts produce a variety of goods, some of which are exported, such as carpets from Kairouan and ceramic wares from Djerba and Nabeul.

Table 1. Mineral production (tons)
1 Preliminary estimates
Phosphorites. . . . . . . . . .1,525,0002,100,0003,021,0003,808,000
Iron ore. . . . . . . . . .757,0001,033,000774,000814,000
Lead. . . . . . . . . .14,90018,10022,00012,500
Zinc. . . . . . . . . .2,9003,80012,0006,000
Petroleum. . . . . . . . . .4,151,0004,139,000

Transportation. Tunisia has more than 1,900 km of railroad lines, including 473 km of standard-gauge (1,435-mm) track. In 1976 construction began on the Gafsa-Gabès line, intended mainly for the shipment of phosphorites. There are 18,800 km of vehicular roads, of which 10,600 are improved (1973).

Almost all foreign-trade shipments are transported by sea. The chief ports and their cargo turnover (in thousand tons, 1973) are as follows: Tunis and Halq al-Wadi, 2,541; Sfax, 3,470; Bizerte, 2,617; Sukhayrah, 12,187 (petroleum exports); and Sousse, 315.

Air transportation is provided by domestic and foreign (Western European and North African) lines. An international airport is located near Tunis.

Foreign trade. Total exports in 1974 were 397.7 million dinars, of which raw materials and semifinished products accounted for 78 percent. The main exports were oil, phosphorites and superphosphates, and olive oil. Imports in 1974 were 488.7 million dinars, of which raw materials and semifinished products accounted for about one-third; other prominent imports were machinery and equipment, food, and consumer goods. France continues to be Tunisia’s chief trading partner, accounting for up to one-third of Tunisia’s foreign-trade turnover (1973); the share of the EEC countries reached 60 percent, and that of the USA, more than 10 percent. Tourism plays an important role in the inflow of foreign currency; 716,000 foreign tourists visited Tunisia in 1974. Economic ties with the USSR and other socialist countries are developing successfully. The USSR exports industrial equipment, machinery, sawn timber, and other products to Tunisia, and Tunisia provides the USSR with olive oil, wool, raw leather, and almonds. The USSR has aided Tunisia in the construction of dams and hydroelectric power plants and the introduction of new varieties of cotton.


Gusarov, V. I. Tunis. Moscow, 1974.
Zudina, L. P. Agrarnye otnosheniia v Tunise (1956–1971). Moscow, 1976.
Ivanov, N. A. Sovremennyi Tunis. Moscow, 1959.
Utkin, G. N. Tunis [reference text for a map of Tunisia]. Moscow, 1973.
Vidiasova, M. F. Rabochii klass v sotsial’noi strukture Tunisa. Moscow, 1975.
Poncet, J. La Tunisie à la recherche de son avenir. Paris, 1974.


The armed forces of Tunisia consist of ground troops, an air force, and a navy. The president is the supreme commander in chief. The minister of defense has direct responsibility for supervision of the armed forces. Personnel are provided through conscription, and the term of active military service is one year. The total strength of the armed forces (1975) is about 24,000, with an additional 5,000 in the national guard. The ground forces (20,000) consist of five infantry battalions, one tank battalion, a Sahara regiment, a commando battalion, an artillery battalion, and an engineers’ battalion. The air force has 2,000 troops and 12 warplanes. The navy has about 2,000 personnel and one destroyer, one escort vessel, one minesweeper, two patrol boats, and 12 other patrol craft.

Medicine and public health. According to UN data, the birthrate was 35.8 per thousand inhabitants, the death rate was eight per thousand (1973), and infant mortality was 76.3 per thousand live births (1971). Infectious and parasitic diseases predominate and are the chief cause of death. Helminthiases, digestive ailments, tuberculosis, trachoma, schistosomiasis, and venereal diseases are widespread. Until 1968, malaria was one of the most widespread diseases; antimalarial measures have sharply reduced its incidence (only 100 new cases were reported in 1971).

About 90 percent of the inhabitants of Tunisia receive free medical care financed by social insurance. In 1975 there were about 100 hospitals, with 13,200 beds, or 2.5 beds per 1,000 inhabitants. Outpatient care is provided by clinics attached to the hospitals, as well as by 388 dispensaries and 96 maternal and children’s health-care centers. There are about 1,100 physicians (one per 5,000 inhabitants), 72 dentists, 123 pharmacists, and about 8,300 other medical personnel. Doctors are trained at the faculty of medicine of the University of Tunis; secondary medical personnel are trained at eight medical schools. Health expenditures account for 9 percent of the state budget (1975).


Veterinary services. Infectious and parasitic animal diseases are recorded in Tunisia. The most widespread include the piroplas-midoses (Mediterranean theileriasis), helminthiases of sheep and camels, rabies in wild animals (62 foci; data here and below are for 1974), Newcastle disease (11 foci), and tuberculosis. Diseases reported in sheep are blackleg (37 foci), brucellosis, smallpox, and, in particular, enterotoxemia (69 foci). Foot-and-mouth disease is most often encountered in the south and west, and anthrax in low-lying regions. An insufficiency of trace elements has been established in animal feeds in the southern regions, resulting in low productivity. Illnesses associated with photosensitization are found in the Sahara. Tunisia has 51 veterinarians (1974) and a veterinary research laboratory.

At independence (1956), 84.3 percent of Tunisia’s population over the age of 10 was illiterate. The government has taken active measures to develop education: expenditures for educational needs in 1974 accounted for about 30 percent of the national budget. By 1975, illiteracy had declined to 60 percent. The number of preschool institutions for children aged 3 to 6 is insignificant (about 13,000 children were enrolled in such institutions in 1975). Primary education begins at the age of 6; since 1958, it has been compulsory and free.

The present educational system is based on the French model, with a six-year primary school and a seven-year lycée providing complete secondary education. Admission to the lycée is determined by competitive examinations. Instruction is in French and Arabic. Vocational and technical training is provided by four-year schools, which admit primary school graduates. In 1975 primary school enrollment was 975,000 (more than 70 percent of the children in that age group). Secondary school enrollment was 198,000, including about 141,000 in general-education institutions and about 57,000 in vocational-technical institutions.

The main institution of higher learning is the University of Tunis, located in the capital. Founded in 1960, it had 13,700 students in 1975. The university has faculties of mathematics, physics, and natural sciences; agronomy; letters and human sciences; law, political science, and economics; theology; and medicine. In addition, the university has a number of specialized schools and scientific research institutions, including the National School of Engineering, built in 1969 with the aid of the USSR. Other institutions of higher learning include the National School of Administration (founded 1949) and the National Conservatory of Music, Dance, and Folk Art in Tunis. The National Library, founded in 1883, has 420,000 volumes. The Bardo Museum (1888) is located in the capital.


Scientific and scholarly work in Tunisia is financed by the government. One percent of the national income is earmarked for research and the training of scientific and technical personnel; of that amount, 205,000 dinars is earmarked for research in the natural sciences and technology at higher educational institutions. Scientific and scholarly institutions, most of which are located in the capital, are under the jurisdiction of the ministries. The main scientific and scholarly institution is the University of Tunis, which is subordinate to the Ministry of Education. It includes the Center for Economic and Social Research; the Institute for Scientific and Technological Research (founded 1969); the Center for Nuclear Research, which has a nuclear reactor (founded in 1966, the center is particularly concerned with problems of the use of solar energy); the National Oncological Institute (1969); and the National Institute of Research in Education (1968).

The system of the Ministry of Culture and Information includes the National Institute of Archeology and the Arts (1957; concerned with the history, study, and preservation of architectural monuments). The Ministry of Agriculture supervises the National Institute of Agronomic Research (1914), the National Scientific and Technical Institute of Oceanography and Fishing (1924), the Research Center for the Use of Seawater in Irrigation (1963), the National Institute of Veterinary Research, and the National Forestry Institute. Under the Ministry of Public Health are the Pasteur Institute (founded 1906 as a branch of the Pasteur Institute of Paris) and the Office of Family Planning (1906). The geological service was founded in 1945.

An agreement on cultural and scientific cooperation with the USSR was concluded in 1963.


Ponomarev, D. K. Organizatsiia i razvitie nauchnykh issledovanii v Afrike (1960–1970). Moscow, 1974.
Journal officiel de la République Tunisienne, 1972, no. 52, pp. 1857–65.


In 1978, Tunisia had five daily newspapers, with a combined circulation of more than 160,000, and several dozen magazines. The newspapers are the French-language L’Action (since 1932; circulation, 32,000; organ of the DSP), La Presse de Tunisie (since 1956; circulation, 35,000; semiofficial organ), and Le Temps (Time; since 1975; circulation, 20,000) and the Arabic-language al-Amal (The Worker; since 1934; circulation, 25,000; organ of the DSP) and al-Sabah (Morning; since 1951; circulation, 50,000).

Among Tunisia’s magazines are the French-language weekly Le Dialogue (since 1974; organ of the Central Committee of the DSP) and, in Arabic, the biweekly al-Shaab (The People; since 1957; circulation, 10,000; organ of the General Tunisian Labor Association), the monthly al-Maraa (The Woman; since 1961; circulation, 10,000; organ of the National Union of Tunisian Women), and the monthly al-Shabab (Youth; circulation, 6,000; organ of the Union of Tunisian Youth).

The information agency, Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP), was founded in 1961. Since 1936, there has been radio broadcasting in Arabic, French, and Italian. Television broadcasting began in 1966.

Writing and literature in the Punic (Phoenician) language existed in Tunisia as early as the first millennium B.C. During the Roman domination, a number of writers important in world literature, including Apuleius and St. Augustine, came from North Africa. However, Tunisian literature proper did not take shape until the Arab Muslim period; it has existed in Arabic (and, to some extent, in French since the 1950’s).

Medieval Tunisian literature, in which all the genres of classical Arabic literature were represented, was a link between the cultures of the Muslim East and those of Muslim North Africa and Spain (seeARABIC CULTURE: Literature). Unique local features appeared in the tenth and 11th centuries with the works of the panegyrist poets Ibn Hani al-Andalusi (931–973) and Ali al-Rida al-Tunisi (tenth century), the hedonist poets and prose writers Ibrahim ibn al-Husri (died 1022), Ibrahim al-Raqiq (died 1027), and Abd al-Aziz al-Tarifi (early 11th century), and the poets and philologists Ibn Rachiq (1000–64) and Ibn Sharaf al-Qairawani (1000–67), whose works contributed to the foundations of medieval Arabic poetics.

The prose genres, chiefly religious and philosophical didactic writing, predominated in the 12th through 14th centuries, against the background of the decline of classical Arabic poetry. Writers of the second half of the 14th century were the Maghrib thinker Ibn Khaldun and Sheikh al-Nafzawi, author of a scholarly literary treatise on love entitled A Fragrant Garden for the Delectation of the Soul. Two genres that influenced the development of modern Tunisian prose style—a rich hagiographic literature of the Sufi school and literature on the history of cities—took shape in the 15th century. In the 18th century, when the power of the Tunisian beys was being strengthened, there was a revival of panegyric court poetry, which was practiced until the end of the 19th century.

Folk literature in the Tunisian dialect of Arabic may be traced back as far as the 15th and 16th centuries. Verse genres predominate in the folk literature, and the traditions of ancient Arabic bedouin poetry remain strong to the present time. The influence of Andalusian poetry (from the 15th century) may be seen only in the songs of northern Tunisia. Motifs of the national liberation struggle are heard in the 19th and 20th centuries in the work of such folk poets as Larbi Najjar (died 1916) and Ahmad Barghusi (1878–1934).

The foundations of modern Tunisian literature were laid during the second half of the 19th century. Those who strove to overcome the sociopolitical and cultural backwardness of Tunisia included Mahmud Qabadu (1814–71) and Khayr al-Din al-Tunusi (1826–89), whose The Most Direct Way to Understanding the Condition of States (1867) drew equally from the sociological doctrine of Ibn Khaldun and the legacy of the French Enlightenment. The new intellectual demands and artistic tastes that were promoted by the development of secular education and the press were reflected in prose works written in the nonclassical genres—historical biography and travel writing by such writers as Muhammad Bayram (1830–89) and Muhammad Snousi (1850–1900) and the philosophical novella of Salih al-Suwaysi (1880–1940).

Among the outstanding figures of the 1920’s and 1930’s were the innovative poet Abu al-Qasim al-Shabbi (1909–34), who introduced the ideals of romanticism into Arabic poetry; the writer of novellas Ali al-Douaji (1909–49), in whose lyrical works about the world of simple people may be seen the birth of the realistic style; and the journalist Tahar Haddad (1901–36), who proclaimed socialist ideas in Tunisia.

The best-known work of 20th-century Tunisian literature was created during the sociopolitical ferment of the second half of the 1930’s and the establishment of a democratic culture. This work is the philosophical closet drama The Dam (1939–40; published 1955), by Mahmud al-Masadi (born 1911), in which a symbolic interpretation of the struggle for national liberation and social progress is justified by early Sufic concepts of the mystical way, leading the author to ideas close to those of French existentialism.

Although Tunisian French prose provided the first examples of the modern Tunisian novel— Pillar of Salt (1953) and Agar(1955), both by Albert Memmi (born 1929)—it did not, unlike the literatures of Algeria and Morocco, attain a high level of development. The origins of the national novel are associated with Bachir Khrief (born 1917), who idealized the national past and the life of the common people in Bankruptcy (1956–58), Barq al-Leil (1960), and Dates in the Tree (1969), and with Muhammad al-Arusi al-Matwi (born 1920), who addressed themes of the national liberation struggle in Halima (1964) and The Bitter Mulberry (1967).

In the 1960’s, Tunisian literature acquired a galaxy of progressively oriented writers working in two languages: as prose writers and dramatists in Arabic and as poets in French. They include Mustafa al-Farsi (born 1931) and Salih al-Garmadi (born 1933). Their poetry strongly reflects the influence of French symbolism and the poetry of the French resistance movement. Their prose and drama raise the problems of the sociopolitical and cultural development of Tunisia, interpreted within the context of the problems of the Third World.

The late 1960’s and early 1970’s were marked by the appearance of new young prose writers and dramatists who grouped around the Novella Club and the journal al-Qisas (Short Stories, 1966). They include Izz al-Din al-Madani (born 1938), Muhammad Salih Jabri (born 1940), Mahmoud al-Tounsi (born 1944), and Hasan Nasr (born 1937). Their works exhibit intense intellectual and stylistic preoccupations and wide borrowings from both traditional Arab and contemporary European culture.


Pantůček, S. Tunisskaia literatura. Moscow, 1969.
Prozhogina, S. V. Literatura Marokko i Tunisa. Moscow, 1968.
Ghazi, F. Le Roman et la nouvelle en Tunisie. Tunis [1970].
Pantůček, S. Tunesische Literaturgeschichte. Wiesbaden, 1974.


The most ancient artistic monuments in the area that is now Tunisia are from the Capsian culture. Remains from the Phoenician era include temples and other buildings, necropolises, and memorial steles. The ruins of regularly planned cities (including Dougga and Thuburbo Majus), with numerous temples and public buildings, have survived from the Roman era. The art of mosaics attained particularly great development in the first centuries of the Common Era.

As medieval Muslim architecture developed in Tunisia, it combined the influence of Middle Eastern architecture with elements of ancient Roman construction engineering. Mosques were built with interior courtyards and with prayer halls separated by rows of columns and arches and spanned by flat girdered roofs. Other structures included minarets and palaces with a rectangular layout. Cities grew up around the castles and on the sites of ancient Roman ports; their architecture was dominated by the citadel, or casbah. Architectural decor became increasingly complex and colorful from the tenth century onward. In the 11th to 15th centuries, architecture developed mainly along Hispano-Maghriban lines, and in the 16th to 19th centuries, within the context of Turkish art. The art of medieval Tunisia is represented by stucco carving and the production of glazed and unglazed pottery, fine glass, jewelry of stylized design, rugs, and weapons with silver and gold inlays.

In the first half of the 20th century, until 1956, most construction in Tunisia was designed by French architects, who strove for a creative combination of local traditions and the principles of European rationalism. (Particularly prominent in this regard was B. Zehrfuss.) After independence, such native Tunisian architects as O.-C. Cacoub and H. Ammar came to the fore. Urban planning developed, and new rural settlements consisting of uniform one-story dwellings are being created.

The national school of representational art developed with particular intensity in the 1950’s and 1960’s. A realistic trend, represented by the painters A. Ben Salem and H. Turki, the monu-mentalist and graphic artist H. el-Mekki, and the graphic artist B. Dahak, coexists contradictorily with a modernist trend, represented by the sculptor H. Selmi, the painter and graphic artist Z. Turki, and the painter and ceramic artist A. Gorgi.

The main genres of the decorative and applied arts in contemporary Tunisia are carpet-making (primarily pile carpets of vivid, contrasting colors with geometric or, less frequently, floral patterns), embroidery (both multicolored and white on tulle), lace-making, the making of pottery and jewelry, and metal embossing and inlaying.


Zbiss, S. M. Les Monuments de Tunis. Tunis, 1971.

Tunisian music developed within the context of the overall culture of the Maghrib (showing the influence of the Andalusian school), but was affected more strongly than Algerian and Moroccan music by the Eastern Arab traditions of Syria and Iraq.

Traditional music has absorbed a variety of systems and styles, as seen in the modes: the rast is of African origin, the husain was inherited from the Phoenicians, the sika came from Persia, and the mazmum and mouhayer correspond to the European major and minor. Professional music served mainly ritual functions, such as recitations of the Koran, psalmody about the life of the prophet, and the calls to prayer of the muezzins. Folk music in its Arab branch (a Berber branch also exists) is close to that of other Western Arab countries in its modal basis, meter and rhythm, and instrumentation (including the darbuka, duff, and tar), and in the naubat (a type of musical suite), the ceremonial of Isawiyyah, and other musical genres held in common.

The origins of classical music are associated with the 15th-century poets and musicians Said ibn-Baja (Said al-Beja) and Sidi Dhrif.

Secular music underwent the greatest development in the 19th century. The work of the poet and musician Brahim Riai played a significant role. The growing interest in national culture was hindered by French colonial policy. The Rachidia Institute was founded in 1935 by a group of young musicians, led by Mustapha Sfar, who called for the preservation and development of national traditions. The institute organized courses in singing and the playing of traditional instruments and formed a national orchestra, which since 1956 has been under the supervision of the National Radio.

The attainment of independence in 1956 led to an upsurge in musical culture. Much attention is paid to the study and propagation of folk and classical music. The Ministry of Culture carries on a broad range of activities: it has organized several musical congresses and taken the initiative in recording, deciphering, and publishing certain naubat. In the 1960’s a symphony orchestra was active and the National Conservatory was founded.

Among the important musicians working in Tunisia are Salah Mahdi, a specialist in Arab musical culture, and A. Hamzah, a singer popular in Arab countries. International festivals include the biennial Carthage Festival of Folk Art and Music, annual festivals of dance, music, and theater in Carthage, Hammamet, and Tabarka, festivals in Kairouan, art weeks, and competitions.


Arab Muslim civilization did not include theater art, since Islam forbade public spectacles. The development of Arab theater was not significant until the 19th century. In 1848, M. al-Naqqash translated into Arabic and staged Molière’s comedy The Miser, thus beginning the development of Arab theater art. Under the French protectorate, only French troupes performed.

The first national theater group in Tunisia was formed in Tunis in 1950 by the actor H. Djaziri. After Tunisia was proclaimed a republic, a municipal troupe was active in Tunis. The arrival of the actor and director A. Ben Ayed in this troupe (becoming its director in 1963) contributed to its development. The troupe sought to create a national Tunisian theater art accessible to the popular masses and to propagate classical dramaturgy. Its presentations have included Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Othello, Lope de Vega’s The Sheep Well, A. Camus’ Caligula (in a free translation), and works by native dramatists, including E. Madani’s El-Zakk. The Municipal Theater troupe appeared three times in the Theater of Nations in Paris. There are two other professional companies, in Le Kef and Sfax, and about 60 amateur groups.

Tunisian theater figures include the dramatists H. Labidi, F. Fersi, A. Mekki, and H. Gorgi; the directors A. Braziz, M. Souissi, Z. Mougou, and A. Radhi; and the actors M. Ben Ali, Z. Fai’za, J. El Ourabi, and D. Abdou. The Center for Dramatic Arts has been in operation since 1959.

Theater weeks are held annually. Biennial festivals of theater art of the countries of the Maghrib have been held in Monastir since 1966, and festivals of international amateur theater groups in Korda since 1964. Productions of N. V. Gogol’s The Inspector-General and A. P. Chekhov’s The Anniversary (also known as Jubilee) have often been mounted at these events.


In 1922, one of the founders of Tunisian film-making, C. Chikli, made a short film entitled Zuhrah. In 1924 he made the first full-length Tunisian film, Daughter of Carthage. The first Tunisian sound film in Arabic, The Madman From Kairouan (directed by J. Crésy), appeared in 1939. After independence (1956), the Tunisian Society for the Production and Showing of Films was established (1957).

Films that appeared in the 1960’s and 1970’s included Dawn (1966), The Rebel (1967), and Fellaheen (1970), all directed by O. Khlifi and concerned with the problem of national independence; Mokhtar (1968, directed by S. Ben Aicha), concerned with the life of contemporary youth; In Tarannani (1970; directed by F. Boughdir, H. B. Khalifat, and others), about the Tunisian writer Ali al-Douaji; Such a Simple Story (1970) and Sedjnane (1974), both directed by A. Ben Ammar; and But Tomorrow? (1972, directed by B. Babaï). Film actors include A. Lotfi, H. Rochdi, S. Ahmed, H. Chaâri, A. Haiza, H. Dhib, and L. Said. An international film festival has been held in Carthage since 1966. Two or three feature films are produced annually. There were 114 motion-picture theaters in operation in 1975.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.