Country profile: Tunisia
Home of the ancient city of
Carthage, Tunisia has long been an important player in the Mediterranean, placed
as it is in the centre of North Africa, close to vital shipping routes.
In their time, the Romans, Arabs, Ottoman Turks and French realised its
strategic significance, making it a hub for control over the region.
French colonial rule ended in 1956, and Tunisia was led for three decades by
Habib Bourguiba, who advanced secular ideas. These included emancipation for
women - women's rights in Tunisia are among the most advanced in the Arab world
- the abolition of polygamy and compulsory free education.
Mr Bourguiba insisted on an anti-Islamic fundamentalist line, while
increasing his own powers to become a virtual dictator.
At a glance
- Politics: Tunisia has been in a state of transition
since President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country in January 2011
following widespread unrest. The election of a constitutional assembly
was held in October 2011
- Economy: The diverse economy has grown steadily and
the slum population has halved, but the world recession has pushed
unemployment up in recent years
- International: Tunisia has strong ties with the
European Union; its peacekeepers have served in several conflict areas
In 1987 he was dismissed on grounds of senility and
Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali' became president. He continued with a hard line against
Islamic extremists, but inherited an economically-stable country.
Although Tunisia under Mr Ben Ali introduced some press freedoms and freed a
number of political prisoners, human rights groups said the authorities
tolerated no dissent, harassing government critics and rights activists.
Mr Ben Ali faced reproach at home and abroad for his party's three "99.9%"
election wins. The opposition condemned changes to the constitution which
allowed him to run for re-election in 2004, and in 2009.
Discontent with his autocratic rule erupted in into mass street
demonstrations which prompted Mr Ben Ali to step aside in 2011. This inspired
uprisings across the region that became known as the Arab Spring.
Tunisia is more prosperous than its neighbours and has strong trade links
with Europe. Agriculture employs a large part of the workforce, and dates and
olives are cultivated in the drier regions. Millions of European tourists flock
to Tunisian resorts every year.
Political violence was rare until recently, but militant Islamists have
become an issue of concern for the authorities. A suicide bomb attack on an
historic synagogue in the resort of Djerba in 2002 killed 21 people and led to a
dramatic drop in tourist numbers.
A dozen suspected Islamists were killed in shoot-outs with security forces in
and around Tunis at the end of 2006 and the beginning of 2007. Lawyers say
hundreds of people were arrested on suspicion of links with terrorist groups
since 2003, when the authorities gained new powers of arrest.
Dates and other agricultural products are
important export earners
- Full name: Tunisian Republic
- Population: 10.4 million (UN, 2010)
- Capital: Tunis
- Area: 164,150 sq km (63,378 sq miles)
- Major languages: Arabic (official); French
- Major religion: Islam
- Life expectancy: 73 years (men), 77 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 Tunisian dinar (TD) = 1,000 millimes
- Main exports: Agricultural products, textiles, oil
- GNI per capita: US $4,060 (World Bank, 2010)
- Internet domain: .tn
- International dialling code: +216
President: Moncef Marzouki
Prime minister: Hamadi Jebali
Moncef Marzouki opposed his predecessor and was
forced into exile
Veteran dissident Moncef Marzouki was installed as president in December
2011, a few months after the popular protests which forced autocratic leader
Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali from power and which inspired the Arab Spring uprisings
across the region.
Members of the constitutional assembly, the interim parliament, voted to
elect Mr Marzouki as president, the second most powerful role after the prime
He is widely respected for his opposition to former president Ben Ali, and is
seen as a likely counterweight to the moderate Islamist party which became the
country's dominant political force in the elections of October 2011.
A doctor and human rights campaigner, Mr Marzouki was jailed in 1994 after
challenging Mr Ben Ali in a presidential election.
He only returned home after Mr Ben Ali was toppled.
His curt demeanour, hard-hitting speech, craggy face and oversize glasses
have made him a cartoonists' delight.
While admirers say Mr Marzouki's character is beyond reproach, critics accuse
him of being a pawn of the Islamist Ennahda, which has 89 deputies in the new
parliament, where Mr Marzouki's Congress for the Republic (CPR) party is in
distant second place with 29 seats.
Mr Marzouki was elected as part of a power-sharing deal between the moderate
Islamist Ennahda party and its two smaller secularist coalition partners,
Ettakatol and Marzouki's Congress for the Republic.
The deal gives the president limited powers. He sets Tunisia's foreign policy
in consultation with the prime minister. He is also commander-in-chief of the
armed forces but can only appoint or fire senior officers in consultation with
the prime minister.
The ouster of president Mr Ben Ali sparked the Arab Spring that also saw
long-time dictators toppled in Egypt and Libya.
Mr Ben Ali went into exile amid mass street
Mr Ben Ali became president in 1987, after doctors declared President Habib
Bourguiba unfit to govern because of senility. The takeover is sometimes
described as a palace coup.
Rights groups and political opponents said Tunisia's government was
authoritarian with a veneer of pluralism. They said it stifled free speech and
beat and jailed opponents, which the government denied.
- Tunisians went to the polls on 23 October 2011 to elect a national
assembly which will draw up a new constitution. The Islamist Ennahda won the
most votes but fell short of an outright majority and formed a coalition
with two secularist parties which will govern until new elections are held
for permanent institutions.
Newspapers were tightly controlled under former
president Ben Ali
The government of former President Ben Ali tightly
controlled the press and broadcasting. But since the 2011 popular revolt, many
journalists have enjoyed new-found freedoms.
The number of radio and TV channels and print publications has increased, as
has their freedom to report and debate political and social issues.
State TV - which had toed the government line - has changed tack, giving
airtime to the former opposition.
However, some journalists say the network of editors and censors set up under
Mr Ben Ali remains in place.
The state broadcaster operates two national TV channels and several radio
networks. Egyptian, French and pan-Arab satellite TVs command large audiences.
Tunisia has one of the most developed telecommunications infrastructures in
North Africa, with a high mobile penetration rate and low broadband prices.
There were 3.6 million internet users by June 2010 - 34% of the population (Internetworldstats.com).
The extensive use of social media during the January 2011 protests prompted some
commentators to describe the events as a "Facebook victory" and a "Twitter
Pervasive internet filtering ended with the fall of Mr Ben Ali. A few months
later, however, officials ordered the blocking of four Facebook pages set up by
cyber activists. Courts have ordered the Tunisian Internet Agency to ban access
to pornographic sites.
La Presse - state-owned daily
Esshafa - state-owned daily
Assabah - privately-owned daily
Alchourouk - privately-owned daily
Le Temps - privately-owned daily
National Tunisian TV - state-run
Hannibal TV - private, via
satellite and terrestrially
Tunisian Radio - state-run
Radio Mosaique FM - private
Jawhara FM - private
Zitouna FM - Islamic
Agence Tunis Afrique Presse -
state-run, English-language pages
Tunisia Live - news website, in
A chronology of key events:
circa 1100 BC - Phoenicians settle the north African coast.
The city of Carthage, near the site of present-day Tunis, becomes a naval power.
146 BC - Carthage falls to the Romans.
439 AD - Vandals invade; Roman buildings and artefacts are
600s - Arabs conquer the territory of present-daTunisia.
909 - Berbers wrest the region from the Arabs.
1600s - Tunisia becomes part of the Turkish Ottoman empire,
but has a high degree of autonomy.
1800s - French and Turkish designs on Tunisia force it to
tread a careful path.
1881 - French troops occupy Tunis. France controls economic
and foreign affairs; Tunisia is a French protectorate from 1883.
1934 - Habib Bourguiba founds the pro-independence
1942 - World War II: German troops arrive to resist allied
forces in Algeria. Allied forces drive German, Italian troops out in 1943.
1956 20 March - Tunisia becomes independent with Bourguiba
as prime minister.
1957 - The monarchy is abolished and Tunisia becomes a
1961 - Tunisia says French forces must leave their base in
Bizerte. Fighting breaks out. France pulls out of Bizerte in 1963, after
1981 - First multi-party parliamentary elections since
independence. President Bourguiba's party wins by a landslide.
1985 - Israel raids Palestinian Liberation Organisation
(PLO) HQ in Tunis; 60 people are killed. The raid is in response to the killing
by the PLO of three Israeli tourists in Cyprus.
1987 - Bloodless palace coup: Prime Minister Zine El Abidine
Ben Ali has President Bourguiba declared mentally unfit to rule and takes power
1989 - Ben Ali wins presidential elections. He goes on to be
re-elected four more times, the last time in 2009.
1999 - First multi-party presidential elections; Ben Ali
wins a third term.
2000 April - Habib Bourguiba, the founding father of
independent Tunisia, dies.
2002 April - 19 people - 11 of them German tourists - are
killed in a bomb explosion at a synagogue in the resort of Djerba; Al-Qaeda
2002 May - President Ben Ali wins a referendum on
constitutional changes, paving the way for his fourth term.
2002 September - Jailed leader of Communist Workers' Party,
Hamma Hammami, is freed on health grounds. He had been accused of being in an
illegal organisation and of inciting rebellion.
2004 October - President Ben Ali wins a fourth term with 94%
of the vote.
2005 July - Parliament introduces an upper house - the
Chamber of Councillors - which is dominated by the ruling party.
2005 November - Tunisia hosts a UN conference on the global
information society. Authorities deny that police have harassed journalists and
2006 - October - Authorities launch a campaign against the
Islamic headscarves worn by some women.
Tunisia moves to close its embassy in Qatar in protest at alleged bias by the
Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV channel. The channel broadcast remarks by veteran
Tunisian dissident Moncef Marzouki in which he called for peaceful resistance to
the Tunisian government.
2006 December - The Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), the
main opposition party, elects a woman as leader - a first for Tunisia. She is
2007 January - Islamist militants and security forces clash
in Tunis. Twelve people are killed. Interior Minister Rafik Belhadj Kacem says
the Salafist militants had come from Algeria.
2009 February - French court sentences German convert to
Islam to 18 years over attack on Djerba synagogue in 2002. Walid Nouar, brother
of suicide bomber, got 12 years for his part in al-Qaeda attack.
2009 July - Police charge nine men, including two air-force
officers, with plotting to kill US servicemen during joint military exercises.
2009 October - President Ben Ali wins a fifth term in
2009 November - Taoufik Ben Brik, a journalist critical of
the president, is jailed for assault. Rights groups say the case is politically
2010 July - Appeals court upholds prison sentence imposed on
journalist Fahem Boukadous over his coverage of violent protests.
2010 December - Protests break out over unemployment and
political restrictions, and spread nationwide.
2011 January - President Ben Ali goes into exile amid
Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi announces an interim national unity
government, only partly satisfying protesters.
2011 February - Prime minister Ghannouchi resigns,
responding to demands by demonstrators calling for a clean break with the past.
2011 March - Date for election of a constitutional council
set for 24 July.
Rally for Constitutional Democracy (RCD), the party of ousted President Ben
Ali, is dissolved by court order.
2011 April - Libyan troops cross border into Tunisia during
clashes with rebels.
Thousands of Tunisians flee by boat to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
2011 May - Curfew imposed amid fresh street protests.
2011 June - Ex-president Ben Ali is tried in absentia for
theft. He is sentenced to 35 years in prison.
2011 October - Parliamentary elections. Ennahda party wins
but falls short of an outright majority.
2011 November - National assembly which will draft a new
constitution meets for first time.
2011 December - New president, prime minister sworn in.