Tunisia -- Geography --
Official Name: Republic of Tunisia
Capital City: Tunis
Population: 10.3 million. The majority (98%) of modern Tunisians are Arab or arabized Berber, and are speakers of Tunisian Arabic. However, there is also a small (1% at most) population of Berbers located in the Jabal Dahar mountains in the South East and on the island of Jerba, though many more have Berber ancestry. The Berbers primarily speak Berber languages, often called Shelha.
The small European population (1%) consists mostly of French and Italians. There is also long established Jewish community in the country, the history of the Jews in Tunisia going back some 2,000 years. In 1948 the Jewish population was an estimated 105,000, but by 2003 only about 1,500 remained.
Land Area: 165 000 sq km
Landforms: Tunisia is a country situated on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, midway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Nile Valley. It is bordered by Algeria in the west and Libya in the south-east. An abrupt southern turn of its shoreline gives Tunisia two faces on the Mediterranean. Tunisia has a coastline 1,148 kilometres in length. In maritime terms, the country claims a contiguous zone of 24 nautical miles (44.4 km; 27.6 mi), and a territorial sea of 12 nmi (22.2 km; 13.8 mi).
Climate: Tunisia's climate is temperate in the north, with mild rainy winters and hot, dry summers. The south of the country is desert. The terrain in the north is mountainous, which, moving south, gives way to a hot, dry central plain. The south is semiarid, and merges into the Sahara. A series of salt lakes, known as chotts or shatts, lie in an east-west line at the northern edge of the Sahara, extending from the Gulf of Gabes into Algeria. The lowest point is Shatt al Gharsah, at -17 m, and the highest is Jebel ech Chambi, at 1544 metres.
Major Cities: Tunis 2 380 500,
Sfax 277 278
Tunisia -- History --
At the beginning of known recorded history, Tunisia was inhabited by Berber tribes. Its coast was settled by Phoenicians starting as early as the 10th century B.C. The city of Carthage was founded in the 9th century B.C. by settlers from Tyre, now in modern day Lebanon. Legend says, that Dido founded the city in 814 B.C., as retold in by the Greek writer Timaeus of Tauromenium. The settlers of Carthage brought their culture and religion from the Phoenicians and other Canaanites.
After a series of wars with Greek city-states of Sicily in the 5th century BC, Carthage rose to power and eventually became the dominant civilization in the Western Mediterranean. The people of Carthage worshipped a pantheon of Middle Eastern gods including Baal and Tanit. Tanit's symbol, a simple female figure with extended arms and long dress, is a popular icon found in ancient sites. The founders of Carthage also established a Tophet which was altered in Roman times.
Though the Romans referred to the new empire growing in the city of Carthage as Punic or Phoenician, the empire built around Carthage was an independent political entity from the other Phoenician settlements in the Western Mediterranean.
A Carthaginian invasion of Italy led by Hannibal during the Second Punic War, one of a series of wars with Rome, nearly crippled the rise of the Roman Empire. Carthage was eventually conquered by Rome in the 2nd century BC, a turning point which led to ancient Mediterranean civilization having been influenced mainly by European instead of African cultures.
After the Roman conquest, the region became one of the granaries of Rome, and was Latinized and Christianized. The Romans controlled nearly all of modern Tunisia, unlike other modern African countries, of which Rome only held the northern coast. It was conquered by the Vandals in the 5th century AD and reconquered by the commander Belisarius in the 6th century during the rule of Byzantine emperor Justinian.
Around the beginning of the 8th century the region was conquered by Arab Muslims, who founded the city of Kairouan which became the first city of Islam in North Africa. Tunisia flourished under Arab rule. Extensive irrigation installations were constructed to supply towns with water and promote agriculture (especially olive production). This prosperity permitted luxurious court life and was marked by the construction of new Palace cities such as al-Abassiya (809) and Raqadda (877).
Successive Muslim dynasties ruled Tunisia (Ifriqiya at the time) with occasional instabilities caused mainly by Berber rebellions; of these reigns we can cite the Aghlabids (800-900) and Fatimids (909-972). After conquering Cairo, Fatimids abandoned North Africa to the local Zirids (Tunisia and parts of Eastern Algeria, 972-1148) and Hammadid (Central and eastern Algeria, 1015-1152). North Africa was submerged by their quarrels; political instability was connected to the decline of Tunisian trade and agriculture. In addition the invasion of Tunisia by Banu Hilal, a warlike Arab Bedouin tribes encouraged by Fatimids of Egypt to seize North Africa, sent the region's urban and economic life into further decline. The Arab historian Ibn Khaldun wrote that the lands ravaged by Banu Hilal invaders had become completely arid desert.
The coasts were held briefly by the Normans of Sicily in the 12th century and the following Arab reconquest made the last Christians in Tunisia disappear. In 1159, Tunisia was conquered by the Almohad caliphs. They were succeeded by the Berber Hafsids (c.1230– 1574), under whom Tunisia prospered. In the late 16th century the coast became a pirate stronghold.
In the last years of the Hafsids, Spain seized many of the coastal cities, but these were recovered by the Ottoman Empire. Under its Turkish governors, the Beys, Tunisia attained virtual independence. The Hussein dynasty of Beys, established in 1705, lasted until 1957. From 1881 - 1956 the country was under French colonization. European settlements in the country were actively encouraged; the number of French colonists grew from 34,000 in 1906 to 144,000 in 1945. In 1910 there were 105,000 Italians in Tunisia.
In 1942– 1943, Tunisia was the scene of the first major operations by the Allied Forces (the British Empire and the United States) against the Axis Powers (Italy and Germany) during World War II. The main body of the British army, advancing from their victory in Battle of el-Alamein under the command of British Field Marshal Montgomery, pushed into Tunisia from the south. The US and other allies, following their invasions of Algeria and Morocco in Operation Torch, invaded from the west.
General Rommel, commander of the Axis forces in North Africa, had hoped to inflict a similar defeat on the allies in Tunisia as German forces did in the Battle of France in 1940. Before the battle for el-Alamein, the allied forces had been forced to retreat toward Egypt. As such the battle for Tunisia was a major test for the allies. They figured out that in order to defeat Axis forces they would have to coordinate their actions and quickly recover from the inevitable setbacks the German-Italian forces would inflict.
On February 19, 1943, General Rommel launched an attack on the American forces in the Kasserine Pass region of Western Tunisia, hoping to inflict the kind of demoralizing and alliance-shattering defeat the Germans had dealt to Poland and France. The initial results were a disaster for the United States; the area around the Kasserine Pass is the site of many US war graves from that time.
However, the American forces were ultimately able to reverse their retreat. Having known a critical strategy in tank warfare, the Allies broke through the Mareth line on March 20, 1943. The allies subsequently linked up on April 8 and on May 2, 1943 the German-Italian Army in Tunisia surrendered. Thus, the United States, United Kingdom, Free French, and Polish (as well as other forces) were able to win a major battle as an allied army.
Tunisia -- Economy --
Tunisia has a diverse economy, ranging from agriculture, mining, manufacturing, petroleum products and tourism. In 2008 it had a GDP of $41 billion (official exchange rates), or $82 billion (purchasing power parity). It also has one of Africa and the Middle East's highest per-capita GDPs (PPP). The agricultural sector stands for 11,6% of the GDP, industry 25,7%, and services 62,8%. The industrial sector is mainly made up of clothing and footwear manufacturing, production of car parts, and electric machinery. Although Tunisia managed an average 5% growth over the last decade it continues to suffer from a high unemployment especially among youth.
GDP growth rate (%)Tunisia was ranked the most competitive economy in Africa and the 40th in the world by the World Economic Forum. Tunisia has managed to attract many international companies such as Airbus and Hewlett-Packard.
The European Union remains Tunisia's first trading partner, currently accounting for 72.5% of Tunisian imports and 75% of Tunisian exports. Tunisia is a one of the European Union’s most established trading partners in the Mediterranean region and ranks as the EU’s 30th largest trading partner. Tunisia was the first Mediterranean country to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union, in July 1995, although even before the date of entry into force, Tunisia started dismantling tariffs on bilateral EU trade. Tunisia finalised the tariffs dismantling for industrial products in 2008 and therefore was the 1st Mediterranean country to enter in a free trade area with EU.
Tunisia also attracted large Persian Gulf investments (especially from United Arab Emirates) the largest include:
Mediterranean gate: a US$ 25 billion project to build a new city in the south of Tunis.
Tunis Sport City: an entire sports city currently being constructed in Tunis, Tunisia. The city that will consist of apartment buildings as well as several sports facilities will be built by the Bukhatir Group at a cost of $5 Billion.
Tunis Financial harbour: will deliver North Africa’s first offshore financial centre at Tunis Bay in a project with an end development value of US$ 3 billion.
Tunis Telecom City: A US$ 3 billion project to create an IT hub in Tunis.
Oil production of Tunisia is about 97 600 barrels/day. The main field is El bourma.
Sources of electricity productionThe majority of the electricity used in Tunisia is produced locally, by stateowned company STEG (Societe Tunisienne de l?Electricite et du Gaz).In 2008 a total of 13 747 GHW was produced in the country.
Tunisia is on the path of installing two nuclear powerplants within a 10 year period. Each one of these is projected at producing 900-1000 MW. In it's effort to obtain nuclear energy, France is set to become an important partner. Tunisia and France have inked agreements, where France will deliver training and know how amongst others.
Tunisia -- Culture --
The constitution declares Islam as the official state religion and requires the President to be Muslim. Tunisia also
enjoys a significant degree of religious freedom, a right enshrined and protected in its constitution which guarantees
the freedom to practice one's religion. The country has a culture that encourages acceptance of other religions;
religious freedom is widely practiced. However, the government has been accused of limiting the freedom of Muslims
by banning the wearing the Headscarf (Hijab). The government believes the Hijab is a "garment of foreign origin having a partisan connotation".
Individual Tunisians are tolerant of religious freedom and generally do not inquire about a person's personal beliefs.
The majority of Tunisia's population (98%) are Muslims, while 1% follow Christianity and the rest (1%) adhere to Judaism or other religions. However, there are no reliable data on the number of practicing Muslims. Some reports stipulate that atheists form the second largest group in the country (making it probably on top of any other North African country). Religion in Tunisia
The constitution declares Islam as the official state religion and requires the President to be Muslim. Tunisia also enjoys a significant degree of religious freedom, a right enshrined and protected in its constitution which guarantees the freedom to practice one's religion. The country has a culture that encourages acceptance of other religions; religious freedom is widely practiced. However, the government has been accused of limiting the freedom of Muslims by banning the wearing the Headscarf (Hijab). The government believes the Hijab is a "garment of foreign origin having a partisan connotation".
Individual Tunisians are tolerant of religious freedom and generally do not inquire about a person's personal beliefs.
Tunisia has a sizable Christian community of around 25,000 adherents; mainly Catholics (20,000) and to a lesser degree Protestants. Judaism is the country's third largest religion with 1,500 members. One-third of the Jewish population lives in and around the capital. The remainder lives on the island of Djerba, where the Jewish community dates back 2,500 years.
Djerba, an island in the Gulf of Gabes, is home to El Ghriba synagogue, which is one of the oldest synagogues in the world. Many Jews consider it a pilgrimage site with celebrations taking place there once every year.
Tunisia -- Political system, law and government --
Tunisia is a procedural democracy. On paper it is a republican presidential system characterized by bicameral parliamentary system, including the Chamber of Representatives and the Chamber of Advisors. Authoritarian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, previously a military figure, has been in office since 1987, the year he acceded to the executive office of Habib Bourguiba after a team of medical experts judged Bourguiba unfit to exercise the functions of the office. Prior to that moment Ben Ali was Bourguiba's minister. The day of the succession, 7th of November, is celebrated by the state as national holiday, with many public building's and even the national currency and the only private airline and TV station (both owned by the family of the President's wife) carrying the '7 November' logo.
In Tunisia, the President is re-elected with enormous majorities every 5-year terms. He appoints a Prime Minister and cabinet, who play a minor role in the execution of policy. Regional governors and local administrators also are appointed by the central government. Largely consultative mayors and municipal councils are elected with most seats going to the President's party. There is a bicameral legislative body, the Chamber of Deputies, which has 182 seats, 20% of which are reserved for opposition parties and the Chamber of Advisors which is composed of representatives of political parties, professional organisations patronised by the President and by personalities appointed by the president of the Republic. Both chambers are composed of more than 20% women, making it one of the rare countries in the Arab world where women enjoy equal rights. Incidentally, it is also the only country in the Arab world where polygamy is forbidden by law. This is part of a provision in the country’s Code of Personal Status which was introduced by the former president Bourguiba in 1956.
The judiciary is not independent in constitutional matters and often corrupt in civil cases. The military does not play an obvious role in politics letting the ex-army man President run the country. Hundreds of thousands of young men avoid compulsory conscription and live with the constant fear of arrest although it appears that the police only go after them in certain times of the year only (the 'raffle') and often let them go if a sufficient bribe is paid.