Largest City: Tunis (10,670,000)
Population: 10,937,521 (July 2014 est.)
Ethnic Groups: Arab (98%), European (1%), Jewish and other (1%)
Life Expectancy: 74 years (men), 78 years (women)
Major Languages: Tunisian Dialect of Arabic, French, Tamazight (Berber)
Major Religions: Islam, Christianity, Judaism
Currency: Tunisian Dinar (د)
Main Agriculture Products: Olives, olive oil, grain, tomatoes, citrus fruit,
sugar beets, dates, almonds, beef, dairy products
Main Industries: Petroleum, mining, tourism, textiles, footwear,
Main Natural Resources: Petroleum, phosphates, iron ore, lead, zinc, salt
U.S. Area - Comparative: Slightly larger than Georgia
*Information gathered from CIA World
Fact Book & BBC News Country Profile
Tunisia is located on the
northernmost tip of Africa. It borders the Mediterranean Sea and is
flanked by Algeria and Libya. It has a total area of 163,610 sq km or
63,170 sq miles, which equates to an area slightly larger than Georgia.
Tunisia has a Mediterranean climate and is temperate along the coast, but
becomes hotter in the south towards the Sahara Desert. The country is
mountainous to the north along the Atlas Mountains, while the rest of the
country is low-lying, with plains and lush valleys. Tunisia is especially
arable in the Sahel region, along its eastern coast. Some of the
environmental issues the country faces include water pollution, limited natural
fresh water resources, deforestation, desertification, and soil erosion. Tunisia has accepted several international
agreements on topics such as environmental protection, marine toxic chemical
dumping, and the climate change Kyoto Protocol, but lacks the means to implement
many of these recommendations.
Interactive Map - An interactive map of Tunisia that allows user
to view images of cities, villages, and ruins
History and Government:
Because of its strategic location the northernmost point of
the African continent on the Mediterranean coast, Tunisia has been considered a
great strategic location for centuries. Ancient inscriptions and rock art
from the region suggests the indigenous population (Berber) were some of the first inhabitants. The seafaring Phoenicians
took hold of the region in the 9th century BCE. According to
legend, Queen Dido of the Phoenicians established the capital in Carthage in
814 BCE. She is most famous for her romance with Aeneas in Virgil’s
As the city of Carthage rose in
power, it gained its independence from other Phoenician settlements.
Starting in the 3rd century BCE, Carthage led a series of wars in what is known as the Punic Wars for
regional control against the Roman Empire. Hannibal,
a military commander of the Carthaginian army, led the particularly bloody Second
Punic War from 218 to 210 BCE. This war was marked by Hannibal’s
incredible crossing of the Alps with 80,000 men and a number of war
elephants. Despite this daring offensive, Rome eventually conquered and
The region was subsequently
conquered by the Vandals in the 5th century CE, the Byzantines in
the 6th century, and finally the Arabs in the 7th and 8th
centuries. Several Islamic dynasties successively ruled over
Tunisia. It became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th
century until the French seized control of the area in 1881. The number
of French colonists increased dramatically under the French protectorate to
144,000 by 1945.
In 1957, France granted Tunisia independence
and it became a republic. Habib Bourguiba became the first president and
led the country for three decades. He enacted many liberal and
pro-Western reforms including compulsory and free education for ages 6 through
16, and women’s rights such as the right to vote and file for divorce. He
also made the historic Jericho Speech in 1965 which supported a permanent peace
between Israelis and Palestinians based on the recommendations of the United
Nations. This speech marked the first
time an Arab president spoke in favor of establishing peace with Israel.
On November 7, 1987, Bourguiba was
judged to be medically incapable of running the country by Prime Minister Zine
El-Abidine Ben Ali and a team of doctors.
He had been in poor health since the 1970s, and his mental capacity was
put into question after he called for the immediate hanging of several
prominent Islamists in the country. He
was replaced by Ben Ali, who ruled for twenty-four years. In December 2010, protests broke out across the country in
response to growing unemployment, food inflation, and lack of political
freedom. The protests culminated in what has been identified as the Jasmine Revolution. This revolution was
sparked on January 4, 2011, after a street vendor, Mohammed Bouazizi, carried out a public
self-immolation to protest corrupt government practices. After a month of protests, public pressure drove President Ben Ali was driven into exile to Saudi Arabia on January 14, 2011, leaving his Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi at the
head of an interim government. Following
continued protests, he was replaced by Fouad Mebazaa, who had previously been
serving as president of the Chamber of Deputies.
On December 12, 2011, the
Constituent Assembly of Tunisia, a body elected to govern the country and draft
a new constitution, elected Moncef Marzouki as the interim President of the
Tunisian Republic. The new government
has addressed some of the concerns of the Jasmine Revolution protests such as the
length and terms of office, the authority of the legislature, and separation of
powers, although areas of law and human rights remain unaddressed.
History and Government Links:
BBC Special Report - Photos, analysis, and updates on the Tunisian uprising of
The Tunisian Government Portal - News, statistics, and data presented by the Tunisian
government in French and Arabic
Tunisia – Brief
history of Tunisia from the 10th century BCE to the present, as well as sections its land and people, and economy
Legend of Queen Dido
People and Language:
The population of Tunisia is nearly 11 million, with an average life expectancy of 76 years.
Most of the population is of Tamazight (Berber) or Arab descent (98%) and speaks Arabic,
although there is a small Jewish and European community as well at about 1% of
the population each. French is commonly
used in major cities and in business settings. According to the CIA Fact
Book, 67% of the population lives in urban areas, growing at a rate of 1.7% per
Education in Tunisia has been a high
priority of the federal government and is compulsory for children between
the ages of 6 and 16. The Tunisian
education system is based off the French system which involves three cycles:
primary, secondary, and higher education. Primary education lasts for nine years and is
the only compulsory period of education for students. Students that elect to go to secondary
education continue for four years, and students either prepare to enter college
or the workforce. There are many free
public universities for students to attend including the Ecole Polytechnique de
Tunisie, the International University of Tunis, and the Université des Sciences
de Tunis. These are all located in the capital of Tunis. In 2005-2006, there
were 178 public institutions of higher education. According to the CIA Fact Book, the literacy
rate approaches 79.1%, a high number compared to other countries in the region.
Health conditions have steadily
improved and state owned health facilities and hospitals provide free services
to all Tunisian citizens and residents. As of 2010, Tunisia maintains
roughly 1.2 physicians per 1,000 people, about half the rate experienced by
the United States and Europe (about 2.5 per 1,000 people). The government
has supported family planning by opening up facilities throughout the country to
provide contraception services and by favoring fewer children and older marital
age in Social Security policies. This
has led to a decrease in fertility rates to about seventeen births for every
1,000 people (right around the 50th percentile).
of Tunisia’s population practices Sunni Islam. The remaining 2% is comprised of a mix of
Christians, Jews, and other religions. Tunisia has a secular and tolerant
culture and provides guarantees for the free practice of religion in the constitution.
One third of the Jewish population, or about 700 people, live in Tunis while
the remaining 1,000 reside in Djerba, an island off the eastern coast of
In spite of its small size, Tunisia
is a historically diverse country. It was conquered by the Phoenicians,
Romans, and Arabs and is home to an array of ethnic groups and religions.
Tunisia has a rich artistic culture
and hosts at least fifty festivals every year. The country is known for
many of its craft products such as pottery, carpets, and jewelry, and is
especially famous for mosaics of varying colors and shapes. These are
often carved out of stone or marble and feature depictions of Roman and Islamic
times. The Bardo Museum, located in Tunis, holds one of the largest
collections of mosaics from the Greek, Roman, and Islamic periods.
The Jasmine Revolution, which
sparked the later Arab Spring movement and led to the resignation of Tunisian
president Ben Ali, has begun to influence contemporary Tunisian art. Carthage Contemporary, a program located in
the Carthage National Antiquities Museum, has recently launched a series titled
“Chkoun Ahna” meaning “about us”. Curator
Khadija Hamdi describes the exhibit as one which looks to understand Tunisian
history through modern art.
The National Bardo Museum
– Managed by Tunisia's Ministry of Culture Agency for the Development of National Heritage & Cultural promotion, the Bardo Museum is the largest museum in Tunisia. The website offers information on how to visit, on scheduled events, and on its 101 masterpieces, among other highlights of the collection.
Tunisia’s Center of Ceramics – This Saudi Aramco World article highlights Tunisia’s rich
Chkoun Ahna - An interview with curator
Khadija Hamdi about her exhibit “Chkoun Ahna”, developed following the Jasmine Revolution.
Tunisia is home to some of the most
impressive Punic and Roman sites. The amphitheater in El Jem is the third
largest amphitheater in the Roman world (after the Coliseum in Rome and the amphitheater
in Capua). Dougga, in northern Tunisia, is considered one of the most
well preserved Roman towns in North Africa. You can also visit the old
city of Carthage, destroyed and later rebuilt by the Romans in 146 BC following
the Third Punic War.
The Great Mosque of Kairouan, also
known as the Mosque of Uqba, is one of the oldest mosques in North Africa.
It was built in several stages during the 7th and 8th
centuries during the Aghlabid period and served as the prototype for other
North African mosques. The Aghlabids
were a dynasty of emirs in North Africa who swore allegiance to the Abbasid
Caliphs in Baghdad. They served as a
critical trading point on the Mediterranean between Africa and Europe.
Many movies have been filmed in
Tunisia including parts of George Lucas’ Star
Wars movies. Many of the sets can still be seen today including the
site of Tataouine and the home of Luke Skywalker. The country has also hosted locations for
films such as Roman Polanski’s Pirates, the action film Raiders of
the Lost Ark, and Monty Python’s The Life of Brian.
Remnants of Tunisian Colonial Architecture
Traditional Architecture and Contemporary Art - Murals rely on the domed structures of Jerba Island to create surreal images.
Aga Khan Development Network - AKDN awarded the Association de Sauvegarde de la Medina de Tunis for its revitalization projects in the old city section of Tunis.
El Jem – Images and
description of El Jem, one of the largest and best-preserved Roman amphitheatres
Kairouan Great Mosque - This is the oldest Muslim place of worship in Africa, and also considered the 4th most important holy site in Islam, after Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem.
Tunisia is best known for ma’louf, a
kind of Andalusian music imported by Arabs and Jews during the 15th
century. Andalusian music is influenced by the Muslim period of rule in
Spain known as Al-Andalus. It is played
by small musical ensembles consisting of violins, lutes (ouds), and zithers, a
type of string instrument common in Southern Europe. Ma’louf was highly
influenced by Ottoman culture, having adopted Turkish-style compositions and
musical structures during the time of the Ottoman Empire. Today, it is
mostly played at weddings and public celebrations of religious holidays.
Recently, Tunisian underground music
has found an audience among younger Tunisians.
Since most contemporary Tunisian mainstream music includes only a few
different musical styles, predominantly ma’louf, underground music has come to
include any artist or band that sings or composes in a different genre. Most
heavy metal, dark, and Gothic bands in Tunisia sing in English. In contrast, most Tunisian rappers perform in
Tunisian (the local Arabic dialect). The
Tunisian rap scene is very productive with artists such as DJ Costa, Arab Clan,
Warda Crew, Slim Larnaaout, and Kamel Zmen. Electronic music is also on the rise in
Tunisia. Due to suppression from the
Tunisian government of underground music, these musical styles often discuss
themes of defiance against the government.
Underground music was often played during the Jasmine Revolution for
DJ Costa Tunisian Rap
Soccer is the most popular sport in
Tunisia with Tunisians having participated in several African and World Cup
competitions. Their national team, known as “The Eagles of Carthage,” has
qualified for four FIFA World Cups. The
first one was in 1978, but Tunisia has yet to make it out of the first
round. Nevertheless, they made history
in the 1978 tournament in Argentina by becoming the first African team to win a
World Cup match, beating Mexico 3–1. Tourism has helped develop and popularize
many other sports such as golf, volleyball, and tennis, with the national
volleyball team winning eight championships in Africa. The country also hosts the Tunis Open, a
tennis tournament featuring players from all over the world. Water sports such as sailing and scuba diving
are also very popular.
FIFA – News, statistics, and information about the Tunisian
national soccer team
Tunisian News Outlets:
As-Sabah – Arabic daily
– French daily
Quotidien – Arabic daily#mce_temp_url#
Le Temps - French daily
Tunisian African Press Agency - English, French, and Arabic
BBC Timeline: Tunisia - A chronology of key events in Tunisia.
Background Note: Tunisia - Information gathered by the U.S. Department of State on the history, economy,
and government of Tunisia.
The Tunisian Government Portal - News, statistics, and data presented by the Tunisian
government, in Arabic and French.
Middle East Policy
Council Articles on Tunisia