Flag description: red with a white disk in the center bearing
a red crescent nearly encircling a red five-pointed star; the crescent
and star are traditional symbols of Islam
Location: Northern Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between
Algeria and Libya
Geographic coordinates: 34 00 N, 9 00 E
Climate: temperate in north with mild, rainy winters and hot,
dry summers; desert in south
Independence: 20 March 1956 (from France)
Capital City: Tunis
Population: 9,593,402 (July 2000 est.)
Head of State: President Zine El Abidine BEN ALI
Area: 163,610 sq km
Type of Government: republic
Currency: 1 Tunisian dinar (TD) = 1,000 millimes
Major peoples: Arab 98%, European 1%, Jewish and other 1%
Religion: Muslim 98%, Christian 1%, Jewish and other 1%
Official Language: Arabic
Principal Languages: Arabic, French
Major Exports: textiles, mechanical goods, phosphates and chemicals,
agricultural products, hydrocarbons
History: Tunisia was part of the ancient city-state of CARTHAGE,
which fell to the Romans in 146 BC. It was an important part of the
Roman Empire's Africa province because it was agriculturally rich, and
its fisheries, mines, and quarries were productive.
The Arabs gained control in the 7th century and moved the capital from
Carthage to al-Kaiouan.
The Arabic language and Islam replaced Latin
and Christianity, and the native Berbers supported the new Arab empire.
Successive invasions by Bedouins from Arabia, Normans from Sicily, and
Moroccans followed. The Ottoman Empire conquered Tunisia in 1574.
As one of the so-called BARBARY STATES, Tunisia became a center of
piracy, on which the public treasury depended until about 1817. As
the country fell into political and economic chaos, Great Britain, Italy,
and France vied for influence. France finally gained a free hand
at the 1878 Congress of Berlin and established a protectorate in 1881.
The protectorate lasted until 1956. In 1957 a republic was proclaimed
with Habib BOURGUIBA as its president. Bourguiba subsequently consolidated
his political power in Tunisia and strengthened relations with France and
the Arab states. In 1975 he was elected president for life.
Palestinian leader Yasir ARAFAT had his headquarters in Tunis from 1982
to 1986, and the ARAB LEAGUE was headquartered there from 1979 to 1990.
Economic problems sparked antigovernment riots in 1984 and contributed
to a rise in Islamic fundamentalism and the seizure of power from the ailing
Bourguiba in 1987 by Prime Minister Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who praised
Bourguiba but said he was no longer fit to govern. Ben Ali, who released
many political prisoners and liberalized the economy, remained head of
state following presidential and legislative elections in 1989.
year, Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia established the
Arab Maghrib Union to promote regional economic integration. Tunisia
criticized the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait but refused to join the allied
forces in the PERSIAN GULF WAR of 1991.
In the early 1990s, as Islamic
fundamentalists gained strength throughout the region, the government cracked
down on Muslim militants. It refused to recognize al-Nahdah, the