Flag description: red with a white disk in the centre 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, hydro-carbons.
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 centre 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.
That 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 fundamentalist party.