Geography

Tunisia is in northern Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Algeria and Libya. It has a land area of 155,360 sq km.

Historical background

Tunisians are the descendants of the indigenous Berbers and of people from numerous civilisations that invaded or migrated to the area and were assimilated over the millennia.

Phoenicians founded Carthage in the eighth century BCE to become a major sea power often clashing with Rome for control over the Mediterranean. The conflict subsided when Carthage was defeated and captured by the Romans in 146BCE.

The Muslim conquest of Tunisia in the seventh century made the country a centre of Arab culture and learning. It became part of the Turkish Ottoman empire in the 16th century.

Tunisia became a French protectorate in 1881 and gained its independence in 1956.

Modern political history

President Habib Burguiba, who had been the leader of the independence movement against France, declared Tunisia a republic in 1957, ending the nominal rule of the former Ottoman bureaucrats as well as French occupation.

He formed a republic with a strong presidential system dominated by a single political party.

In the late 70s and 80s, Burguiba dealt toughly with a growing Islamist opposition and outlawed, expelled and imprisoned many, including members of the opposition Al-Nahda (Renaissance) party.

After 30 years of authoritarian rule, Burguiba was deposed by Zin al-Din bin Ali in 1987 who in turn declared himself president.

Bin Ali has maintained a tough stance against extremists, but inherited an economically stable country which has increased prosperity and living standards.

Despite relaxing media restrictions and freeing some political prisoners, human rights groups are still critical of the government's treatment of political dissidents.

In October 1999 Bin Ali was criticised for the "99.9%" his ruling party won in the presidential poll, a figure that has occurred frequently when electing the ruling party.

In 2002, the president amended the constitution to extend his term of office.

Official name: Republic of Tunisia                                                                        
Capital: Tunis
Form of government: Republic
Gained independence: 20 March 1956

Economy

Tunisia is one of the few developing countries in the region to have moved into the "middle income" category and is in the process of economic reform and liberalisation after decades of government control and heavy participation in the economy.

Currency: Dinar (TND) - 1 USD = (app) 1.25 TND
Natural resources: Oil, phosphates, iron ore, lead, zinc, salt
Major industries: Oil, mining, tourism, textiles, footwear, agribusiness
GDP: $63bn (2002 est)
GDP annual growth rate: 1.7% (2002 est)
Per capita GDP: $6,500 (2002 est)
Imports: 49.1% of GDP (2002 est)
Exports: 44.8% of GDP (2002 est)

Military

Tunisia spends nearly 1.5% of its GDP on the military which consists of an army, a navy and an air force.

Military budget: $429m (2002 est)
Army size: 35,000 active troops

Culture

Waves of immigrants over the centuries to Tunisia have added their bit to the ethnic mix that has made the country fairly cosmopolitan, with the capital Tunis an ever more popular western tourist destination.

Population: 9,832,000 (2003 est)
Languages: Arabic (official), French
Religions: Islam 98% (official; mostly Sunni), Christian 1%, Jewish and other 1%
Ethnic diversity: Arab 98%, European 1%, Jewish and other 1%
Literacy Rate: 74.2%
Important media: Al-Sabah (private daily newspaper), La Presse (owned by ruling RCD party), Al-Horria (owned by ruling RCD party), Nouvelles de Tunisie (French newspaper), Tunisian Radio and Television Establishment (ERTT) (state-run, operates Tunis 7, Canal 21), Tunisian Radio (state-run), Radio Mosaique (Tunis FM station, the country's first private radio station)

Sources: World Bank, countryreports.org, MSN Encarta, politinfo.com, The World Almanac