Rivalry between French and Italian interests in Tunisia culminated in a French invasion in 1881 and the creation of a protectorate. Agitation for independence in the decades following World War I was finally successful in getting the French to recognize Tunisia as an independent state in 1956. The country’s first president, Habib BOURGUIBA, established a strict one-party state. He dominated the country for 31 years, repressing Islamic fundamentalism and establishing rights for women unmatched by any other Arab nation. In November 1987, BOURGUIBA was removed from office and replaced by Zine el Abidine BEN ALI in a bloodless coup. Street protests that began in Tunis in December 2010 over high unemployment, corruption, widespread poverty, and high food prices escalated in January 2011, culminating in rioting that led to hundreds of deaths. On 14 January 2011, the same day BEN ALI dismissed the government, he fled the country, and by late January 2011, a “national unity government” was formed. Elections for the new Constituent Assembly were held in late October 2011, and in December it elected human rights activist Moncef MARZOUKI as interim president. The Assembly began drafting a new constitution in February 2012, and is aiming to have it ratified by the end of the year.
Population: 10,732,900 (July 2012 est.)
People Groups: Arab 98%, European 1%, Jewish and other 1%
Languages: Arabic (official, one of the languages of commerce), French (commerce), Berber (Tamazight)
Religion: Muslim (Islam – official) 98%, Christian 1%, Jewish and other 1%
The constitution declares Islam as the official state religion and requires the President to be Muslim. Aside from the president, Tunisians enjoy 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 secular culture that encourages acceptance of other religions and religious freedom. With regards to the freedom of Muslims, the Tunisian government has restricted the wearing of Islamic head scarves (hijab) in government offices and it discourages women from wearing them on public streets and public gatherings. The government believes the hijab is a “garment of foreign origin having a partisan connotation”. There were reports that the Tunisian police harassed men with “Islamic” appearance (such as those with beards), detained them, and sometimes compelled men to shave their beards off. In 2006, the former Tunisian president declared that he would “fight” the hijab, which he refers to as “ethnic clothing”.Individual Tunisians are tolerant of religious freedom and generally do not inquire about a person’s personal beliefs.
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, with 39 synagogues, and where the Jewish community dates back 2,500 years.
Living Conditions: Infant mortality: total: 24.98 deaths/1,000 live births (male: 28.58 deaths/1,000 live births female: 21.12 deaths/1,000 live births.) Life expectancy: total population: 75.24 years (male: 73.2 years female: 77.42 years.)
Literacy: (definition: age 15 and over can read and write) total population: 74.3%
(male: 83.4% female: 65.3% (2004 census) .
Unemployment: 19% (2011 est.) Population below poverty line: 3.8% (2005 est.) It also has one of Africa and the Middle East’s highest per-capita GDPs ($9,400 (2011 est.)
chief of state: President Moncef MARZOUKI (since 13 December 2011)
head of government: Prime Minister Hamadi JEBALI (since 14 December 2011)
note:Prime Minister JEBALI was asked to form a new government on 14 December 2011. Tunisia’s interim government was appointed in December 2011 and will remain in power pending drafting of a new constitution and holding of general elections in mid-2013.
Legislative: unicameral Constituent Assembly (217 seats); note – this interim legislative body was formed and members elected following Tunisia’s 2010-11 political revolution.
Judicial: Court of Cassation
There is currently considerable opposition to the Islamist government.
That the present freedom of religion continues.
That the CPM will become the vision of the Christians in Tunisia.
That men of peace will be revealed.
That calm may prevail in the nation as the new constitution is published.