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BACKGROUND NOTES:  TUNISIA
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

JULY 1994

Official Name:  Republic of Tunisia

PROFILE

Geography
Area:  163,610 sq. km. (63,378 sq. mi.), slightly smaller 
than Missouri.  

Cities:  Capital--Tunis (pop. about 
1 million).  Other city--Sfax (500,000).  

Terrain:  Arable land in north and along central coast; 
south is mostly semiarid or desert.  

Climate:  Hot, dry summers and mild, rainy winters.


People
Nationality:  Noun and adjective--Tunisian(s).  

Population (1993):  8,530,000.  Annual growth rate 
(1993)--1.9%.  
Ethnic groups:  Arab-Berber 98%, European 1%, other 1%.  

Religions:  Muslim 98%, Christian 1%, Jewish less than 
1%.  

Languages:  Arabic (official), French.  

Education:  Years compulsory--9.  Literacy--65%.  

Health (1992):  Infant mortality rate--38/1,000.  Life 
expectancy--67 years male, 70 years female.  

Work force (2,500,000):  Services--41%.   Industry--34%.  
Agriculture--24%.  Other--1%.


Government

Type:  Republic.  

Constitution:  June 1, 1959.  

Independence:  March 20, 1956.

Branches:  Executive--president (chief of state and head 
of government).  Legislative--unicameral 163-member 
Chamber of Deputies (popularly elected).  Judicial--
independent.  Judges of highest court are presidentially 
appointed.  

Administrative Subdivisions:  23 governorates.  
Political parties:  Constitutional Democratic Party 
(RCD), Movement of Democratic Socialists (MDS), Renewal 
Movement (formerly the Communist Party), Socialist 
Progressive Party (RSP), Popular Unity Party (PUP), 
Democratic Unionist Party (UDU), Social Liberal Party 
(PSP).  Illegal parties--Renaissance Party (An-Nahda), 
Tunisian Communist Workers' Party (POCT).  

Suffrage:  Universal at 20.

Flag:  Red star on a red crescent in a white circle 
centered on a red background.


Economy 

GDP (1993):  $12.2 billion.  

Growth rate (1992):  8%.  

Per capita GDP (1993):  $1,438.  

Natural resources:  crude oil, phosphates, iron ore, 
lead, zinc, salt.

Agriculture (21% of GDP):  Products--olives, beets, 
dates, oranges, almonds, grain, sugar.  

Industry (20% of GDP):  Types--petroleum, mining 
(particularly phosphate and iron ore), tourism, textiles, 
footwear, food processing, beverages.

Trade:  Exports--$6.1 billion (1993):  hydrocarbons, 
agricultural products, phosphates, and chemicals.  Major 
markets--EU 77%, Middle East 9%, U.S. 1%, Turkey, and the 
former Soviet Union.  Imports--$6.7 billion (1993):  
industrial goods and equipment, hydrocarbons, food, 
consumer goods.  Major suppliers--EU 71%, U.S. 5%, 
Canada, Japan, Switzerland, Turkey, Algeria.

Official exchange rate (1994):  1 dinar=U.S.$1. 


PEOPLE
Tunisians are descendants of indigenous Berber and Arab 
tribes that migrated to North Africa during the seventh 
century.  Recorded history in Tunisia begins with the 
arrival of Phoenicians, who founded Carthage and other 
North African settlements.  Carthage was captured by the 
Romans in AD 146, and the Romans continued to rule North 
Africa until they were defeated by tribesmen from Europe 
in the fifth century.  The Muslim conquest in the seventh 
century transformed North Africa.  Tunisia became a 
center of Arab culture until its assimilation into the 
Turkish Ottoman Empire in the 16th century.

France established a protectorate in Tunisia in 1881.  
The rise of nationalism led to Tunisia's independence in 
1956.  Independence leader Habib Bourguiba became 
Tunisia's first president in 1956 and held the office 
until 1987, when Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali was elected.

Post-independence tensions between France and Tunisia 
decreased in 1962 when France withdrew from its Bizerte 
naval base.  But when Tunisia nationalized foreign 
interests in 1964, relations with France again suffered.  
Cooperation with France improved in 1968, and France has 
extended important economic credits and technical 
assistance since then.


GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The Tunisian republic was established in 1957 with 
Bourguiba as President.  Tunisia adopted a constitution 
in June 1959.  President Bourguiba ran unopposed and 
legislative candidates met only token opposition in the 
elections that followed.  In October 1964, Bourguiba's 
Neo-Destour Party was renamed the Destourian Socialist 
Party (PSD).  Bourguiba was named President-for-life in 
1974 by a constitutional amendment.  Opposition parties 
were legalized in 1981, but the PSD maintained control of 
all legislative seats until the 1994 elections.  Ben Ali, 
elected President in 1987, renamed the PSD the 
Constitutional Democratic Party (RCD) in 1988.  It 
remains Tunisia's dominant political party.

In 1987, President Ben Ali initiated a democratization 
process, released some political prisoners, and abolished 
special state security courts.  In 1988, he forged a 
national pact which was signed by representatives of all 
opposition forces, including the Islamists. 

Tunisia's constitution was revised in 1988 to permit the 
president to serve for three five-year terms.  
Legislative elections are held every 5 years.  The 
president has full responsibility for determining 
national policy.  Presidential bills have priority before 
the Chamber of Deputies.  The president may govern by 
decree when the Chamber is not in session.  In the 
presidentially appointed cabinet, the prime minister is 
responsible for executive policy and succeeds the 
president in case of death or disability.

Ben Ali held presidential and legislative elections from 
1989 to 1991 but ran for president unopposed.  In 
elections for the Chamber of Deputies, candidates of the 
illegal Islamist party An-Nahda garnered averages of 18% 
of the vote in districts they contested as independents.  

The government introduced modified proportional 
representation for 1990 municipal elections, but 
opposition parties boycotted the elections to protest RCD 
control of the process.  A 1990 firebomb attack on an RCD 
party headquarters in the Bab Souika district of Tunis 
sparked a harsh government crackdown on the Islamist 
opposition.  Thousands of An-Nahda members and 
sympathizers were arrested for plotting to overthrow the 
President.  The 1992 military trials in which 265 
Islamists were convicted and sentenced to prison terms of 
one year to life were marked by defendants' allegations 
of widespread torture and abuse by security officers.

Opposition parties were elected to Tunisia's Chamber of 
Deputies for the first time in 1994 due to a new 
electoral code which set aside 19 seats in the 
legislature for opposition candidates elected by 
proportional vote.  In March 1994, President Ben Ali was 
re-elected to another 5-year term, capturing 99.9% of the 
vote. 

Trade unions have played a key role in Tunisia's history 
since the struggle for independence.  The assassination 
of Tunisian labor leader Ferhat Hached in 1952 was a 
catalyst for the final push against the French.  The 
General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT) had a decisive 
political presence during the first two decades of the 
republic.  Bourguiba cracked down on the UGTT in 1978, 
1984, and 1985.  Despite a drop in union membership from 
400,000 to about 250,000 as the structure of the Tunisian 
economy changed, the UGTT continued to hold a prominent 
place in Tunisia's political and social life.

Tunisia is a leader in the Arab world in the promotion of 
equal status for women under the law.  A Personal Status 
Code was adopted shortly after independence in 1956 
which, among other laws, prohibits polygamy.  Rights of 
women and children were further enhanced by 1993 reforms, 
which included a provision to allow Tunisian women to 
transmit citizenship even if they are married to a 
foreigner and living abroad.  The government has 
supported a remarkably successful family planning program 
that has reduced Tunisia's birth rate to 1.9%.

Tunisia's judiciary is headed by the Court of Cassation, 
whose judges are appointed by the president.

The country is divided administratively into 23 
governorates.  The president appoints all governors.


Principal Government Officials
President--Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali
Prime Minister--Hamed Karoui
Minister of State--Abdallah Kallel
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Habib Ben Yahia
Minister of National Defense--Abdelaziz Ben Dhia
Ambassador to the United States--vacant

Tunisia's embassy in the United States is located at 1515 
Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20005 (tel. 202-
862-1850, fax 202-862-1858).


ECONOMY
Tunisia's economic growth historically has depended on 
oil, phosphates, agriculture, and tourism.  The 
government's economic policies had limited success during 
the early years of independence.  During the 1960s, a 
drive for collectivization caused unrest, and farm 
production fell sharply.  Higher prices for phosphates 
and oil and growing revenues from tourism stimulated 
growth in the 1970s, but an emphasis on protectionism and 
import substitution led to inefficiencies.  Tunisia 
received considerable economic assistance during this 
period from the United States and European and Arab 
countries.

Late in 1985, commodity prices and tourism revenues fell, 
and harvests were poor.  Workers' remittances fell when 
Libya expelled 32,000 Tunisian workers.  An overvalued 
dinar and a growing foreign debt sparked a foreign 
exchange crisis.  In 1986, the government launched a 
structural adjustment program to liberalize prices, 
reduce tariffs, and reorient Tunisia toward a market 
economy.

Tunisia's economic reform program has been lauded as a 
model by international financial institutions.  The 
government has liberalized prices, reduced tariffs, 
lowered debt-service-to-exports and debt-to-GDP ratios, 
and extended the average maturity of its $9 billion 
foreign debt.  Structural adjustment brought additional 
lending from the World Bank and other Western creditors.  
In 1990, Tunisia acceded to the General Agreements on 
Tariffs and Trade (GATT).  The government also has 
privatized about 32 state-owned enterprises.

Unemployment continues to plague Tunisia's economy and is 
aggravated by a rapidly growing work force.  An estimated 
60% of the population is under the age of 25.  
Officially, 16% of the Tunisian work force is unemployed, 
but an estimated 50% of workers are unemployed or 
underemployed.

In 1992, Tunisia reentered the private international 
capital market for the first time in six years, securing 
a $10-million line of credit for balance of payments 
support.  An emerging stock exchange offers investors 
opportunities.  Recent oil and natural gas discoveries 
have put off until the 21st century Tunisia's becoming a 
net energy importer.  Still, difficult economic reforms 
need to be made, including further reductions in tariffs 
and subsidies.

The Tunisian Government adopted a unified investment code 
in 1993 to attract foreign capital.  More than 600 
export-oriented joint venture firms operate in Tunisia to 
take advantage of relatively low labor costs and 
preferential access to nearby European markets.  Economic 
links are closest with European countries, which dominate 
Tunisia's trade.  Tunisia seeks continued preferential 
trade agreements with European countries.  In 1993, 
Tunisia made the dinar convertible for trade 
transactions.


FOREIGN RELATIONS
President Bourguiba took a non-aligned stance but 
emphasized close relations with Europe and the United 
States.  President Ben Ali aims to increase relations 
with Arab and African nations while maintaining those 
with the West.

Tunisia served as the headquarters of the Arab League 
from 1979 to 1990 and has hosted the Palestine Liberation 
Organization's (PLO) headquarters since 1982.  Since the 
signing of the Israeli-PLO Accord in September 1993, the 
PLO Executive Committee has relocated to Jericho while 
the Political Department remains in Tunis.  Tunisia 
consistently has played a moderating role in the 
negotiations for a comprehensive Middle East peace.  In 
1993, Tunisia was the first Arab country to host an 
official Israeli delegation as part of the Middle East 
peace process.  Israeli citizens of Tunisian descent may 
travel to Tunisia on their Israeli passport.

Wedged between Algeria and Libya, Tunisia has had 
strained relations at times with its neighbors.  Tunisia 
and Algeria resolved a long-standing border dispute in 
1993 and have cooperated in the construction of a natural 
gas pipeline through Tunisia that connects Algeria to 
Italy.

Tunisia's relations with Libya have been erratic since 
Tunisia annulled a brief agreement to form a union in 
1974.  Diplomatic relations were broken in 1976 but 
restored in 1977.  Relations deteriorated again in 1980, 
when Libyan-trained rebels attempted to seize the town of 
Gafsa.  In 1982, the International Court of Justice ruled 
in Libya's favor in the partition of the oil-rich 
continental shelf it shares with Tunisia.  Libya's 1985 
expulsion of Tunisian workers and military threats led 
Tunisia to sever relations.  Relations were normalized 
again in 1987 but continue to be strained.

Tunisia has supported the development of the Arab Maghreb 
Union (UMA) along with Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, and 
Libya.  But progress on Maghreb integration has been 
stymied because of the political instability in Algeria 
and Libya's differences with the U.S. and Europe over its 
support for terrorism.


U.S.-TUNISIAN RELATIONS
The United States has maintained official representation 
in Tunis almost continuously since 1797.  The first 
American treaty with Tunisia was signed in 1799.  The two 
governments are not linked by security treaties, but 
relations have been close since Tunisia's independence.  
U.S.-Tunisian relations suffered briefly after the 1985 
Israeli raid on PLO headquarters in Tunis, after the 1988 
assassination of PLO terrorist Abu Jihad, and in 1990 
during the Gulf War when Tunisia objected to U.S. 
intervention following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.  In 
each case, however, relations warmed again quickly, 
reflecting strong bilateral ties.  The United States and 
Tunisia have an active schedule of joint military 
exercises.  U.S. security assistance historically has 
played an important role in cementing relations.  The 
U.S.-Tunisian Joint Military Commission meets annually to 
discuss military cooperation, Tunisia's defense 
modernization program, and other security matters.

The United States first provided economic and technical 
assistance to Tunisia under a bilateral agreement signed 
March 26, 1957.  Aid has totaled more than $1.5 billion 
since then.  Recently, it has primarily been used in 
support of Tunisia's conversion to a market-oriented 
economy.  Assistance has been provided through the U.S. 
Agency for International Development (USAID) and the 
Agriculture Department's commodity credit programs and 
PL-480 (Food for Peace).

The U.S. Government also responded rapidly with natural 
disaster relief following severe flooding in 1982 and 
1990 and a locust plague in 1988.  The Peace Corps has 
been active in Tunisia since 1961.  The program's 75 
volunteers focus on rural and urban development, 
vocational education, and public health.  American 
private assistance has been provided liberally since 
independence by foundations, religious groups, 
universities, and philanthropic organizations.

The U.S. government has supported Tunisia's efforts to 
attract foreign investment.  The United States and 
Tunisia concluded a bilateral investment treaty in 1990 
and an agreement to avoid double taxation in 1989.

American firms seeking to invest in Tunisia and export to 
Tunisia can receive insurance and financing for their 
business through U.S. Government agencies, including the 
Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the 
Export-Import Bank.  The best prospects for foreigners 
interested in the Tunisian market are in high technology, 
energy, agribusiness, food processing, medical care and 
equipment, and environmental and tourism sectors. 


Principal U.S. Officials 
Ambassador--Mary Ann Casey 
Deputy Chief of Mission--Carol K. Stocker 
Political Officer--Andrea M. Farsakh 
Economic Officer--David J. Peashock 
Commercial Officer--Paul C. O'Friel 

The U.S. Embassy in Tunisia is located at 144 Ave. de la 
Liberte, 1002 Tunis-Belvedere (tel. 011-216-1-782-566, 
fax 011-216-1-789719).  The U.S. Information Service 
(USIS) offices are located at 14 Rue Yahia Ibn Omar, 1002 
Tunis-Belvedere (tel. 011-216-1-789800).  



TRAVEL NOTES

Customs and currency:  Visas are not required of U.S. 
tourists visiting the country for up to four months.  
Firearms are carefully controlled, but there are no 
unusual customs restrictions.  Tunisian dinars may not be 
imported or exported, but foreign currency, including 
dollars, may be imported; departing travelers may take 
out the amounts they brought in and any other foreign 
currency certified to have been legally acquired in 
Tunisia.

Health:  Tunisia has no particular health hazards, but 
tapwater is not potable in certain seasons in Tunis.  
Adequate medical care is available in the capital and in 
other major cities. 

(###)


Published by the United States Department of State -- 
Bureau of Public Affairs -- Office of Public 
Communication -- Washington, DC    July 1994 -- Managing 
Editor:  Peter A. Knecht -- Editor:  Peter Freeman

Department of State Publication 8142 -- Background Notes 
Series.  For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, 
U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC  20402.  

(###)


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