Currently viewing country profile for Tunisia
Home of the ancient city of Carthage, Tunisia has long been an important player in the Mediterranean, placed as it is in the centre of North Africa, close to vital shipping routes.
In their time, the Romans, Arabs, Ottoman Turks and French realised its strategic significance, making it a hub for control over the region.
French colonial rule ended in 1956, and Tunisia was led for three decades by Habib Bourguiba, who advanced secular ideas. These included emancipation for women - women's rights in Tunisia are among the most advanced in the Arab world - the abolition of polygamy and compulsory free education.
Mr Bourguiba insisted on an anti-Islamic fundamentalist line, while increasing his own powers to become a virtual dictator.
In 1987 he was dismissed on grounds of senility and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali' became president. He continued with a hard line against Islamic extremists, but inherited an economically-stable country.
Although Tunisia has introduced some press freedoms and has freed a number of political prisoners, human rights groups say the authorities tolerate no dissent, harassing government critics and rights activists.
Mr Ben Ali faced reproach at home and abroad for his party's three "99.9%" election wins. The opposition condemned changes to the constitution which allowed him to run for re-election in 2004, and in 2009.
Tunisia is more prosperous than its neighbours and has strong trade links with Europe. Agriculture employs a large part of the workforce, and dates and olives are cultivated in the drier regions. Millions of European tourists flock to Tunisian resorts every year.
Political violence was rare until recently, but militant Islamists have become an issue of concern for the authorities. A suicide bomb attack on an historic synagogue in the resort of Djerba in 2002 killed 21 people and led to a dramatic drop in tourist numbers.
A dozen suspected Islamists were killed in shoot-outs with security forces in and around Tunis at the end of 2006 and the beginning of 2007. Lawyers say hundreds of people were arrested on suspicion of links with terrorist groups since 2003, when the authorities gained new powers of arrest.
Violent repression of protests over unemployment and lack of political freedom in the winter of 2010-2011 left dozens of people dead. But popular street protests continued and President Ben Ali went into exile in January 2011, his prime minister taking charge.
- Full name: Tunisian Republic
- Population: 10.4 million (UN, 2010)
- Capital: Tunis
- Area: 164,150 sq km (63,378 sq miles)
- Major languages: Arabic (official); French
- Major religion: Islam
- Life expectancy: 73 years (men), 77 years (women) (UN)
- Monetary unit: 1 Tunisian dinar (TD) = 1,000 millimes
- Main exports: Agricultural products, textiles, oil
- GNI per capita: US $3,720 (World Bank, 2009)
- Internet domain: .tn
- International dialling code: +216
Interim President: Fouad Mebazaa
Former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali went into exile in January 2011 following weeks of street protests whose success inspired waves of unrest across the Middle East and North Africa.
The Tunisian uprising, described as the Jasmine Revolution, unseated Mr Ben Ali after 23 years in power. Within weeks a similar popular revolt in Egypt removed long-term president Hosni Mubarak.
Once Mr Ben Ali stepped aside his prime minister, Mohammed Ghannouchi, formed a unity government which included some opposition figures but angered protesters and some of his new cabinet by picking several members of the old guard. Mr Ghannouchi resigned soon after.
Mr Mebazaa, as interim president, has said an interim government would manage the transition to democracy until a representative council is elected in July to rewrite the constitution.
Mr Ben Ali, from the ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), had been due to retire in 2004 but changes to the constitution allowed him to run for two more terms.
Born in 1936 in Hammam Sousse, Mr Ben Ali was Tunisia's ambassador in Warsaw in 1980 and became prime minister in October 1987.
He was sworn in as the new president in 1987, after doctors declared President Habib Bourguiba unfit to govern because of senility. The takeover is sometimes described as a palace coup.
Rights groups and some political opponents said Tunisia's government was authoritarian with a veneer of pluralism. They said it stifled free speech and beat and jailed opponents, something the government denied.
The government of former President Ben Ali tightly controlled the press and broadcasting. But in the immediate wake of the January 2011 popular revolt, many journalists were able to enjoy new-found freedoms. State TV - which had toed the government line - changed tack, giving airtime to the former opposition.
However, some journalists warned that the network of editors and censors set up under Mr Ben Ali remained in place.
The state broadcaster operates two national TV channels and several radio networks. Egyptian and pan-Arab satellite TVs command large audiences.
Under Mr Ben Ali, press codes shaped coverage and stipulated fines and prison sentences for violators. Journals were screened before publication and self-censorship was widespread. Websites which criticised the government were often blocked.
There were 3.6 million internet users in Tunisia by June 2010 - 34% of the population (Internetworldstats.com). The extensive use of social media during the January 2011 protests prompted some commentators to describe the events as a "Facebook victory" and a "Twitter revolution".
A chronology of key events:
circa 1100 BC - Phoenicians settle the north African coast. The city of Carthage, near the site of present-day Tunis, becomes a naval power.
146 BC - Carthage falls to the Romans.
439 AD - Vandals invade; Roman buildings and artefacts are destroyed.
600s - Arabs conquer the territory of present-day Tunisia.
909 - Berbers wrest the region from the Arabs.
1600s - Tunisia becomes part of the Turkish Ottoman empire, but has a high degree of autonomy.
1800s - French and Turkish designs on Tunisia force it to tread a careful path.
1881 - French troops occupy Tunis. France controls economic and foreign affairs; Tunisia is a French protectorate from 1883.
1934 - Habib Bourguiba founds the pro-independence Neo-Dustour Party
1942 - World War II: German troops arrive to resist allied forces in Algeria. Allied forces drive German, Italian troops out in 1943.
1956 20 March - Tunisia becomes independent with Bourguiba as prime minister.
1957 - The monarchy is abolished and Tunisia becomes a republic.
1961 - Tunisia says French forces must leave their base in Bizerte. Fighting breaks out. France pulls out of Bizerte in 1963, after long-running talks.
1981 - First multi-party parliamentary elections since independence. President Bourguiba's party wins by a landslide.
1985 - Israel raids Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) HQ in Tunis; 60 people are killed. The raid is in response to the killing by the PLO of three Israeli tourists in Cyprus.
1987 - Bloodless palace coup: Prime Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has President Bourguiba declared mentally unfit to rule and takes power himself.
Ben Ali election win
1989 - Ben Ali wins presidential elections. He goes on to be re-elected four more times, the last time in 2009.
1999 - First multi-party presidential elections; Ben Ali wins a third term.
2000 April - Habib Bourguiba, the founding father of independent Tunisia, dies.
2002 April - 19 people - 11 of them German tourists - are killed in a bomb explosion at a synagogue in the resort of Djerba; Al-Qaeda claims responsibility.
2002 May - President Ben Ali wins a referendum on constitutional changes, paving the way for his fourth term.
2002 September - Jailed leader of Communist Workers' Party, Hamma Hammami, is freed on health grounds. He had been accused of being in an illegal organisation and of inciting rebellion.
2004 October - President Ben Ali wins a fourth term with 94% of the vote.
2005 July - Parliament introduces an upper house - the Chamber of Councillors - which is dominated by the ruling party.
2005 November - Tunisia hosts a UN conference on the global information society. Authorities deny that police have harassed journalists and other delegates.
2006 - October - Authorities launch a campaign against the Islamic headscarves worn by some women.
Tunisia moves to close its embassy in Qatar in protest at alleged bias by the Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV channel. The channel broadcast remarks by veteran Tunisian dissident Moncef Marzouki in which he called for peaceful resistance to the Tunisian government.
2006 December - The Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), the main opposition party, elects a woman as leader - a first for Tunisia. She is May Eljeribi.
2007 January - Islamist militants and security forces clash in Tunis. Twelve people are killed. Interior Minister Rafik Belhadj Kacem says the Salafist militants had come from Algeria.
2009 February - French court sentences German convert to Islam to 18 years over attack on Djerba synagogue in 2002. Walid Nouar, brother of suicide bomber, got 12 years for his part in al-Qaeda attack.
2009 July - Police charge nine men, including two air-force officers, with plotting to kill US servicemen during joint military exercises.
2009 October - President Ben Ali wins a fifth term in office.
2009 November - Taoufik Ben Brik, a journalist critical of the president, is jailed for assault. Rights groups say the case is politically motivated.
2010 July - Appeals court upholds prison sentence imposed on journalist Fahem Boukadous over his coverage of violent protests.
2010 December - Protests break out over unemployment and political restrictions, and spread nationwide.
2011 January - President Ben Ali goes into exile amid continuing protests.
Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi announces an interim national unity government, only partly satisfying protesters.
2011 February - Prime minister Ghannouchi resigns, responding to demands by demonstrators calling for a clean break with the past.
2011 March - Date for election of a constitutional council set for 24 July.
Rally for Constitutional Democracy (RCD), the party of ousted President Ben Ali, is dissolved by court order.
2011 April - Libyan troops cross border into Tunisia during clashes with rebels.
Thousands of Tunisians flee by boat to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
2011 May - Curfew imposed amid fresh street protests.
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