2000s in Tunisia

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In 2004, Tunisians reelected President Ben Ali for a five-year term, with a reported 94.5% of the vote. Also elected were 189 members of the Majlis al-Nuwaab or Chamber of Deputies, whose term is five years. In addition, there is a Chamber of Advisors composed of 126 members with six-year terms, of whom 85 are elected by government subdivisions (e.g., municipalities), by professional associations, and by trade unions (14 union members boycotted the process); the remaining 41 members are appointed by the President. The court system remains a combination of French Civil Law and Islamic law.[1]

A widely supported human rights movement has emerged, which includes not only Islamists, but also trade unionists, lawyers, journalists. Tunisia's political institutions, however, sometimes appear to remain fixed in the authoritarian past. As of 2001, the government's response to calls for reform has been house arrests and prison.[2] As of February 2006, the government continues its refusal to recognize Muslim opposition parties, and governs the country in a political climate considered rigid, from time to time using objectionable military and police measures to repress dissent.

In foreign affairs, Tunisia continued close ties to the West. The Arab League was headquartered in Tunis from 1979 to 1991. From the perspective of 2003, in recent years Tunisia has taken a moderate, non-aligned stance in its foreign relations.

Tunis central district.
Tunis pedestrian mall with central district landmark.

Tunis, the capital, has a population of about 700,000, and the second city of Sfax numbers approximately 250,000. The population growth rate measured as births per female has fallen from 7 (1960s) to 2 (2007). Life expectancy is female 75, male 72. Required education is eight years. The religion is Muslim (98%), with 1% Christian, and 1% Jewish and other. The official language is Arabic, with French also spoken particularly in commercial dealings, and with less than 2% Berber. Literacy by definition includes all over 15 years, and is overall 74%, male 83% and female 65%. In 2006, 7.3 million mobile phones were in use and 1.3 million were on the internet; there were 26 television stations and 29 radio stations.[3]

Over half the population is considered urban, with agricultural workers being about 30% of the total. Between 1988 and 1998 the economy more than doubled. Unemployment in 2000 was about 15.6%, and in 2006 about 13.9%. Over 300,000 Tunisians were reported to be residing in France during 1994.[4][5] An association agreement with the European Union, signed in 1995, will move Tunisia toward full free trade with the EU by 2008. Left out of the recent prosperity were many rural and urban poor, including small businesses facing the world market.

Tunis at night.

The economy is diverse. A very significant portion derives from the tourist industry.[5][6] Its products are primarily from light industry (food processing, textiles, footwear, agribusiness, mining commodities, construction materials) and from agriculture (olives, olive oil, grains (wheat and barley), tomatoes, citrus, sugar beets, dates, almonds, figs, vegetables, grapes, beef dairy), as well as livestock (sheep, goats) and fishing. Other production comes from petroleum and mining (phosphates, iron, oil, lead, zinc, salt). Tunisia is self-sufficient in oil, but not in natural gas. Exports went to France 29%, Italy 20%, Germany 9%, Spain 6%, Libya 5%, U.S.A. 4%. Imports came from France 25%, Italy 22%, Germany 10%, Spain 5%.[1]

The monetary unit is the dinar, at about 1.33 per dollar U.S.A. (recently a fairly constant rate), with inflation estimated at 4.5% for 2006. Gross Domestic Product (G.D.P.) was composed of approximately 12.5% agriculture, 33.1% industry, and 54.4% services. The economy grew at 5% per year during the 1990s (the best in North Africa), but hit a 15-year low of 1.9% in 2002 (due to drought and a decline in tourism), but it regained a 5% rate for 2003–2005; it was said to be 4%-5% for 2006. Tunisia's per capita annual income was approximately 8,900 U.S.A. dollars in 2006.[7]

The face of the countryside changes markedly as one moves from north to south. In the north and central coast, orchards and fields predominate; while in the central plains, pasturage. Overall, arable land is 17%-19%, with forest and woodland 4%, permanent crops 13%, irrigated lands at 2.4%; about 20% is used for pasture. There are limited fresh water resources. In the south the environment grows increasingly arid, until eventually reaching the Sahara desert borderlands. Roads total about 20,000 km., two-thirds being paved, with most of the unpaved roads lying in the desert south.


  1. ^ a b The World Factbook on "Tunisia"
  2. ^ Moncef M. Khaddar, "Tunisia" at 848-850, 849, in Joel Krieger (ed.), Oxford Companion to Politics of the World (2001).
  3. ^ The World Factbook on "Tunisia".
  4. ^ Hermida, Alfred (1994). The Americana Annual 1994. New York: Grolier. pp. 544–545. 
  5. ^ a b Ryan, Rose (2000). The Americana Annual 2000. p. 548. 
  6. ^ when four million tourists were visiting each year, generating 47% of Tunisia's Gross Domestic Product (G.D.P.).
  7. ^ Ryan, "Tunisia" in The Americana Annual 2000 at 548; The World Factbook on "Tunisia".