Tunisia , formally the Republic of Tunisia, is the most northern African country with a surface area of 165,000 km2. It has the most northerly point on the African continent, Cape Angela. It borders Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. The population of Tunisia was estimated at just under 11 million in 2014. The name of Tunisia is actually based on the capital, Tunis, which is situated on the north-eastern shore of the country.
Tunisia’s geographical area includes the eastern tip of the Atlas Mountains as well as the northern foothills of the Sahara Desert. Much of the rest of the country consists of fertile soil. The 1,300-kilometre coastline comprises the African link between the western and eastern parts of the Mediterranean basin and, with the Strait of Sicily and the Channel from Sardinia to Gibraltar, provides the second and third closest points of mainland Africa to Europe.
In ancient times, Tunisia was mainly inhabited by Berbers. In the 12th century BC, Phoenician emigration had begun; those immigrants founded Carthage. Carthage was a major trading power and a military rival of the Roman Republic, but was defeated by the Romans in 146 BC. The Romans, who were to occupy Tunisia for most of the next eight hundred years, introduced Christianity and left architectural legacies such as the El Djemamphi theatre. Following a number of attempts, which began in 647, The Arabs occupied all of Tunisia by 697, which was followed by the Ottomans from 1534 to 1574. The Ottomans held the reigns for more than three hundred years. The French conquest of Tunisia took place in 1881. With Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia gained independence and proclaimed the Tunisian Republic in 1957. In 2011, the Tunisian Revolution led to the overthrow of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, followed by parliamentary elections. On 26 October 2014, the country again elected parliament, and on 23 November 2014, the president.
Tourism in Tunisia
There are different ways to enjoy your holiday in Tunisia. You can spend your holiday on the gorgeous beaches of the Mediterranean or plan a round trip through Tunisia. Numerous charter airlines can arrange flights and hotels, many of which are visa-free for entry. There are also some agencies that offer running tours for groups and private travellers.
Tourism is quite well developed in Tunisia. Hotel stars are not up to European and American standards – a 4-star hotel is the same as a 3-star hotel.
Geography of Tunisia
Tunisia is located on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, halfway between the Atlantic Ocean and the Nile Delta. To the west it is bordered with Algeria and to the south-east with Libya. It lies between latitudes 30° and 38°N and longitudes 7° and 12°E. A sudden bend of the Mediterranean coast in northern Tunisia to the south provides Tunisia with two distinct Mediterranean coasts, to the north in a west-east direction and to the east in a north-south direction.
Although relatively small, Tunisia has great ecological diversity due to its north-south extension. Its east-west extension is limited.To the north of the Dorsal lies the Tell, an area characterised with low, gentle hills and plains, again a prolongation of the mountains in western Algeria. In Khroumerie, which is the north-western edge of Tunisia’s Tell, the elevations reach 1,050 metres and in winter there is snow.
The Sahel, a spreading coastal plain along Tunisia’s eastern Mediterranean coast, is one of the best olive-growing areas in the world. Most of the southern part of the country is semi-arid and desert-like.
Tunisia has a coastline of 1,148 km. As for the sea, it claims a contiguous zone of 24 nautical miles (44.4 km) and a territorial sea of 12 nautical miles (22.2 km).
Demographics of Tunisia
Tunisia’s population is estimated to be just under 10.8 million in 2013. The government has supported a successful family planning programme that has reduced the population growth rate to just over 1% per year, thus contributing to Tunisia’s economic and social stability.
Ethnic groups in Tunisia
Sociologically, historically and genealogically, the population of Tunisia is mainly composed of Arabs, Berbers and Turks. While Ottoman impact has been most significant in the establishment of the Turkish-Tunisian community, there have also been other peoples who immigrated to Tunisia at different periods, which include sub-Saharan Africans, Greeks, Romans, Phoenicians (Punic), Jews and French settlers. Nevertheless, by 1870 the distinction between the Arabic-speaking masses and the Turkish elite had blurred, and today the overwhelming majority of about 98% identify themselves simply as Arabs. It also has a small pure Berber community (1% or less) concentrated in the Dahar Mountains and on Djerba Island in the south-east, as well in the mountainous region of Khroumire in the north-west.
For the period from the late 19th century until after the World War II, Tunisia hosted large populations of French and Italians, but almost all of these people, as well as the Jewish population, left after Tunisia’s independence. The history of Jews in Tunisia goes back some 2,000 years. The Jewish population in 1948 has been estimated at 105,000, however, in 2013, only around 900 were actually remained.
Historically, the first known people in what is now Tunisia have been the Berbers.
After the Reconquista and the expulsion of non-Christians and Moriscos from Spain, many Spanish Muslims and Jews also arrived.
Religion in Tunisia
Most of Tunisia’s population ( approximately 98%) are Muslims, while approximately 2% are Christian and Judaism and others. Most Tunisians belong to the Maliki branch of Sunni Islam, whose mosques are easily identified by their square minarets. However, the Turks brought with them lessons from the Hanafi school during Ottoman rule, which is preserved to this day among families of Turkish origin, and their mosques traditionally have octagonal minarets. Sunnis constitute the majority, with non-denominational Muslims being the second largest group of Muslims, followed by the Amazigh Ibadites.
Tunisia has a large Christian community of about 25,000 followers, mostly Catholic (22,000) and to a lesser extent Protestant. Berber Christians lived in Tunisia until the beginning of the 15th century. The 2007 International Religious Freedom Report estimates that thousands of Tunisian Muslims are converting to Christianity. With 900 members, Judaism is the country’s third largest religion. A third of the Jewish population lives in and around the capital. The rest of them live on the island of Djerba where there are 39 synagogues where the Jewish community is 2,500 years old, on Sfax and Hammam-Lif.
In Djerba, an island in the Gulf of Gabès, is the El Ghriba synagogue, one of the oldest synagogues in the world and the oldest in continuous use. Many Jews consider it to be a place of pilgrimage where, because of its age and the legend that the synagogue was built with stones from the temple of Solomon, is celebrated once a year. In fact, Tunisia, along with Morocco, is considered the Arab country that accepts its Jewish population the most.
The constitution declares Islam the official religion of the state and requires that the President be Muslim. In addition to the President, Tunisians enjoy a high degree of religious freedom, a right that is enshrined and protected in the constitution and guarantees freedom of thought, belief and practice of one’s religion.
The country has a secular culture in which religion is separated not only from political but also from public life. At one point in the period before the revolution, there were restrictions on the wearing of the Islamic headscarf (hijab) in government offices, as well as on the streets and at public gatherings. The government believed that the hijab was “a garment of foreign origin with partisan connotations”. Tunisian police reportedly harassed and arrested men with an “Islamic” appearance (such as bearded men) and sometimes forced men to shave their beards.
In 2006 the former Tunisian President announced he would “fight” the hijab, which he describes as “ethnic clothing. Mosques were not allowed to hold common prayers or classes. However, after the revolution, a moderate Islamist government was elected, leading to greater freedom in the practice of religion. It also gave way to the rise of fundamentalist groups such as the Salafists, who demand a strict interpretation of Shari’a law. The overthrow in favour of the moderate Islamist government of Ennahdha was in part due to the objectives of the secret service of the modern Tunisian government to suppress fundamentalist groups before they could act.
Individual Tunisians tolerate religious freedom and generally do not inquire about a person’s personal beliefs.