For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.
Location: North Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Algeria and Libya.
Area: 163,610 sq. km. (63,378 sq. mi.), slightly smaller than Missouri.
Cities: Capital--Tunis; Greater Tunis Area, Sfax, Nabeul, Sousse.
Terrain: Arable land in north and along central coast; south is mostly semiarid or desert.
Climate: Hot, dry summers and mild, rainy winters.
Land use: Arable land--17.05%; permanent crops--13.08%; other--69.87%.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Tunisian(s).
Population (2008): 10,327,800.
Annual growth rate (2007): 1.18%. Birth rate--15.54 births/1,000 population. Death rate--5.17 deaths/1,000 population.
Ethnic groups: Arab-Berber 98%, European 1%, other 1%.
Religions: Muslim 99%, Christian less than 1%, Jewish less than 1%.
Languages: Arabic (official), French.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Literacy (definition--age 15 and over can read and write, 2007 est.)--74%.
Health (2007): Infant mortality rate--22.94 deaths/1,000 live births. Life expectancy--75.34 total, 73.6 years male, 77.21 years female.
Work force (2007): 3.676 million.
Unemployment rate (2007): 14.1%.
Constitution: June 1, 1959; amended July 12, 1988, June 29, 1999, June 1, 2002, May 13, 2003, and July 28, 2008.
Independence: March 20, 1956.
Branches: Executive--chief of state President Zine El Abidine BEN ALI (since November 7, 1987) head of government, Prime Minister Mohamed GHANNOUCHI (since November 17, 1999) cabinet, Council of Ministers appointed by the president; president elected by popular vote for a 5-year term; election last held October 24, 2004 (next to be held in October 2009); prime minister appointed by the president. Election results: President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali reelected for a fourth term; candidates from opposition: Mohamed Bouchiha (PUP), Mohamed Ali Halouani (At-Tajdid) and Mounir Beji (PSL); percentage of vote--Zine El Abidine Ben Ali 94.49% (officially).
Legislative--bicameral. Chamber of Deputies or Majlis al-Nuwaab (189 seats; 5-year terms; 152 seats are elected by popular vote for party lists on a winner-take-all basis). An additional 37 seats (20% of the total) are distributed to opposition parties on a proportional basis as provided for in 1999 constitutional amendments. Elections last held October 24, 2004 (next to be held in October 2009). Election results: percentage of vote by party--RCD 92%; seats by party--RCD 152, MDS 14, PUP 11, UDU 7, At-Tajdid 3, PSL 2. Note: The opposition increased number of seats from 34 to 37. A referendum in 2002 created a second chamber, the Chamber of Advisors. Elections for the Chamber of Advisors were held in July 2005. Half of these members were up for re-election in August 2008. Some members were to be elected by municipal council members and members of the Chamber of Deputies; others were to be appointed by President Ben Ali.
Judicial--Nominally independent District Courts, Courts of Appeal, Highest Court (Cour de Cassation). Judges of all courts are appointed by the minister of justice and human rights.
Political parties: Democratic Constitutional Rally (Rassemblement Constitutionnel Democratique--ruling party) or RCD, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali; At-Tajdid Movement (Ahmed Brahim); Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties or FDTL (Mustapha Ben Jaafar); Liberal Social Party or PSL (Mondher Thabet); Movement of Democratic Socialists or MDS (Ismail Boulahia); Popular Unity Party or PUP (Mohamed Bouchiha); Unionist Democratic Union or UDU (Ahmed Inoubli); Progressive Democratic Party or PDP (Maya Jribi); Green Party for Progress or PVP (Mongi Khamassi).
Political pressure groups and leaders: Authorized--Tunisian Human Rights League or LTDH (Mokhtar Trifi); Tunisian Association of Democratic Women or ATFD (Sana Ben Achour); Tunisian Bar Association (Adbessatar Ben Moussa); National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists or SNJT (Neji B’ghouri); General Union of Tunisian Students (Ezzedine Zaatour). Unauthorized --An-Nahdha (Renaissance) the Islamic fundamentalist party (Rached El Ghanouchi, in exile); National Council for Liberties in Tunisia or CNLT (Sihem Ben Sedrine); Freedom and Equity (Mohamed Nouri); National Council for Liberties in Tunisia (Abdelkader Ben Khemiss); Movement of 18 October (Nejib Chebbi, Hamma Hammami, et. al) Congress for the Republic or CPR (Moncef Marzouki); Tunisian Communist Labor Party or POCT (Hamma Hammami); Tunisian Green Party or PVT (Abdelkader Zitouni); International Association for the Support of Political Prisoners or AISPP (President: Saida Akremi).
Administrative divisions: 24 governorates--Ariana, Beja, Ben Arous, Bizerte, El Kef, Gabes, Gafsa, Jendouba, Kairouan, Kasserine, Kebili, Mahdia, Manouba, Medenine, Monastir, Nabeul, Sfax, Sidi Bou Zid, Siliana, Sousse, Tataouine, Tozeur, Tunis, Zaghouan.
Suffrage: Universal at 18. (Active duty members of the military and internal security forces cannot vote.)
Real GDP (2008, base 1990) $20.73 billion.
Real GDP growth rate (2008): 5.1%.
Per capita GDP, PPP (2008, IMF est.): $8,020.
Natural resources: natural gas, crude oil, phosphates, salt, iron ore.
Agriculture: Products--olives, dates, citrus, almonds, grains.
Industry: Types--petroleum, mining (particularly phosphate), textiles, footwear, food processing, electric and mechanical components.
Services: Tourism, commerce, transport, communications.
Sector information as percent of GDP (2008 est.): Services 61%; industry 28.3%; agriculture 10.8%.
Trade (2008): Exports--$19.7 billion: hydrocarbons, agricultural products, phosphates, chemicals, textiles, mechanical, electric components. By region--Europe 76.3%, Africa 10.27%, Asia 7.45%, Americas 2.88%. By country (U.S. $ million)--France $5,522.94; Italy $4,004.78; Germany $1,342.4; Spain $949.21; Libya $873.47; U.K. $901.52; Belgium $431.42; U.S. $324.11. Imports--$24.79 billion: industrial goods and equipment, hydrocarbons, food, consumer goods. By region--Europe 71.48%, Asia 11.4%, Africa 9.11%, Americas 6.93%. By country (U.S. $ million)--France $4,559.55; Italy $4,287.64; Germany $1,729.43; Spain $958.37; China $925.91; Libya $1,081.72; U.S. $836.61.
PEOPLE AND HISTORY
Modern Tunisians are the descendents of indigenous Berbers and of people from numerous civilizations that have invaded, migrated to, and been assimilated into the population over the millennia. Recorded history in Tunisia begins with the arrival of Phoenicians, who founded Carthage and other North African settlements in the 8th century B.C. Carthage became a major sea power, clashing with Rome for control of the Mediterranean until it was defeated and captured by the Romans in 146 B.C. The Romans ruled and settled in North Africa until the 5th century, when the Roman Empire fell and Tunisia was invaded by European tribes, including the Vandals. The Muslim conquest in the 7th century transformed Tunisia and the make-up of its population, with subsequent waves of migration from around the Arab and Ottoman world, including significant numbers of Spanish Muslims and Jews at the end of the 15th century. Tunisia became a center of Arab culture and learning and was assimilated into the Turkish Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. It was a French protectorate from 1881 until independence in 1956, and retains close political, economic, and cultural ties with France.
Nearly all Tunisians (99% of the population) are Muslim. There has been a Jewish population on the southern island of Djerba for 2,000 years, and there remains a small Jewish population in Tunis and other cities, which is mainly descended from those who fled Spain in the late 15th century. A small Christian community is dispersed throughout the country, and includes foreign residents, as well as a few hundred native-born citizens who have converted to Christianity. Small nomadic indigenous minorities have been mostly assimilated into the larger population.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Tunisia is a republic with a strong presidential system dominated by a single political party. President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has been in office since 1987, when he deposed Habib Bourguiba, president since Tunisia's independence from France in 1956. The ruling party, the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD), was the sole legal party for 25 years--including when it was known as the Socialist Destourian Party (PSD)--and still dominates political life. The president is elected to 5-year terms--with virtually no opposition--and appoints a prime minister and cabinet, who play a strong role in the execution of policy. Regional governors and local administrators are also appointed by the central government; largely consultative mayors and municipal councils are elected. There is a bicameral legislative body. The Chamber of Deputies has 189 seats, 20% of which are designated to be held by the opposition. By order of President Ben Ali, the share of opposition seats will increase to 25% in October 2009. The Chamber of Deputies plays a limited role as an arena for debate on national policy but never originates legislation and virtually always passes bills presented by the executive with only minor changes. A referendum in May 2002 created a second chamber, the Chamber of Advisors. First-time elections for the Chamber of Advisors were held in July 2005. Half of these members were re-elected in August 2008. The judiciary is nominally independent, but responds to executive direction, especially in politically sensitive cases. The military is professional and does not play a role in politics.
Tunisia's independence from France in 1956 ended a protectorate established in 1881. President Bourguiba, who had been the leader of the independence movement, declared Tunisia a republic in 1957, ending the nominal rule of the Ottoman Beys. In June 1959, Tunisia adopted a constitution modeled on the French system, which established the basic outline of the highly centralized presidential system that continues today. The military was given a defined defensive role, which excluded participation in politics. Starting from independence, President Bourguiba placed strong emphasis on economic and social development, especially education, the status of women, and the creation of jobs, policies that continued under the Ben Ali administration. The result was strong social progress--high literacy and school attendance rates, low population growth rates, and relatively low poverty rates--and generally steady economic growth. These pragmatic policies have contributed to social and political stability.
Progress toward full democracy has been slow. Over the years, President Bourguiba stood unopposed for re-election several times and was named "President for Life" in 1974 by a constitutional amendment. At the time of independence, the Neo-Destourian Party (later the PSD)--enjoying broad support because of its role at the forefront of the independence movement--became the sole legal party. Opposition parties were banned until 1981.
When President Ben Ali came to power in 1987, he promised greater democratic openness and respect for human rights, signing a "national pact" with opposition parties, including the unauthorized Islamic An-Nahdha party. He oversaw constitutional and legal changes, including abolishing the concept of president for life, the establishment of presidential term limits, and provision for greater opposition party participation in political life. But the ruling party, renamed the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD), continued to dominate the political scene. Ben Ali ran for re-election unopposed in 1989 and 1994. In the multiparty era, he won 99.44% of the vote in 1999 and 94.49% of the vote in 2004. In both elections he faced weak opponents. The RCD won all seats in the Chamber of Deputies in 1989, and won all of the directly elected seats in the 1994, 1999, and 2004 elections. However, constitutional amendments provided for the distribution of additional seats to the opposition parties by 1999 and 2004. Currently, five opposition parties share 37 of the 189 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. A May 2002 referendum approved constitutional changes proposed by Ben Ali that allowed him to run for a fourth term in 2004 (and a fifth, his final, because of age limits on presidential candidates, in 2009), and provided judicial immunity during and after his presidency. The referendum also created a second parliamentary chamber, the Chamber of Advisors, and provided for other changes. On July 28, 2008 President Ben Ali approved a constitutional amendment lowering the voting age to 18.
There are currently eight legal opposition parties, the Social Democratic Movement (MDS), the Popular Unity Party (PUP), the Union of Democratic Unionists (UDU), At-Tajdid (also called the Renewal Movement), the Liberal Social Party (PSL), and the Green Party for Progress (PVP), plus the Democratic Progressive Party (PDP) and the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties (FDTL), the only two not represented in the Chamber of Deputies. The parties are generally weak and divided and face considerable restrictions on their ability to organize. The Islamist opposition party, An-Nahdha, was allowed to operate openly in the late 1980s and early 1990s despite a ban on religiously based parties. The government outlawed An-Nahdha as a terrorist organization in 1991 and arrested its leaders and thousands of party members and sympathizers, accusing them of plotting to overthrow the president. The party is no longer openly active in Tunisia, and its leaders operate from exile in London. Several activists have been denied permission to establish other opposition political parties.
While there are thousands of official, established non-governmental organizations, civil society remains weak. The Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH), the first human rights organization in Africa and the Arab world, operates under restrictions and suffers from internal divisions. Some independent organizations, such as the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (ATFD), the Tunisian Association of Tunisian Women for Research and Development, and the Bar Association also are active. The government has denied legal status to a handful of other human rights advocacy groups who, nonetheless, attempt to organize and publicize information on the human rights situation in the country.
Despite the Government of Tunisia's stated commitment to making progress toward a democratic system, citizens do not enjoy political freedom. The government imposes restrictions on freedom of association and speech and does not allow a free press. Many critics have called for clearer, effective distinctions between executive, legislative, and judicial powers. Foreign media, including foreign-based satellite television channels, have criticized the Tunisian Government for the lack of press freedom. Tunisia ranked number 143 out of 173 countries in the 2008 Reporters Without Borders list of World Press Freedom rankings. As reflected in the State Department's annual human rights report, there are frequent reports of torture and abuse of prisoners, especially political prisoners.
Trade unions have played a key role in Tunisia's history since the struggle for independence, when the 1952 assassination of labor leader Farhat Hached was a catalyst for the final push against French domination. The General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), the country's sole labor confederation, has generally focused on bread-and-butter issues, but at some critical moments in Tunisia's history has played a decisive role in the nation's political life. Despite a drop in union membership from 400,000 to about 250,000 as the structure of the Tunisian economy changed, the UGTT continues to hold a prominent place in Tunisia's political and social life, and negotiates with government and the umbrella employer group on wages and benefits. The current leadership under Abdessalem Jerad was elected at the 21st UGTT Congress held in December 2006. In January 2008, Tunisian journalists created a union, the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT). Neji B’ghouri, who billed himself as an independent, was elected its first president. The International Federation of Journalists had suspended the AJT's membership from 2004-2007 for failing to defend freedom of the press. The new union promised to defend the rights of journalists and promote freedom of expression.
Tunisia is a leader in the Arab world in promoting the legal and social status of women. A Personal Status Code was adopted shortly after independence in 1956, which, among other things, gave women full legal status (allowing them to run and own businesses, have bank accounts, and seek passports under their own authority). It also, for the first time in the Arab world, outlawed polygamy. The government required parents to send girls to school, and today more than 50% of university students are women and 66% of judges and lawyers are women. 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 the population growth rate to just over 1% per annum, contributing to Tunisia's economic and social stability.
Tunisia's judiciary is headed by the Court of Cassation, whose head is appointed by the minister of justice and human rights. The country is divided administratively into 24 governorates. The president appoints all governors.
Principal Government Officials
President--Zine El Abidine Ben Ali
Prime Minister--Mohamed Ghannouchi
Minister of State--Abdelaziz Ben Dhia
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Abdelwaheb Abdallah
Minister of National Defense--Kamel Morjane
Ambassador to the United States--vacant
Tunisia's embassy in the United States is located at 1515 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20005 (tel. 1-202-862-1850, fax 1-202-862-1858).
Tunisia's economy has emerged from rigid state control and is now mostly liberalized. World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) support, coupled with prudent economic policies implemented by the Tunisian Government in the mid-eighties after a balance of payments crisis, has resulted in stable growth. Although this faltered after September 11, 2001, the economy has since bounced back, thanks to healthy exports, renewed growth in tourism, and favorable climatic conditions which boosted agricultural production.
Manufacturing industries, producing largely for export, are a major source of foreign currency revenue. Industrial production represents about 28.3% of GDP. It primarily consists of petroleum, mining (particularly phosphates), textiles, footwear, food processing, and electrical and mechanical manufactures. Textiles are a major source of foreign currency revenue, with more than 90% of production being exported. While the end of the Multifiber Arrangement in 2005 eroded Tunisia's competitiveness in its traditional European textile markets, manufacturers upgraded product lines and have been exporting smaller quantities of higher value items. In addition, the Government of Tunisia has implemented a national program to support and upgrade the textile/clothing sector. The first three years of the program, covering the period 2005-2007, produced encouraging results as local industries moved toward higher quality, value-added goods and shifted from the subcontracting activities to co-production. The Government of Tunisia has launched a second three-year program for the period 2008-2010, which seeks to strengthen integration, boost competitiveness and develop distribution networks abroad. The overall cost of this program is about TND 19 million (U.S. $15.6 million), of which TND 7.3 million (roughly U.S. $6 million) is financed by the European Community in the context of the Industrial Modernization Program (PMI).
Tourism is a major source of foreign exchange, representing about 20% of hard currency receipts ($2.745 billion), as well as an important sector for employment. In 2008, 7 million tourists visited Tunisia, hailing largely from Europe and North Africa. While the influx of tourists represents a boon to the economy. Tunisia's large expatriate population (about 1 million) also makes a positive and significant contribution. In 2008, remittances from abroad reached 2.4 billion dinars (approximately $1.97 billion), or roughly 4.71% of Tunisia’s GDP and 20.5% of the country’s foreign currency earnings (TND 11.687 billion, or U.S. $9.583 billion).
Soaring oil prices in 2008 hit the Tunisian economy hard. The country is a net importer of hydrocarbon products. Domestic crude production is 95,000 barrels per day, but refining capacity is only 34,000 barrels a day. Proven reserves are in the region of 400 million barrels. Tunisia has one oil refinery on the north coast in Bizerte and in May 2006 awarded a tender to Qatar Petroleum for a second at La Skhira, near Gabes. Natural gas production is currently about 3 million tons oil equivalent. Proven reserves are about 2.3 trillion cubic feet, two-thirds of which are located offshore.
Economically and commercially, Tunisia is very closely linked to Europe. Tunisia signed an Association Agreement with the European Union (EU), which went into effect on January 1, 2008. The agreement eliminates customs tariffs and other trade barriers on manufactured goods. To help prepare the Tunisian economy for this opening, the Tunisian Government embarked on an industrial upgrading program, called "Mise a Niveau." The goal of the program was to improve the competitiveness of Tunisian industry. Launched in 1996, the program, supported in part by EU grants, consisted of technical assistance, training, subsidies, and infrastructure upgrades aimed at encouraging and assisting Tunisian private sector restructuring and modernization.
In 1987 the Government of Tunisia began a privatization campaign through which EU member states became the primary providers of foreign direct investment (FDI). In 2008, the privatization program raised TND 302 million ($247.64 million). Investments from the United Arab Emirates are reported to have exceeded $20 billion during the last two years, but government accounting requirements exclude the amount from reported figures. In 2008 flows of EU investment reached TND 2.270 billion ($1.861 billion). In the same year the Turkish holding company Tepe Akfen Ventisres (TAV), which is building a new international airport in Enfidha, was ranked the top foreign investor with TND 188.9 million (roughly $155 million).
The United States and Tunisia signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in October 2002 and follow-up TIFA Council meetings were held in October 2003, June 2005, and March 2008. Although TIFAs can serve as precursor agreements leading to bilateral Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), little progress has been made toward generating the necessary reforms required to engender an FTA. In 2004, Tunisia signed the framework agreement for a multilateral trade agreement with Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco, known as the Agadir Agreement. The Agadir Agreement creates a potential market of over 100 million people across North Africa and into the Middle East.
The government still retains control over certain "strategic" sectors of the economy (finance, hydrocarbons, aviation, electricity and gas distribution, and water resources) but the private sector is playing an increasingly important role. Despite this, Tunisia is a founding member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and is publicly committed to a free trade regime and export-led growth. Most goods can be imported without prior licensing, although non-tariff administrative barriers sometimes delay imports of goods. Significant import duties, coupled with high consumption taxes on certain items and a value-added tax (VAT), add considerably to the local price of imported goods.
The Government of Tunisia is beginning to take a more proactive stance on intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement and education. Tunisia's recent intellectual property rights law is designed to meet WTO TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property) minimum standards and there is on-going collaboration between the United States and Tunisian governments to promote public awareness of these rights.
Tunisia's timely completion of its IMF program (1987-1994) and subsequent fiscal conservatism have earned it investment grade ratings from a number of international institutions, although Standard and Poor has noted that ratings on Tunisia are constrained by its highly centralized political system and the need for further structural reforms. Tunisia issued 11 borrowing operations on the international market--7 on the Japanese market (Samurai bonds), 2 on the U.S. (Yankee bonds), and 2 on the EU (Euro-dollar bonds). The last operation was a 30 billion yen ($253 million) Samurai borrowing, with 20-year maturity, issued on August 1, 2007.
The Central Bank is moving from direct management of the financial sector towards a more traditional supervisory and regulatory role. Commercial banks are permitted to participate in the forward foreign exchange market. The dinar is convertible for current account transactions but some convertible dinar/foreign exchange account transactions still require Central Bank authorization. Total convertibility of the Tunisian dinar is probably still some years away. The dinar is traded on an intra-bank market. Trading operates around a managed float established by the Central Bank (based upon a basket of the Euro, the U.S. dollar and the Japanese yen). The stock exchange remains under the supervision of the state-run financial market council, and lists 51 companies according to 2008 figures. In December 20007 the Government of Tunisia created a small-cap exchange, with the aim of boosting investment. The new market’s financial reporting and profitability requirements are less onerous than those in the main stock market.
Tunisia has a relatively well-developed infrastructure that includes six commercial seaports and six international airports. The contract to build a seventh international airport at Enfidha was awarded to TAV, a Turkish holding company, in March 2007. A tender Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) for the deep water port at Enfidha is also expected. A call for interest in this port project was issued in December 2007.
Average annual income per capita in Tunisia is over $4,022. On May 2, 2008, the minimum monthly legal wage for a 48-hour week was raised to TND 251.880 ($206.554) and for 40 hours to TND 217.880 ($178.66).
While Tunisia’s growth rate has averaged 5% over the past decade, its development goals require an average 6%-7% growth rate. In 2008, real GDP growth was 5.1% and inflation reached 5%, up from 3.2% the previous year. According to official figures, Tunisia has 14.1% unemployment, but it is generally believed to be much higher in some regions. Despite the present low rate of population growth, a demographic peak is now hitting higher education and the job market. Tunisia has invested heavily in education and the number of students enrolled at university has soared from 41,000 in 1986 to over 335,649 in 2008. Providing jobs for these highly educated people represents a major challenge for the Government of Tunisia.
President Ben Ali has maintained Tunisia's long-time policy of seeking good relations with the West, including the United States, while playing an active role in Arab and African regional bodies. President Bourguiba took a nonaligned stance but emphasized close relations with Europe and the United States.
Tunisia has long been a voice for moderation and realism in the Middle East. President Bourguiba was the first Arab leader to call for the recognition of Israel, in a speech in Jericho in 1965. Tunisia served as the headquarters of the Arab League from 1979 to 1990 and hosted the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) headquarters from 1982 to 1993. (The PLO 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. The Government of Tunisia operated an Interests Section in Israel from April 1996 until the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000. Israeli citizens may travel to Tunisia on their Israeli passports.
Wedged between Algeria and Libya, Tunisia has sought to maintain good relations with its neighbors despite occasionally strained relations. Tunisia and Algeria resolved a longstanding border dispute in 1993 and have cooperated in the construction of a natural gas pipeline through Tunisia that connects Algeria to Italy. In 2002, Tunisia signed an agreement with Algeria to demarcate the maritime frontier between the two countries.
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, restored in 1977, and 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. While supporting the UN sanctions imposed following airline bombings, Tunisia has been careful to maintain positive relations with her neighbor. Tunisia supported the lifting of UN sanctions against Libya in 2003, and Libya is again becoming a major trading partner, with 2007 exports to Libya valued at $774.01 million and imports at $716.6 million.
Tunisia has supported the development of the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA), which includes Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, and Libya. Progress on Maghreb integration remains stymied, however, as a result of bilateral tensions between some member countries. Tunisia has played a positive role in trying to resolve these tensions.
The United States has very good relations with Tunisia, which date back more than 200 years. The United States has maintained official representation in Tunis almost continuously since 1795, and the American Friendship 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 Tunis assassination of PLO terrorist Abu Jihad, and in 1990 during the Gulf War. 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. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) managed a successful program until its departure in 1994, when Tunisia's economic advances led to the country's "graduation" from USAID funding. Tunisia enthusiastically supported the U.S.-North African Economic Partnership (USNAEP), designed to promote U.S. investment in, and economic integration of, the Maghreb region. The program provided over $4 million in assistance to Tunisia between 2001 and 2003. The Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) was launched in 2002 and incorporated the former USNAEP economic reform projects while adding bilateral and regional projects for education reform, civil society development and women's empowerment. In 2004, the MEPI Regional Office opened in Embassy Tunis. The Regional Office is staffed by American diplomats and regional specialists. It is responsible for coordinating MEPI activities in Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and Tunisia in close coordination with the American Embassies in those countries.
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 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 the environmental and tourism sectors.
Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--Robert F. Godec
Deputy Chief of Mission--Marc L. Desjardins
Political/Economic Counselor--Dorothy C. Shea
Commercial Attaché--Beth A. Mitchell
The U.S. Embassy in Tunisia is located in Les Berges du Lac 1053 Tunis, Tunisia (tel: 216-71-107-000, fax: 216-71-107-090).