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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Tunisia (07/94)


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PROFILE

Official Name:
Republic of Tunisia

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).



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