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Situated in the northernmost part of Africa, Between Algeria and Libya, to the west and southeast, respectively, Tunisia is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, northwest, and west. The Italian island of Sardinia is north, Sicily is northwest, and the island Republic of Malta is west of Tunisia.

Given its proximity to Europe, Tunisia has long been open to European influences. At some point, all of the great European empires have ruled Tunisia, leaving behind cultural remnants. Africa, the Roman name for Tunisia, came to refer to the entire continent. After the Europeans, the armies of Islam brought Tunisia under its influence, where it remains.

With a land area of about 63,000 square miles, Tunisia is not a large country, but its geography and climate are diverse. A portion of the Atlas Mountains cuts across the country from the Algeria border to the Cape Bon Peninsula. To the north of the mountains is the Tell, with its plains and rolling hills, and forested mountains in the northwest. In eastern Tunisia, the Sahel is a long area of low plains that is characterized by its olive plantations. Inland from the Sahel, and south of the Atlas Mountains, the land turns to a semiarid central plateau, using mostly for the grazing of livestock. Further south is the Sahara Desert.

The only river in Tunisia is the Medjerta, which flows through the country from eastern Algeria to the sea. Several of Tunisia's drainage systems end in saline lakes in the southern part of the country, the largest of which is Chott el-Jerid, which is dry for half the year and forms a shallow lake in the winter. Along the northern perimeter of the Sahara are oasis towns with date palm groves, fed by artesian springs.

Through the 1960s, Tunisia was more rural than urban. That situation began to reverse itself in the 1970s, and nearly 70% of Tunisia's population now lives in towns or cities. Tunisia's largest city is Tunis, from which the country derived its name. Tunis is the capital city of Tunisia, and its metropolitan area includes nearly 3 million people. Kairouan is the only city in Tunisia larger than 100,000 that is not on the Mediterranean Coast.

Northern Tunisia has a Mediterranean climate. Summers are hot and dry, and winters are wet, with an average rainfall of about twenty inches a year. The forested mountains of the northwest get more rainfall and even snow at the higher altitudes. Nights are damp and chilly during the winter.

Central Tunisia is colorful with wildflowers in the spring, but the summer heat turns everything brown. Winter nights can be cold. There isn't much rainfall in the south, and the temperatures are hot year round, although with sharp drops at night.

It isn't clear who the first to inhabit the area that became Tunisia were, but when the Phoenicians arrived about 100 BC, the Berbers dominated the area. The Berbers are Caucasians, often with light colored hair and blue eyes. With the arrival of the Arabs, beginning in the 7th century, relationships between the two produced an Arab-Berber mix. Today, its population is made up of Arabs, Berbers, and Turks, for the most part, although they tend to identify as Arabs.

Arabic is the official language of Tunisia, and most of its people speak a vernacular known as Tunisian Arabic. There is some use of Berber languages. French is widely used in education, the media, and business, and more than 60% of Tunisians speak French, albeit not as a first language.

Nearly 80% of Tunisians are literate, and among those from fifteen to twenty-four years of age, the literacy rate is above 97%, usually in multiple languages. The government of Tunisia invests 6% of its budget on education. Children generally learn to speak and understand Tunisian Arabic at home, learn Standard Arabic in primary school, and then French and English.

At least 98% of Tunisians adhere to Islam, the majority following the Maliki School of Sunni Islam. Small populations of Christians and Jews together make up perhaps 2% of the population. Most of the country's Jewish population lives on Djerba Island, the remainder in the capital area. Djerba is home to one of the oldest Jewish synagogues in the world, and the oldest that has been continuously in use.

The Tunisian constitution names Islam as the official state religion, and requires that the president be a Muslim. Otherwise, Tunisia is one of the Arab world's most tolerant countries toward Judaism. Tunisian society is also generally tolerant of religious beliefs, although those who violate the rules of work and eating during Ramadan may be jailed.

Tunisia is a republic and a representative democracy. The president is the head of state, the prime minister is the head of government, and there is also a unicameral parliament and a civil court system. Tunisia has more than a hundred political parties.



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