Tunisia, officially the Tunisian Republic, is a country located in North Africa. It is bordered by Algeria to the west and Libya to the southeast. It is the northernmost country on the African continent, and the smallest of the nations situated along the Atlas mountain range. Around forty percent of the country is composed of the Sahara desert, with much of the remainder consisting of particularly fertile soil and a 1300 km coastline.
Rivalry between French and Italian interests in Tunisia culminated in a French invasion in 1881 and the creation of a protectorate. Agitation for independence in the decades following World War I was finally successful in getting the French to recognize Tunisia as an independent state in 1956. The country's first president, Habib Bourguiba established a strict one-party state. He dominated the country for 31 years, repressing Islamic fundamentalism and establishing rights for women unmatched by any other Arab nation. In November 1987, Bourguiba was removed from office and replaced by Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in a bloodless coup. Street protests that began in Tunis in December 2010 over high unemployment, corruption, widespread poverty, and high food prices escalated in January 2011, culminating in rioting that led to hundreds of deaths. On 14 January 2011, the same day Ben Ali dismissed the government, he fled the country, and by late January 2011, a "national unity government" was formed. In late October 2011, elections for a Constituent Assembly were held. The Constituent Assembly is charged with appointing a new interim government, drafting a new constitution, and preparing for legislative and presidential elections.
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Overview: Tunisia has a diverse, market-oriented economy, with important agricultural, mining, tourism, and manufacturing sectors but faces an array of challenges. Following an ill-fated experiment wih socialist economic policies in the 1960s, Tunisia successfully focused on bolstering exports, foreign investment, and tourism. Key exports now inclulde textiles and apparel, food products, petroleum products, chemicals, and phosphates, with about 80% going to the European Union. Tunisia achieved four decades of 4-5% annual GDP growth. As the presidency wore on, ronyism and corruption under former President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali (1987-2011) stymied economic performance and unemployment rose among the university's graduates. In January 2011 Ben Ali was overthrown, sending Tunisia's economy into a tailspin. The country's newly elected government faces immediate challenges stabilizing the economy. It must reassure businesses and investors, bring budget and current account deficits under control, shore up the country's financial system, bring down high unemployment, and reduce economic disparities between the more developed coastal region and impoverished interior.
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Published: Friday, February 13, 2009
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