Tunisia, officially Republic of Tunisia, republic (2005 est. pop. 10,075,000), 63,378 sq mi (164,150 sq km), NW Africa. Occupying the eastern portion of the great bulge of North Africa, Tunisia is bounded on the west by Algeria, on the north and east by the Mediterranean Sea, and on the southeast by Libya. The capital and largest city is Tunis.
Land and People
Tunisia has a highly irregular coastline that affords many bays and several fine harbors, notably Bizerte, Qabis, Safaqis, and Susah. Part of the Atlas Mts. runs through N Tunisia; but, unlike Morocco and Algeria, the mountains in Tunisia rarely exceed 4,000 ft (1,219 m) in elevation. In the south, below the Chott Djerid (a great salt lake), stretches the Sahara Desert. The population, which is largely Berber and Arab, lives mainly near the coast, in urban areas. Most Tunisians are Sunni Muslims; there is a small Jewish community dating back to ancient times, although most have emigrated to Israel or France. Tunisians of all backgrounds have migrated to France in significant numbers. Arabic is the official language, but French also is spoken.
Although the mining, energy, tourism, and manufacturing sectors of the economy are important, and the country has become increasingly middle class, over half of Tunisia’s workers are engaged in farming. The agricultural sector, however, accounts for less than 15% of the GDP. The leading crops are olives, wheat, barley, tomatoes, citrus, sugar beets, dates, and almonds. Livestock raising and fishing are also important. Because irrigation is inadequate, agricultural production varies widely according to rainfall.
Petroleum was found (1964) in the Sahara not far from the Algerian border, and production began in 1966; subsequent oil discoveries have increased production significantly. Recent developments in the extraction of natural gas, centered in the Gulf of Gabes, have made the country more self-sufficient. Tunisia has large phosphate reserves and iron ore is found in quantity. Zinc, lead, and salt are also mined.
Tunisia’s industries (located primarily in Tunis) produce textiles, leather, steel, and foods and beverages. Tourism is also an important economic activity. Petroleum, phosphates, chemicals, textiles and clothing, and olive oil are the country’s leading exports; its imports are headed by textiles, machinery and equipment, hydrocarbons, chemicals, and food (particularly cereals). France, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Libya are the main trade partners.
Tunisia is governed under the constitution of 1959 as amended. The president, who is the head of state, is popularly elected for a five-year term, with no term limits. The bicameral parliament consists of the 189-seat Chamber of Deputies, whose members are popularly elected every five years, and the 126-seat Chamber of Advisers, whose members are either appointed by the president (41) or elected by indirect vote (85) and serve six-year terms. The prime minister, who is the head of government, and cabinet are appointed by the president. Administratively, the country is divided into 24 governates.