Modern Tunisians are the descendents of indigenous Berbers and people from numerous civilizations that have invaded or migrated to Tunisia. Recorded history in Tunisia begins with the arrival of Phoenicians, who founded Carthage. Carthage became a major sea power until it was captured by the Romans in 146 B.C until the the fall of the Roman empire in the 5th century. Tunisia then was occupied by the Vandals followed by the Byzantines.
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 Moors 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.
Tunisia was a French protectorate from 1881 to 1956, became a republic in 1957 with Habib Bourguiba who led the independence movement, as the first President. He was replaced in November 1987 by the then Prime Minister, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali. He ruled until he was deposed in January 2011after protests escalated and on January 14 Ben Ali fled the country for Saudi Arabia. Currently Tunisia is ruled by an interim government and elections are expected before the end of 2014.
Since Ben Ali’s departure an interim government has ruled. Protests have continued intermittently since. On October 23 an election will be held for a Constituent Assembly that will rewrite the Tunisian constitution and appoint a new government. 81 parties and hundreds of independent candidates will compete for the Constituent Assembly’s 217 seats.
Islam is the constitutionally recognized state religion, but other religions are free to practice and worship in Tunisia. The country’s Muslims are overwhelmingly Sunni, with a small community of Sufis. There are about 1,500 Jews in Tunisia, making it the nation’s second-largest indigenous religion.
Official country name: Republic of Tunisia
Area: 63,170 sq miles (163,610 sq km)
Population: 10.2 million (2007 est.)
Median age: 28.3
Ethnic Groups: Arab 98 percent, Jewish and European 2 percent
GDP and GDP per capita: $29.7 billion and $2,904 (2006 estimates)