Tunisia is a small Arab country in North Africa that represents both the aspirations of freedom and struggles against terrorism that roil the region. Along with neighbors Algeria and Libya, it lines the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, a strategic location that has attracted Romans, Arabs, Ottoman Turks and others over the years.
In 1956, the Republic of Tunisia claimed independence from France. Though not an official language, French is still spoken by two-thirds of the population.
After gaining independence, politician Habib Bourguiba became the nation’s first president, and the nation flourished despite his authoritarian rule. Tunisia boasted a strong market-based economy and relatively liberal social policies that were quite contrary to other regional neighbors.
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Trade expanded greatly, reminiscent of times when the ancient seaport Carthage was one of the richest in the world. Agriculture and textile exports to the European Union fueled economic trade, along with tourism and foreign investment. Investments were made in education and infrastructure, and women’s rights were supported.
By the end of 2010, rising inflation and a lack of political freedom combined with high unemployment - particularly among college graduates - ignited public protests that would grow across the country and eventually force the government to step down. The protests in Tunisia set off the “Arab Spring” wave of demonstrations across much of the Arab World that called for greater freedoms.
A $500 million loan from the African Development Bank in 2011 has helped Tunisia stabilize and rebuild trust between key trade partners in the European Union. But a nation that once repressed Islamic fundamentalism is growing increasingly conservative, and disparities between the developed coastal region and impoverished interior remain.
A new constitution was signed in 2014, and transfer of power was smooth. By the end of 2015 the country’s National Dialogue Quartet had won the Nobel Peace Prize for its part in building democracy. While Tunisia has departed from much of the region by withstanding terror attacks, high unemployment and inflation to form a budding democracy, the country remains at a governing crossroads.
Tunisia is a member of key international organizations, including the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the League of Arab States and the African Union.
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