Useful Notes: Tunisia

Tunisia (Arabic: تونس‎ Tūnis, French: Tunisie), officially known as the Republic of Tunisia (Arabic: الجمهورية التونسية‎ al-Jumhūriyyah at-Tūnisiyyah, French: République tunisienne), is a small country at the very north of Africa, between Libya and Algeria. Originally a part of the Ottoman Empire, it became a French protectorate (read: colony) in 1881. It became independent in 1956, declaring itself the Tunisian Republic. It was governed by the authoritarian regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and the Constitutional Democratic Rally from 1987 to 2011, when things dramatically changed.

On 17 December 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor, set himself alight in front of a police station. Bouazizi had a history with the police; the police would confiscate his fruit cart, which he would set up again, which the police would confiscate again... you get the idea. Following his self-immolation, major protests against Ben Ali's regime erupted across Tunisia. On January 18, Ben Ali and his family fled to Saudi Arabia. The CDR was subsequently dissolved and banned. Elections to a new Constituent Assembly were held on October 23, resulting in a coalition government comprised of the three largest parties: the "Renaissance Party" or Ennahda (centre-right Islamists), the "Congress for the Republic" or CPR (centre-left secularists), and the "Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties" or Ettakatol (centre-left social-democrats). Currently, the country is going through a transitional phase from authoritarianism to democracy; peculiarly, the first elections were "won" (in the sense of having the largest party; no party won a majority in Parliament) by "Tunisia's Call" or Nidaa Tunis—a centre-left secularist nationalist party largely made up of people who had been part of the old regime. However, they are clearly not interested in reestablishing the old regime; it's simply that these people actually had some experience governing, so the people said "as long as you agree to play by the rules, share with the other parties, and leave when we tell you to, we'll let you run things while things are still a little shaky."

Of particular note is that the protests and later revolution in Tunisia inspired similar protests across the Arab world, including a revolutions in Egypt and Libya. There have also been major protests in other countries, including Syria and Yemen, both of which have seen brutal crackdowns on the protesters. Since Libya eventually devolved into a slow-motion civil war and Egypt saw a return to military rule, Tunisia is basically the only political success story of the Arab Spring it inspired; of course, the revolutions have seriously impacted all the Arab countries socially, and this isn't the first time a major wave of revolution only saw success in one or two places.

On a more historical note, Tunisia is of interest to scholars of ancient history for being the heart of the old Carthaginian Empire—indeed, Carthage these days is a rather fashionable suburb (by which we mean district) of Tunis; the presidential palace and international airport are located there.

It's also worth mentioning that Tunisia has been the site of quite a few movies where there is a desert scenery. Notable examples include the Tatooine scenes in the Star Wars movies (named after the city of Tataouine in southern Tunisia), Cairo in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the entirety of The English Patient and Monty Python's Life of Brian.

Fiction set in Tunisia

  • Any works involving Carthage involve Tunisia by implication.
  • The tenth story of the third day of the Decameron is set in the Tunisian town of Gafsa, known in Italy in the Middle Ages for being near a significant Christian monastery/community of desert hermits. Let's just say that the tenth story of the third day is so incredibly obscene, English translators of the Decameron refused to translate it for five hundred years—and the obscenity had everything to do with the hermits.

The Tunisian flag
The flag is derived from the red flag of the Ottoman Empire, distinguishable by the crescent and star, traditional symbols of Islam, colored red and placed inside a white circle.