Like the rest of North Africa, Tunisia was part of the homeland of the Berbers, mainly those of the Zenata confederation. While the majority of the population are descended from those same Berbers, very few people still speak the language nowadays.
From the 9th century BCE, Tunisia was the heart of the Carthaginian thalassocracy, founded by Phoenician colonists from Tyre (now in Lebanon). It controlled the Mediterranean trade routes and established colonies in Spain and Italy, often clashing with the Greeks, who also had colonies there. The capital, Carthage, is located less than 20 km away from Tunis and is today a gentrified suburb of the capital. It began to decline from the 3rd century BCE, coinciding with the rise of The Roman Republic. Following three disastrous wars with Rome, the forces of Scipio Aemilianus entered Carthage in 146 BCE and razed it to the ground, bringing an end to the empire.
The Romans rebuilt Carthage and made it the capital of a province called Africa, from Afri, its exonym for Carthaginians. Its rule (later supplanted by The Roman Empire and then the Byzantines) persisted until the 7th century CE, although there was a century-long interruption after the barbarian invasions when Carthage was occupied by the Vandals. Under the Romans, the region prospered; Africa was one of the wealthiest Roman provinces, just behind Egypt and Italy itself. It was rich in farmland and mainly exported agricultural products. The Romans generally had an amicable relationship with the Berbers. Carthage was important in Christian history; the father of Latin Christianity, Tertullian, came from there, as did the Donatist movement, an early church schism that split African Christians and made many unwilling to accept the orthodoxy.
In 705, Carthage was attacked and destroyed by the Umayyad Caliphate, who mainly directed its dealings in Ifriqiya (as it called the province of Africa) from Kairouan, an inland city it built some 30 years earlier. Subsequently, the Berbers converted to Islam en masse. Near the end of the Umayyads and the rise of the Abbasids, the Berbers became increasingly influenced by the dissenting Kharijite sect, which still survives as the Ibadi communities on the island of Djerba. Following the Fourth Fitna, the Abbasid governor of Ifriqiya fell from power and was replaced by the Aghlabids, who de facto ruled independent of Baghdad despite claiming allegiance. The Aghlabids conquered Malta and Sicily in 800s; Muslim rule would endure there until the late 1000s and the islands remained majority Muslim until two centuries later. Its legacy is clearly seen in Malta; although Malta was reconverted to Christianity, the Maltese language is actually a descendant of Tunisian Arabic.
The Shia Fatimid Caliphate, which created Cairo and unified the Levant and Arabia, is mostly associated with Egypt today, but actually originated from Tunisia. When the caliph decided to move to his new capital in the Nile Delta, his followers back home declared themselves independent as the Zirid Emirate, which essentially meant they had made enemies in both the east (their former masters) and the west (the staunchly Sunni Almoravids). In revenge, the Fatimids directed the Banu Hillal, a nomadic Arab tribe infamous for its propensity to warfare and loose association with Islam, towards the Maghreb. The invasions led to the rapid Arabization as well as pastoralism of the region, both previously being alien to Berbers outside the Sahara, since the natives had no choice but to retreat to the mountains and desert due to the arrival of the invaders. Its influence is as such that the Arab clans of the Maghreb have since been classified as Pre-Hillalian and Hillalian. The destruction of the Zirids briefly led to Norman rule of Tunisia before the Almohads of Morocco took over. During its reign and that of its successors, Hafsids, hundreds of thousands of Andalusian Muslims emigrated to North Africa due to the Reconquista and brought with them new ideas; Ibn Khaldun, who was born in Tunis to Andalusian parents, became a pioneer of modern historiography and sociology.
In 1574, Tunisia was conquered by the Ottoman Empire with the assistance of Algerian corsairs from the Barbary Coast. Nevertheless, for the majority of its rule, Tunisia was effectively autonomous, ruled by a hereditary bey who only paid nominal tribute to the Sublime Porte. The region became a French protectorate (read: colony) in 1881, after the French used the pretext that it was planning to attack Algeria, by then an integral part of France. During World War II, the French Tunisian colonial government pledged alliance to the Vichy regime after the Fall of France, which led to the Tunisian Campaign in 1943 that finally ended the Allies' North African campaign.
Tunisia achieved independence in 1956 as the Kingdom of Tunisia, with the Bey Muhammad VIII al-Amin as its first and only king. The following year, Habib Bourguiba of the Neo Destour party abolished the monarchy, turning it into a republic. He ruled for the next 31 years as an authoritarian leader and modernized Tunisia, bringing gender equality and improving education. He became increasingly autocratic near the end of his tenure and was eventually toppled and put under house arrest by his prime minister, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, amid an economic crisis. However, any real change was a pipe dream; Ben Ali simply renamed Bourguiba's party into the Rassemblement Constitutionnel Démocratique (Constitutional Democratic Rally, or CDR) and stayed an autocrat. He ruled with virtually no opposition until 2011 — 24 years later — 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, where the former died in 2019. 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).
The country held its first free and fair legislative election in 2014, which was "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." The second legislative election was held in 2019 with Ennahda taking a plurality of the votes. Turnout was low compared to the 2014 election, indicating that many Tunisians had grown disillusioned by the country's failure to tackle their day-to-day problems.
Of particular note is that the protests and later revolution in Tunisia inspired similar protests across the Arab world, including revolutions in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. There have also been major protests in other countries, including Syria, which has seen brutal crackdown on the protesters. Since Libya, Syria, and Yemen devolved into civil wars 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. Since the 2011 revolution, Tunisia has been consistently ranked as the Arab world's healthiest democracy (according to the 2020 Democracy Index, it is one of the only three Arab countries that can be called democracies, and the other two, Lebanon and Morocco, have far more problems to tackle on compared to Tunisia), while Freedom House considers it by far the most liberal Arab country.
Tunisia is classified as a lower-middle income country, with the labor force mostly covered by the service sector, followed by industry. It mainly exports textile and produce and also depends on tourism (the country is home to eight World Heritage Sites, including some very impressive Roman amphitheaters, to say nothing of the beaches). Until the revolution, the economy was strictly governed by the state. Since the revolution, the economy has been suffering from a decline due to political instabilities, ineffective bureaucracy, and corruption, which put off investors who want to do business (though to be fair, it's hard to dismantle a centralized economy that persisted for more than five decades). Tourism also took a big hit when two terrorist attacks happened in 2015, although it is slowly recovering.
It's worth mentioning that Tunisia has been the site of quite a few movies where there is a desert scenery. Notable examples include Tatooine scenes in the Star Wars franchise (named after the city of Tataouine in the country's South), Cairo in Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the entirety of Jesus of Nazareth, Monty Python's Life of Briannote and The English Patient.
Fiction set in Tunisia
- Nefta Football Club, about two young boys who find a stray donkey carrying an odd burden.
- Brotherhood, about an ISIS jihadist who comes home.
- Arab Blues, about a young psychoanalyst who was born there and returns from France to open a practice in Tunis.
- Sniper Elite III has its final levels set in Tunisia, where Karl Fairburne is tasked with stopping a German prototype project from getting off the ground.
- Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, specifically the Breakthrough Expansion Pack, has the entire North African portion of the campaign set during the Battle of Kasserine Pass and the push into Bizerte.
- 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 first major story arc of SEAL Team's fourth season has Ray sent to Tunisia as his first assignment as a newly promoted Warrant Officer to assist with security efforts there. While dining at a café, a local terrorist group attacks and takes him as a hostage, and Bravo Team is hastily reformed and reactivated as part of the rescue operation to get him back.
- Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines is set in Tunis for its 12th mission as your team must rescue an informant and escape before being discovered by German forces.
The Tunisian flag
The Tunisian national anthem
- Unitary semi-presidential constitutional republic
- President: Kais Saied
- Prime Minister: Hichem Mechichi
- Assembly Speaker: Rached Ghannouchi
- Capital and largest city: Tunis
- Population: 11,708,370
- Area: 163,610 km² (63,170 sq mi) (91st)
- Currency: Tunisian dinar (ل.د) (TND)
- ISO-3166-1 Code: TN