homeTunisia travel guide > Tunisia history
Tunisia guide
Traveler café 
Travel directory
Last updated : Nov 2009
Tunisia History
Tunisia History - TravelPuppy.com
Modern-day Tunisia was the centre of the Carthaginian civilisation, which confronted the dominance of the Roman and Greek empires in the Mediterranean between the 6th and 1st centuries BC. Carthage itself was located 16 kilometres (10 miles) north of the present capital, Tunis. During the colonial era, Tunisia was ruled by a hereditary monarchy, until the French made Tunisia a protectorate during 1883. Nationalist pressure for independence started in 1934, with the creation of the Néo-Destour (New Constitution) Party (NDP) under the leadership of Habib Bourguiba. Internal self-Government was granted during 1955 and independence as a constitutional monarchy under the Bey of Tunis came the following year. During 1957, the Bey was overthrown and a republic proclaimed, with Bourguiba as the President.

Despite independence, the French insisted on holding onto a naval base at Bizerta, on the northern coast of Tunisia. This was lost during 1963, after a naval blockade by the Tunisians and many months of very heavy fighting. The ruling Parti Socialiste Destourien (renamed Rassemblement Constitutionel Démocratique in 1988), and successor to the NDP, has maintained a strong hold. Bourguiba practiced unsuccessful socialist policies in the early part of his regime but opened the economy up to foreign investment and allowed the development of the private sector during the 1970's.

By the measure of per capita domestic income, the lot of the Tunisians greatly improved during this 2nd phase. At the time of his fall from power during November 1987, Bourguiba had been in control for thirty years – at 1st through elections to the single party and after 1975 as President-for-Life. Following an announcement by his own team of doctors that Bourguiba was no longer of a sound mind, Prime Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali became the President unopposed. Regardless of its relatively small size, Tunisia has played a consistently important diplomatic role within the region.

The expulsion of the bulk of the PLO during 1982– including all its top leadership – from Lebanon, after the Israeli invasion, several Lebanese were taken in by the country. The foreign ministry was involved in the discussions leading to the resolution of the Iran–Iraq war and the careful manoeuvring between Libya and the West over the Lockerbie affair.

North African issues play a significant role in the government’s foreign policy. The Tunisians played an important role in the creation of the Union of the Arab Maghreb during 1989 – considered as a political and economic bloc in North Africa and comprising Mauritania, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. The expansion of the Union has been overshadowed, by the civil war in Algeria. The Tunisian Government was originally concerned by the home-grown Islamic An-Nahda movement, but its influence and effect have not succeeded to match those of its counterparts based in the Middle East.

Tunisia has not suffered the levels of political violence in neighbouring Algeria, however there have been a number of terrorist attacks, usually accredited to affiliates of the al-Qaeda network. Against this background, the Government has embarked on a vigilant reform programme, with a series of complementary political and economic changes. These have been assumed with a view to building the economic relations with the European Union, with whom Tunisia signed an association and partnership agreement – the 1st of its type – during 1995.

Domestic political reforms introduced by the Government allowed candidates other than those from the RCD to stand for election, but there continued to be distinct limits to the degree of political dissent the Government was prepared to tolerate. The RCD continues to hold a considerable majority in the Majlis al-Nuwaab.

A Presidential poll was held during March 1994 and Ben Ali was ‘re-elected’ with 99.9% of the vote. At legislative elections, half of the 19 seats reserved for the opposition were allocated to the Democratic Socialists and the others separated between the Mouvement de la Renovation (previously the Communists), the Parti de l'Unité Populaire and the Union Démocratique Unioniste.

The 1999 Presidential vote produced a comparable result, giving Ben Ali a 3rd consecutive term. Strictly speaking, a 4th term was prohibited by the constitution but a referendum in 2002 allowed Ali to stand for up to another 2 terms.

Predictably, Ali won the controversial 4th term in 2004 with the main opposition party withdrawing 2 days prior to the vote stating that their involvement would only serve to legitimise a rigged election.