Tunisia is the northernmost country in Africa and has been under the administration or occupation of a number of empires, from the Phoenicians and Romans to the Ottoman Turks and the French. The country is the site of the ancient city of Carthage, which was a dominant power in the Western Mediterranean in the 9th Century BC.
Tunisia declared independence from France in 1956 under President Bourguiba, who was then overthrown in a peaceful coup by the former Prime Minister, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, in 1987. Ben Ali ruled Tunisia as president until he was forced to flee the country in 2011 following the Tunisian (‘Jasmine’) Revolution.
Prior to the Revolution, Tunisia was a one-party state, where the Constitutional Democratic Party controlled all legislation and the presidency. Presidents were elected for a term of five years, although this was disregarded by the former President Ben Ali, who ruled for 24 years. Elections in October 2011 saw the Islamist party Ennahda win the most votes but fall short of an outright majority. The resulting coalition with two secularist parties began the process of drafting a new constitution. However, deep divisions and the July 2013 assassination of a second opposition leader by extremists led to new parliamentary and presidential elections in late 2014. A new coalition of secular and moderate Islamist representatives formed in February 2015.
Tunisia currently struggles with large trade deficits, foreign debts and is still recovering from the removal of government subsidies in various sectors, made in an effort to encourage privatisation and decrease state intervention in the economy. The economy relies on agriculture, petroleum products, mining and tourism and benefits from strong trade links with Europe.
There are 10.62 million people living in Tunisia today, of whom 14% are unemployed and 3.8% live below the poverty line. There are problems with widespread child labour and exploitation around Tunisia. Strikes and protests that disrupted much industry during the Revolution continue to occur due to frustration over joblessness, hardship and lack of economic progress. Women, whose right to equality was enshrined in legislation by the country’s first president in 1956, have expressed concern at an article on gender “complementarity” in the country’s draft constitution.
Adherence to the freedom of speech and expression granted in the Tunisian Constitution was among the many reforms called for in the Tunisian Revolution. Independent newspapers and broadcasting companies are closely monitored by the government and criticism of the regime was not tolerated. The state owns “Publinet,” the only internet provider in the country, which blocks access to various sites and monitors political activity. There are 3.5 million internet users in Tunisia.
Islam is the state religion and the constitution stipulates that the President must be Muslim. The former government advocated the development of a secular society, discouraging the wearing of religious garments, such as the hijab, in public. Around 98% of Tunisia is Sunni Muslim, with a 1% Christian population and a significant Jewish minority.
Proselytising in public is forbidden, although non-Muslim religions are allowed on the condition that they do not disturb public order. Conversion from Islam to another religion is not forbidden, but it is frowned upon and there are reports of discrimination in employment and academic opportunities on the basis of religion. Baha’is are not allowed to practice publicly or have a registered house of worship. The government formally recognises only the Catholic Church as a religious minority, but allows other denominations to register.
There are no reports of severe persecution against Christians in Tunisia because the government does not view them as a threat to the state and leaves them to practise in relative freedom. There is, regardless, much social and familial pressure placed upon local believers, which discourages many from following their faith openly.
While the former regime advocated the development of a secular society, repressing extremist groups and interfering rarely in religious practices, the future of this stance remains to be seen. For the moment, the Ennahda (moderate Islamist)- led government is seeking to walk a fine line between the demands of secularists and hardline Salafists.
- Pray for continued tolerance and co-operation from the government of Christians, so that they may worship freely.
- Pray that the new government and constitution will be just and serve the interests of all Tunisia’s people.
- Pray that the rights of children, workers and citizens will be respected throughout Tunisia.
- Pray for the government to act effectively to tackle Tunisia’s economic and unemployment problems.
 CIA World Factbook
 Middle East Concern
 CIA World Factbook
 Middle East Concern