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A north African country bordering Algeria and Libya, Tunisia stretches from the Sahara desert in the south to the Mediterranean coastal plain in the north. A former French protectorate, the post independence period saw two successive autocratic Dictators, Bourguiba and Ben Ali, the second of whom left power in 2011 as a result of a popular revolution against his rule. Though free and fair elections followed, concerns about the new political climate remain as do issues with gender discrimination and provision of services to isolated or disadvantaged areas.
Tunisia is located in North Africa, a region commonly known as the Maghreb. It is bordered by the Mediterranean sea in the north and north east, Libya in the south-east and Algeria in the west and south west. Tunis is the country's capital city.
Population and language
The population is largely Berber and Arab, and Islam is the dominant religion. Arabic is the official language, although French is widely spoken. Home of the ancient city of Carthage, the Romans, Arabs, Ottoman Turks and French realized its strategic significance, making Tunisia a hub for control over the region.
The modern history of Tunisia dates back to the Bardo treaty of 1881, when it became a French protectorate. After its independence in 1956, Habib Bourguiba - a former lawyer, nationalist and activist for independence - became the first prime minister and, a year later, the first president of Tunisia.
Mr Bourguiba increasied his own powers to become a virtual dictator and remained in power until 1987 when the then prime minister Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali took advantage of Bourguiba's failing health to overthrow him in a coup to become Tunisia's second president.
The executive power is vested in the President of the Republic, assisted by the Government and the Prime Minister.
The people exercise the legislative power through the Chambers of Deputies and Advisors, or by virtue of general elections.
Shari’a courts were abolished in 1956, and since then Tunisia has had a single unified judiciary structure. Magistrates are nominated by decree of the President of the Republic upon the recommendation of the Superior Judicial Council.
Mr Ben Ali faced reproach at home and abroad for his party's three "99.9%" election wins. The opposition condemned changes to the constitution which allowed him to run for re-election in 2004, and in 2009. Violent repression of protests over unemployment and lack of political freedom in the winter of 2010-2011 left dozens of people dead. But popular street protests continued and President Ben Ali went into exile in January 2011.
Economy T unisia is more prosperous than its neighbours and has strong trade links with Europe. Agriculture employs a large part of the workforce, and dates and olives are cultivated in the drier regions. Millions of European tourists flock to Tunisian resorts every year.
Tunisia's economy has diversified considerably in the past 20 years. The main sectors are tourism, mining, agriculture and manufacturing (textiles and food). Tunisia's annual GDP per head in 2010 was estimated to be $9,500 - a relatively high figure compared to other countries in Africa. However, the country also faces a number of challenges such as unemployment - which is very high among young graduates - corruption, particularly prominent among State officials, and growing disparities between social classes.
Human rights and the Media
Although Tunisia under Mr Ben Ali introduced some press freedoms and freed a number of political prisoners, human rights groups said the authorities tolerated no dissent, harassing government critics and rights activists. Human rights defenders' denunciation of human rights violations in public statements and on the Internet has been met with retaliation measures by the government. Numerous human rights activists have been prosecuted for publicly exposing human rights abuses. Access to independent websites and blogs that cover the human rights situation in Tunisia has been blocked by the authorities.
The government of the former President controlled the press and broadcasting. But in the immediate wake of the January 2011 popular revolt, many journalists were able to enjoy new-found freedoms. State TV - which had toed the government line - changed tack, giving airtime to the former opposition.
However, some journalists warned that the network of editors and censors set up under Mr Ben Ali remained in place.
Tunisia has ratified the Convention on the rights of the child (30 January 1992 ), the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in armed conflict on (2 January 2003 ) and the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (13 September 2002 ).
Tunisia was the first African country to prohibit corporal punishment of children in all settings in July 2010.