Setting the stage…this is a long one, sorry.

In The More You Know on October 4, 2011 at 8:27 pm

I realized that I should probably supply some background info on Tunisia before I just start posting photos. Often, when telling someone where I’d be this fall, I would get variations of “that’s awesome! Wait…Tunisia’s in Africa, right?”


I’ll borrow an introduction from some guide book:
Strategically situated at the tip of North Africa, with close ties to Europe and deep roots in the African and Arab worlds, Tunisia has long been a cosmopolitan, cross-cultural location.

There it is in a really small, very general nutshell: Tunisia.

I’m here on a study abroad to improve my French and (Modern Standard) Arabic language skills. Tunisia was once a colony of France, and French is still heavily utilized in education, media and business. Arabic is the official language, but most Tunisians communicate in a Maghrabi (a general term for Northern African) dialect, which can at times differ significantly from the Modern Standard Arabic and Levantine dialects I have studied. *Click here to see a cool map of Arabic dialects as they are found in various regions of the Middle East and North Africa.*

At one point I learned that a great deal of “code switching” (the concurrent use of more than one language in a conversation) goes on in casual communication, but it still throws me whenever I listen to people speak and they switch between Arabic and French as if the two languages were one. My host family does this often. They primarily use French, but it’s not uncommon for every few sentences to contain some (if not all) Arabic. The family’s puppy is a bilingual code-switcher, too! He understands “sit” in French, but “come here” and “go outside” in Arabic.

Anyway. With what happened in Tunisia last December, I’ve picked such an exciting time to be here! And the French/Arabic co-existence is actually helping my communication and comprehension.

Here’s a timeline of key events in Tunisia (edited from BBC Tunisia Timeline and supplemented with additional info).

Also! I found this great article in Time magazine written in 2007, analyzing the “price of prosperity” in Tunisia. It is interesting to read this article (just 2 pages) and observe what has actually taken place.


circa 1100 BC – Phoenicians settle the north African coast. The city of Carthage, near the site of present-day Tunis, becomes a naval power.

146 BC – Carthage falls to the Romans.

439 AD – Vandals invade; Roman buildings and artifacts are destroyed.

600s – Arabs conquer the territory of present-day Tunisia.

909 – Berbers wrest the region from the Arabs.

1600s – Tunisia becomes part of the Turkish Ottoman empire, but has a high degree of autonomy.

1881 – French troops occupy Tunis. France controls economic and foreign affairs; Tunisia is a French protectorate from 1883.

1934 – Habib Bourguiba founds the pro-independence Neo-Dustour Party

1942 – World War II: German troops arrive to resist allied forces in Algeria. Allied forces drive German, Italian troops out in 1943. *I visited an American cemetery at Carthage, where around 3,000 (mostly) WWII vets are buried.

1956 20 March – Tunisia becomes independent with Bourguiba as prime minister.

1957 – The monarchy is abolished and Tunisia becomes a republic. *Habib Bourguiba, in power for nearly 3 decades, advanced many secular ideas, such as emancipation for women – women’s rights in Tunisia are among the most advanced in the Arab world – the abolition of polygamy and compulsory free education. Bourguiba insisted on an anti-Islamic fundamentalist line, while increasing his own powers to become a virtual dictator.

1961 – Tunisia says French forces must leave their base in Bizerte. Fighting breaks out. France pulls out of Bizerte in 1963, after long-running talks.

1981 – First multi-party parliamentary elections since independence. President Bourguiba’s party wins by a landslide.

1987 – Bloodless palace coup: Prime Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has President Bourguiba declared mentally unfit to rule and takes power himself.

1989 – Ben Ali wins presidential elections. He goes on to be re-elected four more times, the last time in 2009.

1999 – First multi-party presidential elections; Ben Ali wins a third term.

2002 May – President Ben Ali wins a referendum on constitutional changes.

2004 October – President Ben Ali wins a fourth term with 94% of the vote.

2005 July – Parliament introduces an upper house – the Chamber of Councillors – which is dominated by the ruling party.

2009 October – President Ben Ali wins a fifth term in office.*Although Tunisia under 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.

2010 December – Protests break out over unemployment and political restrictions, and spread nationwide, then region-wide. *I highly recommend reading this for a play-by-play (but still only one page!) of the act that started it all and the immediate consequences.

2011 January – President Ben Ali goes into exile amid continuing protests.
Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi announces an interim national unity government, only partly satisfying protesters. *It is commonly quoted that Tunisia’s revolution has been “clean” compared to what followed elsewhere (think Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and Lybia). Though Ben Ali fled quite readily, Tunisians still faced a month of the (old) regime’s police (as well as tear gas, beatings and bullets).

2011 February – Prime minister Ghannouchi resigns, responding to demands by demonstrators calling for a clean break with the past.

2011 March – Date for election of a constitutional council set for 24 July.
Rally for Constitutional Democracy (RCD), the party of ousted President Ben Ali, is dissolved by court order.
*Despite eliminating the old government, years of mismanagement and corruption have left behind many obstacles (eg. Tunisia is still unstable enough to warrant soldiers and razor wire guarding certain government buildings). Also, the election date is rescheduled for Oct 23rd, when Tunisians will vote (in hopefully a clean and transparent election) to select members for a Constitutional Assembly charged with drafting a new constitution.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading!

  1. code-switching puppy, mon coeur!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: