Population, society and rights
Tunisia is the least populous country in the entire Maghreb area, after Libya. Unlike the latter, however, Tunisia is ethnically very homogeneous and has few divisions from a tribal and religious point of view, an element that strengthens its internal cohesion. Almost all of the population, about 98%, is Arab, while the Berber and Jewish minorities each represent 1%. The ethnic composition is reflected on a religious level: 98% of the population professes the Sunni Muslim religion, while there are Christian and Jewish minorities. The presence of the Jewish community is important above all from a historical point of view: Tunisian Jews, today around 1500, live mainly on the island of Djerba, where one of the synagogues, al Ghriba, is located, and one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world.
The population growth rate is very low, reflecting a lower fertility rate than in other countries, while on the other hand the average age is the highest in the region. Moreover, Tunisia also has one of the most urbanized populations and is affected, both directly and indirectly, by the phenomenon of emigration, both external and internal. On the one hand, hundreds of people leave every year to reach Europe, while on the other there are many people who move from rural areas to urban areas and the east coast of the country. These choices are often affected by the difficult socio-economic conditions in which Tunisia continues to suffer, despite political changes. For Tunisia society, please check homosociety.com.
Tunisia boasts high levels of education and an education system – even at university level – among the most efficient in the region, which however does not find an adequate response from the point of view of the quality of the job offer; over the years this has created a structural problem of unemployment, especially among young people. The literacy rate is higher than that of many other Maghrebi and Middle Eastern countries, especially as regards the youth, and there are many Tunisians who study in foreign universities. Tunisia’s education expenditure is among the highest in the entire region and one of the highest in the world in relative terms.
From the point of view of political and civil liberties, undoubted progress was made during the first four years of transition after the fall of Ben Ali. Until 2011, the country was one of the most repressive as regards freedom of the press and on the internet, while today its position has improved considerably, although some problems related to censorship remain. Another sector in which the country still presents problems is that of the police and security forces: there are still cases of summary arrests and torture in prison, especially to the detriment of presumed members of Salafist-style movements, in a context that is become more polarized than in the years of the Ben Ali regime. There are still cases of activists arrested for crimes of opinion and, more generally, the country suffers from the typical contradictions of a democratizing reality. Finally, much criticism was leveled at the new law on terrorism approved in July 2015, which would further limit freedoms and reintroduce the death penalty.
Economy, energy and environment
The Tunisian economy is penalized by the scarce availability of natural resources. The country produces most of the energy it consumes, but the resources to export are scarce. This condition has meant that, compared to other regional players, the Tunisian economic system became more dependent on relations with European countries, especially France and Italy. The latter are of vital importance for Tunisia, given the trade relations, investments and tourist flows which contribute to keeping the national economy in relatively good condition. Except for Libya during the Gaddafi period, Tunisia is, in terms of GDP per capita, the richest country in the whole North African wing.
The tertiary sector contributes more than 60% of the total Tunisian GDP and is therefore the dominant sector; agriculture accounts for more than 8% and industry for the remaining 30%. Tourism emerges in the services, which can count on the natural beauties of the country (especially the coast) and on a considerable archaeological heritage, and which alone contributes to about 20% of the GDP.. The attacks of 2015 brought the Tunisian tourism industry to its knees, contributing to the worsening of the country’s economic situation. Potentially Tunisia is still able to develop; however, it failed to attract large foreign direct investments, especially in relation to other players in the area. To weigh, there are still very closed conditions in some key sectors, such as transport and communications. If the process of political transition after the fall of Ben Ali went ahead in a rather linear way, therefore, the same cannot be said for the economic system, which is still in need of structural reforms. The high unemployment rate (in any case decreasing, from 16% in 2014 to 13.3% in 2015), which in the youth segment assumes more worrying dimensions, is one of the major problems in this sense.
Tunisia’s most important trade relations are those with the EU. France, Italy and Germany are the top three trading partners. The trade balance is negative, also due to imports of hydrocarbons. Finally, a substantial portion of Tunisian revenues is represented by foreign remittances.