Facts and figures about Tunisia, which on Sunday is holding its first truly free elections since 1956 independence:
GEOGRAPHY: Tunisia lies in the center of North Africa, sandwiched between Algeria to the west and Libya to the east. Its 63,170 square miles (163,610 square kilometers) consists of fertile coast and mountains in the north, with a dry plain in the center and Sahara Desert to the south. It is about the size of Florida and a bit larger than Greece.
POPULATION: Tunisia has a population of around 10 million people, overwhelmingly Arab and Muslim. With a 75 percent literacy rate, it is considered to have one of the better educated populations in the region. Arabic is the official language, but French is widely spoken among the educated and often used in business.
GOVERNMENT: Tunisia is now ruled by an interim president and prime minister who will be replaced by a government appointed by the constituent assembly being elected. The assembly will write a new constitution and determine whether the country becomes a parliamentary or presidential republic.
HISTORY: With a history stretching back 2,000 years to ancient Carthage, Tunisia has always been a commercial center in the Mediterranean. It became a French protectorate in 1881 before gaining independence in 1956. The founder of the modern state, Habib Bourguiba, created a one-party state known for its progressive legislation for women and high rates of education. In 1987, he was deposed in a bloodless coup by Prime Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali whose 23-year rule was marked by suppression of dissidents, tight controls on freedom of expression and police brutality. Popular frustration and unemployment sparked a monthlong revolt in December 2010 that forced Ben Ali to flee the country.
ECONOMY: Lacking the oil resources of its neighbors, Tunisia developed a diverse economy relying on industrial and agricultural exports to Europe and tourism. Foreign investment rose over the last decade in response to a friendly environment and until recently the country's 5 percent growth rate was the envy of the region. But unrest following the revolution and civil war in neighboring Libya in 2011 drove away tourists and raised prices, giving Tunisia an estimated growth rate of zero for this year. The country has an estimated 18 percent unemployment rate with 700,000 out of work, especially among youth, making job creation the top challenge for the future government.
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