Living in Tunisia
The Tunisians are warm and welcoming people who seem anxious to get to know the rest of the world. They are increasingly well educated and informed, and they are shrewd and cautious businessmen and women.
Expatriates will find a pleasant lifestyle with more than adequate housing and services. World-class facilities for business travel exist right alongside those for international tourist travel. They are all set in the magnificent surroundings and climate of the Mediterranean and embellished with some of the most dramatic Roman ruins anywhere.
All that being said, political upheaval beginning in the Arab Spring of 2011 has created instability in Tunisia. It is undergoing a transition in government, peppered with violent outbursts by opposing sides. Caution is advised.
Tunisia is a republic with executive power vested in the president, who is elected by popular vote for five years with no term limits. The prime minister is appointed by the president.
Cabinet members are named by, and are responsible only to, the president. Legislative power rests with the bicameral Chamber of Advisors and Chamber of Deputies (Majlis al-Nuwaab). The Chamber of Advisors has 126 seats consisting of 85 elected members and 41 presidential appointees; they serve six years. The Chamber of Deputies has 214 members who are elected to five-year terms.
While democracy, human rights, and a free society are much talked about in Tunisia, in recent decades the press has been almost exclusively pro-government, and the opposition tended to support the president. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, President since 1987, ran unopposed in the 1994 presidential elections, but experienced some token opposition in the 1999 election. Acts of oppression against Muslims and others who oppose government policies have also been reported.
In Tunisia's October 2004 election, incumbent President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali won another term. Just before the election, the main opposition, the Democratic Progressive Party, withdrew its candidate because they believed the voting process would be skewed.
Ben Ali won the 2009 election as well, but was ousted and exiled in January of 2011. Interim leadership promises a new government that will work toward democracy and allow all political parties to operate in the country. Elections are scheduled for June 2013.
Economically, Tunisia presents an impressive picture. More than 60 percent of the population is considered middle class and only seven percent falls below the poverty level. The government has taken a balanced approach to economic development that has emphasized family planning, education, and promotion of the status of women. Women in Tunisia have a great deal more freedom than in other Islamic societies, and their rights are protected by law. Their presence in the business world is also more significant than that of any other Muslim country. In addition, the steadying effect of economic growth and political stability, unique in North Africa, has made it difficult for the influences of Islamic Fundamentalists to be felt too strongly.
Endowed with scant natural resources, Tunisia has concentrated its efforts on developing export-led growth. Textiles and tourism have provided the main hard-currency income. In order to encourage visitors, there has been an increase in hotel construction, free-trade zones, and U.S.-style industrial parks. The country's roads and railroads are relatively good, but need expansion to accommodate the growing demand. The government plans further upgrades in both areas. While privatization is an important element of Tunisia's attempt to attract foreign investment and improve its competitiveness, the fear of increasing already high unemployment has delayed development.
Tunisia entered into an association agreement with the European Union (EU) in March 1998. Under this accord Tunisia agreed to gradually remove barriers to trade with the EU over the next decade.