Tunisia's educational system has long been characterized
by both French and Islamic influence, the latter through the
Koran schools. The School Act 1958 was an attempt to merge
the two models. In 1990, a new law was adopted, which aimed
to further modernize the school. The former 6-year primary
school, which was followed by a 3 + 4-year secondary school,
began to be replaced by a 9-year, compulsory school for
everyone. In principle, all children start school. The
secondary school is only 4 years old. It concludes with a
degree, equivalent to the French baccalaureate,
which gives admission to university studies. See TOPSCHOOLSINTHEUSA for TOEFL, ACT, SAT testing locations and high school codes in Tunisia.
College education is provided at 13 state universities.
In addition, there are private universities and a host of
other higher education institutions. Tunisia has for a long
time invested heavily in the school system; In 2008, 23% of
government spending went to education. Of the population
over 15, 78% are literate (86% of men and 71% of women).
The Néo-Destour Party took all seats during the 1959
National Assembly elections, and in the subsequent
presidential election, Bourguiba won without a
counter-candidate. Both the party and its strong leader
already consolidated their power from independence. In
practice, party membership became a prerequisite for leading
public positions, and the state took a strong position in
Tunisian society, including in the economic sphere. The
distinction between party and state was erased, with the
party as the main institution of power.
When the party changed its name to the Socialist
Destiny Party (PSD) in 1964, it indicated a
political change of direction which, on the part of
Bourguiba, was conditioned more by aspirations for economic
development than ideological change. The general secretary
of the trade union organization UGTT, Ahmed Ben Salah,
played a crucial role in turning the political course in
planning economics. Foreign land property was expropriated,
which led to France interrupting financial assistance.
Relations with France also deteriorated as Tunisia supported
the liberation struggle in Algeria and allowed the
Liberation Front Front (FLN) to operate from
The changes in Tunisian society were also marked by an
emigration of European citizens. Between 1955 and 1959,
about two-thirds of them left the country, around 170,000,
among these many public servants. Also, the majority of
Tunisia's around 85,000 Jews emigrated, most to Israel. The
Jewish emigration began as early as 1948, the year Israel
was established; most emigrated after 1956. Unlike other
Arab countries, there were no obstacles to the Jewish
emigration from Tunisia.
The economic development in the socialist direction,
which among other things was to ensure industrialization
through an ambitious ten-year plan adopted in 1964, was not
least driven by the trade union movement. Industry was
erected, but developments were slower than expected - and
President Bourguiba demanded. This left the socialist line
open to private investment in business. The UGTT was
weakened, the parliament had little actual power, and the
Néo-Destour party became the center of power where all
significant decisions were made, far and away by the party
leader and President Bourguiba himself. In 1974 he became
president for life.
Bourguiba stood for the modernization of Tunisian
society, which became one of the most liberal and secular in
the Arab world. Not least was this the relationship between
the sexes and the position of women. A comprehensive
educational program was launched to increase literacy among
adults in 1958.
Resistance to economic development came to the surface
through a general strike in 1974. It was met with gun power
by the authorities, with a large number of people killed.
Some political liberalization took place from 1979, and
in 1981 the one-party government ceased. Equally fully,
Néo-Destour retained power by establishing an alliance with
the trade union movement, in a national front that took all
the mandates in parliament.
On November 7, 1987, Habib Bourguiba was deposed by the
Prime Minister, General Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali - whom he
himself, a short time in advance, had deployed. The takeover
has been referred to as a coup, but it was carried out in
line with the constitution, after medical experts had
declared it eventually old and erratic Bourguiba unfit to
rule the country. Ben Ali thus took over as president.
In the same way that Bourguiba was the undisputed leader,
Ben Ali was elected president without a candidate in 1989,
then re-elected in 1994, 1999, 2004 and 2009. He took over
all of Bourguiba's functions and essentially continued his
politics, but promised by the takeover of power to implement
a democratization. As a result, a "national pact" was signed
in 1988, after which political parties were legalized,
except for the Islamists.
Ben Ali transformed the PSD into the Rassemblement
constitutionnel démocratique (RCD) in 1989. The party
took all seats in the National Assembly at the election that
year, through an electoral system that strongly favored the
major parties. This was formally the first multi-party
election in the country's history.
Political liberalization was limited, in part because the
total dominance of the RCD - supported by the electoral
system - prevented opposition parties from winning. At the
1994 elections, also won by RCD, a smaller number of seats
were reserved for the opposition. Opponents of Ben Ali's
regime were tried to be tackled in various ways; among
others, leading members of the regime-critical Mouvement
des democrates Socialistes (MDS) were arrested and
charged with espionage.