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.
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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).
Tunisia flag source: Countryaah.com
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 Tunisian territory.
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.