Countryaah, about 99% of the population is Sunni Muslims. An Ibadite
minority resides in Djerba. Besides smaller Protestant
groups, there are approx. 20,000 Catholics in the country.
The Jewish minority has been greatly reduced in recent
Tunisia was Islamized in the 600s, and throughout
history has been a significant Islamic center, both at its
Islamic educational sites and because of the pilgrimage city
of Kairouan. After the country gained full independence in
1956, Islam was declared the country's religion; at the same
time, the legislation was secularized, the religious courts
closed down, and the traditional Islamic educational
institutions controlled by the state.
In April 2002, the old Jewish synagogue Ghriba on the
island of Djerba became the target of a bomb attack. It was
visited this month by Jews from all over the world on
pilgrimage. The attack cost many killed - including German
tourists. The government first claimed that it was an
accident, but later admitted that it was an attack.
Authorities placed the responsibility on a Tunisian living
in the French new Lyon. Acc. he had been assisted by a
family member in Tunisia. Attendance at the Lag B'Omer party
at Djerba was significantly lower than in previous years due
to the attacks and tensions in the Middle East. About 1000
of Tunisia's 3000 Jews live in Djerba. However, the traces
of the attack were quickly rectified.
At the beginning of 2003, President Ben Alí issued
several calls for a peaceful solution to the situation in
Iraq and supported the UN Security Council resolutions in
In October, the government condemned Israeli air strikes
on Syria and demanded international law to prevent an
escalation of violence in the Middle East.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Tunisia in
December 2003 to discuss the crisis in the Middle East and
to convey an invitation from President Bush to visit the
United States in February 2004.
After his capture in December of Saddam Hussein in Iraq
called on the Tunisian government that every effort was
being put into the country to regain its sovereignty and
peace. That same month, Parliament passed an anti-terrorism
law and a law against money laundering.
In February 2004, Ben Alí made an official visit to the
United States and had several meetings during which
bilateral issues were discussed and the situation in the
Middle East was discussed.
In 2004, General Habib Ammar was appointed chairman of
the organizing committee that plans to hold the World
Conference on the Information Society in Tunisia in 2005.
Ammar had been the National Guard's first commander and
Minister of the Interior after Ben Ali's coup. A case was
pending against him by the Geneva State Attorney at the
request of the World Organization against Torture and the
Swiss Association for Impunity (TRIAL). Ammar was accused of
turning Tunisia police stations into interrogation and
torture centers targeting opposition and journalists.
A few days before the implementation of the Arab summit
in Tunisia 29-30. March 2004 this was postponed to enable
better preparation among the participating countries. Acc.
government officials rescued this decision - due to the
situation in the Middle East.
In the October presidential and parliamentary elections,
Ben Ali - who had already been in power for 17 years -
received almost 95% of the vote. Acc. the opposition was the
choice marked by scams. The former general who was
considered to have made Tunisia the most stable and
prosperous country in North Africa thus secured a fourth
presidential term. The Interior Ministry confirmed that he
had received 94.49% of the vote.
An independent Tunisian human rights group was not
allowed to serve as election observers, but the Arab League
had observers at a number of polling stations. The
presidential election was the second to be held as a
multi-party election since the country's independence from