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Tunisia: Tunisia People Profile 2012






Tunisia People Profile 2012

The People

The Tunisians are descendants of the ancient Phoenicians who colonized the northeast coast, of the Romans who later occupied the Punic (Phoenician) lands, and of the native Berbers. When the conquering Arabs came in the seventh century, there was rapid intermingling with the coastal population. The Berbers of the back country readily accepted the Arab way of life. Then in the 11th century Bedouins (nomadic Arabs) conquered the country; their descendants inhabit the desert regions of Tunisia. Except for a few isolated groups, the Berbers lost their separate identity.
Through trade with sub-Saharan regions some blacks have been assimilated into the population. A small %age of the population is of European origin.


The population of Tunisia in 1994 was 8,785,364. The majority of the people live in the northeastern part of the country and in the Sahel.

Language and Religion

Arabic is the official language of Tunisia, but French is widely used in commerce and government. About 98 % of the people are Muslims of the Sunnite branch of Islam, the country's official religion. There are small minorities of Christians and Jews.
The preponderance (98%) of modern Tunisians are considered as Arab and Arabized Berbers, and are speakers of Tunisian Arabic. On the other hand, there is also a little (1% at most) population of Berbers situated in the Jabal Dahar mountains in the South East and on the island of Jerba, despite the fact that many more have Berber origin. The Berbers principally speak Berber languages, often called Shelha.

The tiny European population (1%) consists typically of French and Italians. There is also long recognized Jewish community in the country, the history of the Jews in Tunisia going back some 2,000 years. In 1948 the Jewish population was an estimated 105,000, but by 2003 only about 1,500 remained.

The first people recognized to history in what is now Tunisia were the Berbers. Abundant civilizations and peoples have invaded, migrated to, and been assimilated into the population over the millennia, with influences of population via invasion from Phoenicians/Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals, Arabs, Ottoman Turks, and French.

Also, after the Reconquista and kicking out of non-Christians and Moriscos from Spain, many Spanish Moors and Jews also arrived at the end of the 15th century. In addition, from the late 1800s to after World War II, Tunisia was home to large populations of French and Italians (255,000 Europeans in 1956), although nearly all of them, along with the Jewish population, left after Tunisia became independent.

Religion in Tunisia is dominated by Islam, to which a majority of Tunisians (98%) adhere. One of the most ancient Jewish communities in the world resides in Jerba, where religious diversity thrives. The southern Tunisian island is home to 39 synagogues.
According to one genetic research at the same time as the vast preponderance of modern Tunisians identify themselves as Arabs, they are mainly the children of Berbers, the first peoples known to live in what is now Tunisia. Tunisians are also descended, to a lesser extent, from Semitic peoples (Phoenicians and Arabs) with a little less than 20% of the genetic material (Y-chromosome analysis) coming from the Middle East .
Other genetic studies found that "Tunisians did not show a significant level of differentiation with northern population". This suggests a fairly significant European input to Tunisian genetics compared to other neighboring populations.
Tunisia exceeded the ten million inhabitants in 2005, what corresponds to a trebling of his population since 1956 (3 448 000 inhabitants) and in a doubling since the beginning of 1970s. Nevertheless, the population growth slows down, the country accelerating its demographic transition in the 1990s.
The indication of fertility moves back gradually: the number of children by woman is crossed of about six in the 1960s in 3,4 in 1994 and would be two in 2006 (the most low(weakest) level of the Arabic world). So, the annual increase is reduced to 1,08. But Tunisia is also a country which also knows an important rate of emigration: the number of Tunisians living abroad is estimated at 885 000 persons. 83 % of them live in Europe among which 511 000 in France.