Tunisians are descendants of indigenous Berber and Arab
tribes that migrated to North Africa during the seventh
century. Recorded history in Tunisia begins with the
arrival of Phoenicians, who founded Carthage and other
North African settlements. Carthage was captured by the
Romans in AD 146, and the Romans continued to rule North
Africa until they were defeated by tribesmen from Europe
in the fifth century. The Muslim conquest in the seventh
century transformed North Africa. Tunisia became a
center of Arab culture until its assimilation into the
Turkish Ottoman Empire in the 16th century.
France established a protectorate in Tunisia in 1881.
The rise of nationalism led to Tunisia's independence in
1956. Independence leader Habib Bourguiba became
Tunisia's first president in 1956 and held the office
until 1987, when Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali was elected.
Post-independence tensions between France and Tunisia
decreased in 1962 when France withdrew from its Bizerte
naval base. But when Tunisia nationalized foreign
interests in 1964, relations with France again suffered.
Cooperation with France improved in 1968, and France has
extended important economic credits and technical
assistance since then.
source: U.S. State Department Background Notes 1994