Tunisia was once an important player in the Mediterranean, thanks to its location in the centre of North Africa, close to vital shipping routes.
French colonial rule ended in 1956, and Tunisia was led for three decades by Habib Bourguiba, who advanced secular ideas, foremost of which was the emancipation of women.
Mass protests unseated President Ben Ali in 2011, in the first of a series of popular uprisings to sweep the region, but President Kais Saied sought to re-impose aspects of authoritarian rule in 2022.
See profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring
President: Kais Saied
Retired law professor Kais Saied won a landslide victory over media mogul Nabil Karoui in the October 2019 presidential election run-off.
Mr Saied, who was 61 when elected, campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, and appealed directly to young voters.
In 2022 he carried out a series of measures to enhance the power of the presidency at the expense of parliament and the judiciary.
The Tunisian media now enjoy greater freedom than before the 2011 popular revolt.
Social media played a key role in the uprising.
Some key dates in Tunisia's modern history:
1881 - French troops occupy Tunis, ousting Ottoman forces.
1956 - Tunisia becomes independent with Habib Bourguiba as prime minister.
2011 - Mass protests drive President Ben Ali into exile, inspiring other Arab Spring uprisings.
2022 - President Kais Saied imposes presidential rule, undermining the authority of parliament.
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