Reaching the Nations

Tunisia

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

Return to Table of Contents

Geography

Area: 163,610 square km.  Tunisia is the smallest country in North Africa and borders Libya, Algeria, and the Mediterranean Sea.  Northern areas consist of mountains whereas plains cover central and southern areas.  Temperate climate subject to rainy, mild winters and hot, dry summers occurs in the north whereas hot, arid conditions persist year round in the south.  Environmental issues include proper hazardous waste disposal, limited fresh water, desertification, deforestation, soil erosion, and overgrazing.  Tunisia is divided into 24 administrative governorates. 

Population: 10,589,025 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: 0.969% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 1.71 children born per woman (2010)    

Life Expectancy: 74.17 male, 77.94 female (2010)

Peoples

Arab: 98%

European: 1%

Jewish/other: 1%

Languages: Tunisian spoken Arabic (99%), other (1%).  Standard Arabic is the official language and only language with over one million speakers (10.5 million).  Shilha is the most commonly spoken minority language belonging to the Berber language family with 26,000 speakers.

Literacy: 74.3% (2004)

History

The Phoenicians founded Carthage in present-day Tunisia along with several other North African settlements in the eight century B.C.  The Carthaginians and Romans vied for control of the Mediterranean until the defeat of Carthage in 146 B.C.  The Roman empire maintained control of Tunisia until the fifth century A.D. when European tribes invaded.  Arabs conquered North Africa in the seventh century, significantly changed the ethnic composition of the population from immigrating Middle Eastern and Anatolian peoples, and introduced Islam.  By the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Spanish Jews and Muslims resettled in Tunisia to escape persecution in Spain during the Spanish Inquisition, and the Arabs established a center of culture and education in Tunis.  Tunisia came under rule of the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century and became a French protectorate between 1881 and 1956.  Independence from France occurred in 1956 and today Tunisia maintains strong cultural, political, and economic relations with France.[1]  In early 2011, the government was overthrown through mass protests calling for improved economic, political, and living conditions.

Culture 

Islam heavily influences daily life, social attitudes, and local culture.  Various regional ancient, medieval, and contemporary civilizations have affected the evolution of Tunisian culture, including Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Arabs, Turks, Spanish, and French which have left their legacy behind in ruins and historical sites.  Theater, art, cinema, education, festivals, and architecture are all proud national traditions.  Mediterranean and Arab foods and dishes are common and are particularly noted for their use of olives, spices, couscous, and eggs.[2]  Tunisia is one of the most progressive Arab states and ranks among Muslim countries with the lowest fertility rates.  Unlike many Arab nations, Tunisia has outlawed the practice of polygamy.   Cigarette consumption rates are among the highest in the Muslim world whereas alcohol consumption rates are extremely low. 

Economy

GDP per capita: $9,100 (2009) [19.6% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.683

Corruption Index: 4.2

With one of the most developed economies in North Africa, Tunisia has a diversified economy controlled heavily by the government.  Economic growth has declined in recent years due to declining demand for Tunisian goods abroad as a result of the global financial crisis.  Progress made by the government in recent years includes simplifying the tax structure, increasing privatization, and reducing debt.  Unemployment, underemployment, and privatizing industry are challenges for future economic growth.  Services employ half the labor force and generate 54% of the GDP whereas industry employs a third of the labor force and generates 35% of the GDP.  Major industries include oil, mining, tourism, textiles, and food processing.  Agriculture employs 18% of the labor force and generates 18% of the GDP.  Common agricultural crops and goods include olives, olive oil, grain, fruit, sugar beets, dates, almonds, beef, and dairy products.  France, Italy, and Germany are the primary trade partners. 

Tunisia is perceived as the least corrupt North African nation, but corruption is still an issue especially with petty corruption and brutality among law enforcement.  Instances of corruption in government are difficult to prove and some reports indicate that corruption has worsened in recent years.[3]

Faiths

Muslim: 98%

Christian: 1%

Jewish/other: 1%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic   22,000

Russian Orthodox  100

Seventh Day Adventists  50  1

Jehovah's Witnesses   50  1

Latter-Day Saints  less than 50  1

Greek Orthodox Church  30  3

Religion

Muslims account for all but one to two percent of the national population, with the remainder of the population primarily following Christianity.  Approximately 500 of the estimated 22,000 Roman Catholics regularly attend religious services.  There are approximately 2,000 Protestants, which primarily include the French Reform, Anglican, and Seventh Day Adventist Churches.  There are 100 Russian Orthodox Christians.  Arab-Tunisian Christian converts number in the hundreds.  Half of Jehovah's Witnesses in the country are native Tunisians.  There are approximately 1,600 Jews, most of which live on the island of Djerba and the town of Zarzis.  These Jewish communities have maintained a presence for 2,500 years.[4]     

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom and grants the right for individuals to practice their respective religion if they maintain public order, but declares that the state religion is Islam, the president must be a Muslim, and that country as a whole follows Islamic teachings.  The government forbids proselytism directed toward Muslims as it is regarded as disturbing public order and restricts the wearing of some Islamic religious clothing.  Muslims may convert to another religion, but often face government harassment and manipulation and social ostracism.  Christian churches may meet and worship, but only the Catholic Church is formally recognized.  Most Christian denominations no longer attempt to apply for registration due to government policies denying registration for other Christian groups.  Shari'a Law is implemented in some judicial settings or circumstances, such as determining inheritance.  The government recognizes major Islamic holidays as national holidays.  Restrictions on freedom of speech and the press are placed upon nonreligious and religious groups alike.  The government permits only a small number of foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to operate to offer service and perform charitable activities.[5]   

Largest Cities

Urban: 67%

Tu-nis, Safa-qis, Su-sah, At-Tada-man, Al-Qayrawa-n, Qa-bis, Binzart, Arya-nah, Sukrah, Qafsah.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations. 

One of the ten largest cities has an LDS congregation.  19% of the national population resides in the ten largest cities.

LDS History

LDS servicemen held worship services in Tunisia during World War II.[6]  No permanent Church presence was established and by 1974, there was only one LDS family residing in Tunis.[7]  The BYU Young Ambassadors performed in Tunisia in 1994.[8]  Starting in 2000, Tunisia became part of the Europe West Area.[9]  In the early and mid-2000s, the Greece Athens Mission administered the Tunis Branch, which appears to have been created in the 1980s or 1990s.  In the late 2000s, the Middle East/Africa North Area began administering Tunisia. 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: less than 50 (2010)

LDS membership appears to entirely consist of non-natives from Europe and the United States temporarily living in the country for vocational purposes.   

Congregational Growth

Wards: 0  Branches: 1?

In late 2010, It was unclear whether the Tunis Branch continued to operate.  The branch may have become a group under the Middle East/Africa North Area Branch.   

Activity and Retention

Active membership is comprised of those who attend private church meetings held at an undisclosed location.  Over half of known membership may be active due to higher activity rates in Middle Eastern and Northern African nations among Westerners, often influenced by increased desire for social interaction.

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Arabic, French, English

All LDS scriptures and many church materials are available in Arabic and French. 

Meetinghouses

Church services are likely held in a rented space or a member's home. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

As of late 2010, there had been no known LDS humanitarian or development work in Tunisia.

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

Latter-day Saints do not appear to have any formal recognition or agreements with the government and hold Sunday meetings in a private, undisclosed location.  There are no realistic opportunities for the Church to gain an official presence in the foreseeable future due to the lack of religious freedom granted to Christian groups overall and few Latter-day Saints.  Bans on proselytism directed toward Muslims prevents the LDS Church from conducting missionary activity among all but one percent of the population.  Unlike some Muslim countries, there is no legislation which restricts the right of Muslims to convert to another religion.  Government restrictions on NGOs prevents the Church from performing humanitarian and development projects. 

Cultural Issues

The homogenous Muslim society of Tunisia creates significant cultural challenges for Latter-day Saints to perform missionary activity in the event that government bans on proselytizing Muslims were lifted.  The lack of religious diversity and pluralism fosters negative stereotypes and persecution of non-Muslim religious groups which are often perpetuated by the media and the government.  Potential Latter-day Saint Tunisian converts from the Muslim majority would face significant societal disapproval for leaving their traditional faith and would be ostracized from their communities.  Missionary activity targeting foreigners and the small community of Tunisian Christian converts may offer greater breakthroughs in establishing a greater church presence, but their numbers remain few and often difficult to locate due to local Christians keeping a low profile to avoid harassment.  High rates of cigarette use among many Tunisians creates challenges for prospective missionary activity. 

National Outreach

The entire population is unreached by the Church with the possible exception of personal contacts of expatriate Latter-day Saints.  If missionary activity occurred in Tunis where the sole LDS congregation operates, only seven percent of the national population would be reached.  Reasons for why Tunisia has not had a greater LDS presence include its homogenous Muslim population, strict government restrictions on Christian group and religion in general, regulated NGO service projects, and lack of indigenous LDS converts.

France has a large Tunisian community in which LDS missionaries can reach, but little has been done to proselyte North Africans in Europe.  Few Tunisians have joined or investigated the LDS Church abroad, and many of these individuals do not return back to Tunisia due to lower standards of living, economic challenges, and societal challenges for Christian converts to function in a Muslim society.  LDS internet outreach may be able to reach some Tunisians who cannot be reached by traditional methods, but the number of Internet users in Tunisia remains low (approximately 15% of the population in 2006).[10]     

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Member activity rates appear moderate to high among expatriate Latter-day Saints residing in Tunis.  Foreign members residing outside the capital and local Tunisian members appear the most susceptible to lower activity rates due to travel distances to congregation meeting locations and societal pressures to conform with the Sunni Muslim majority. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Arabs and Arab-Berbers constitute the entire population excluding foreigners.  The lack of ethnic diversity creates few ethnic integration problems at church if LDS mission outreach occurred.  The lack of ethnic diversity has contributed to little tolerance for religious minorities. 

Language Issues

LDS scriptures and church materials are available in the native language of 99% of the population.  Tunisian Arabic varies in many linguistic aspects with standard Arabic and shares many similarities with Maltese, but most the population is proficient in standard Arabic,[11] reducing the need for Tunisian Arabic LDS materials over the medium term.  Low literacy rates create challenges for future proselytism initiatives with church literature if permitted one day. 

Missionary Service

No known members from Tunisia have served full-time missions and no LDS missionary activity has occurred.

Leadership

Potential church leadership may depend on non-Tunisians for many years due to the lack of native members. 

Temple

Tunisia pertains to the Frankfurt Germany Temple district.  Temple trips are costly and time consuming.  Organized temple trips from the sole LDS congregation likely do not occur due to a lack of members.  Temple excursions likely occur on an individual basis or with a stake or district in the Middle East/Africa North Area.  With the exception of the Rome Italy Temple, no temples appear likely to be built closer to Algeria in the near future.  

Comparative Growth

Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt are the only North African nations with branches or permanent groups that have operated for many years.  Egypt appears to be the only nation in North Africa which has some native members attending congregations, whereas there are greater numbers of native Latter-day Saints in the Middle East in Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel.  Algeria and Libya appear to have only small groups of Latter-day Saints meeting on an inconsistent basis.  No nations in North Africa have an official LDS presence.  No Islamic nations in the Middle East or North Africa have proselytizing missionaries. 

Some missionary-oriented Christian denominations have gained indigenous converts among former Muslims, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and some Evangelical groups.  These groups have only succeeded in created a small Tunisian Christian community and face challenges with member activity due to government and societal pressures.  Latter-day Saints have no realistic opportunities to perform missionary work among Muslims due to respect for proselytism bans in Tunisia and a lack of coordinated mission outreach to Tunisians and other North Africans in Europe.

Future Prospects

Government restrictions on the Christian proselytism of Muslims, cultural barriers to conversion, limited numbers of NGOs permitted by the government to perform humanitarian service, few Latter-day Saints, and distance from the nearest LDS mission outreach centers create an unfavorable outlook for an official Church establishment in the coming years.  Prospects for future LDS mission outreach among the general population will depend on greater numbers of Tunisians abroad joining the Church and returning to their homeland combined with improving religious freedom conditions for Christian groups.  


[1]  "Background Note: Tunisia," Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, 13 October 2010.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/5439.htm

[2]  "Culture of Tunisia," Wikipedia.org, retrieved 6 December 2010.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_Tunisia

[3]  "2008 Human Rights Practices: Tunisia," 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 25 February 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/nea/119128.htm

[4]  "Tunisia," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148847.htm

[5]  "Tunisia," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148847.htm

[6]  Hart, John L.  "Faith overcomes evil of World War II, leads to growth worldwide, 19 August 1995.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/25854/Faith-overcomes-evil-of-World-War-II-leads-to-growth-worldwide.html

[7]  "Comment", Ensign, June 1974, 47

[8]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 27 August 1994.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/24522/From-around-the-world.html

[9]  Lloyd, Scott.  "European continent realigned into three new areas," LDS Church News, 16 September 2000.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/38475/European-continent---realigned-into-three-new-areas.html

[10]  "Internet Usage Worldwide by Country, 2007," Infoplease.com, retrieved 4 December 2010.  http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0933606.html

[11]  "Tunisian Arabic," Wikipedia.org, retrieved 6 December 2010.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tunisian_Arabic