/div>Country, North Africa. Area: 63,170 sq mi (163,610 sq km). Population: (2009 est.) 10,272,000. Capital: Tunis
. The population is of Arab and Amazigh ancestry. Languages: Arabic (official), French. Religion: Islam (official; predominantly Sunni). Currency: Tunisian dinar. Tunisia comprises a coastal region, mountains, an extensive hilly steppe, a marshy area with shallow salt lakes, and a tract of the Sahara
. The Majardah is its longest (about 290 mi [460 km]) and only perennial river. Tunisia contains some of the largest phosphate and natural gas reserves in Africa, as well as substantial oil reserves. Major economic activities are services, agriculture, light industries, and the production and export of petroleum and phosphates. Tourism, focusing on Tunisia's beaches and Roman ruins, is also important. Tunisia is a republic with two legislative houses; its head of state is the president, and the head of government is the prime minister. From the 12th century BCE the Phoenicians had a series of trading posts on the North African coast. By the 6th century BCE the Carthaginian kingdom encompassed most of present-day Tunisia. The Romans ruled from 146 BCE. It was part of the Byzantine Empire until the Muslim Arab invasions in the mid-7th century CE. The area was fought over, won, and lost by many, including the 'Abbasid dynasty
, the Almohad dynasty
, Spain, and the Ottoman Empire, which conquered it in 1574 and held it until the late 19th century. For a time it maintained autonomy as the French, British, and Italians contended for the region. In 1881 it became a French protectorate. During World War II (1939–45) U.S. and British forces captured it (1943), putting an end to a brief German occupation. France granted it full independence in 1956; Habib Bourguiba
assumed power and remained in power until he was forced from office in 1987. His successor, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, continued his authoritarian-style rule.