Tunisia gained its independence from France in 1956 under Habib Bourguiba. Borguiba became President after the abolition of the monarchy and creation of a Republic in 1957. Borguiba dominated the country for the next 31 years his regime yielding stability and economic progress, repressing Islamic fundamentalism, and notably establishing rights for women unmatched by any other Arab nation.
During the mid 1960s Tunisia entered a short-lived Socialist period, but by the early 1970s many of the state run enterprises had been returnee to private ownership.
In 1975, Bourguiba was proclaimed president for life, though his health was increasingly poor. Although he was prevailed upon to legalize opposition parties in 1981, Tunisia remained for all intents and purposes a one-party state.
Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was made President of Tunisia in 1987 after Bourguiba was declared incompetent due to ill health. Tunisia was at the time suffering economically and from a bombing campaign by Islamic extremists.
Ben Ali has championed economic reforms that have strengthened Tunisia's economy and increased foreign investment. GDP per capita more than tripled in the era of his Presidency. Despite impressive growth rates, Tunisia continued to suffer from high unemployment – particularly amongst its youth. This was one of the main causes of mass protests in December 2010-January 2011 which eventually led to the ousting of Ben Ali.
In response to the protests Ben Ali declared a state of emergency in the country, dissolved the government on 14 January 2011 and promised new legislative elections within six months. But on that same day Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi went on state television to say he was assuming power in Tunisia.. Ben Ali fled the country on 14 January seeking refuge in Saudi Arabia.