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The following discussion offers a brief summary of Tunisia’s early history but mainly focuses on Tunisia since about 1800.For a more detailed treatment of earlier periods and of the country in its regional context, Ifrīqiyyah in the early centuries of the Islamic period.
Though Tunisia went bankrupt in 1869 and an international financial commission—with British, French, and Italian representatives—was imposed on the country, there was one last attempt to reform Tunisia from within and thus avoid complete European domination.
Conscription was also introduced, to the great dismay of the peasantry.
More acceptable were Aḥmad’s steps to integrate Arabic-speaking native Tunisians fully into the government, which had long been dominated by s (military slaves) and Turks.
He did, in 1861, proclaim the first constitution () in the Arabic-speaking world, but this step toward representative government was cut short by runaway debt, a problem exacerbated by the government’s practice of securing loans from European bankers at exorbitant rates.
Muṣṭafā Khaznadār (who had served from the earliest days of Aḥmad Bey’s reign), attempted to squeeze more taxes out of the hard-pressed peasants, the countryside rose in a revolt (1864).
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Aḥmad abolished slavery and took other modernizing steps intended to bring Tunisia more in line with Europe, but he also exposed his country to Europe’s infinitely greater economic and political power.