Tunisia | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017



Freedom Status: 

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Press Freedom Status: 
Partly Free
Net Freedom Status: 
Partly Free

Since ousting a longtime autocrat from power in 2011, Tunisia has transitioned to a functioning, if precarious, democracy in which citizens enjoy unprecedented political rights and civil liberties. Corruption, economic challenges, and security threats remain obstacles to full democratic consolidation.

Key Developments: 
  • In March, dozens of gunmen with links to the Islamic State (IS) militant group attacked the town of Ben Guerdane, near the Libyan border. The ensuing battle left 36 militants, 7 civilians, and 12 members of the Tunisian security forces dead.
  • In June, the parliament adopted a robust gender parity law for candidates in local elections, though officials indicated that the next elections, set for March 2017, would be postponed.
  • Amid increasing concerns about security threats and a weak economy, Prime Minister Habib Essid lost a July confidence vote in the parliament, and his government stepped down. A new national unity government took office in late August.
  • In November, the Truth and Dignity Commission held two public hearings on national television and radio, offering victims of human rights abuses under the former regime a chance to share their testimony.
Executive Summary: 

Tunisia took important, if modest, steps in 2016 toward preserving the democratic gains of the previous five years and improving civil liberties, even as ongoing economic stagnation and security challenges threatened the system’s stability. New legislation established the Supreme Judicial Council, a body charged with ensuring the independence of the judiciary and appointing Constitutional Court judges, and council members were elected in October. In September, the parliament approved a long-awaited investment code that was expected to help attract foreign direct investment and reduce state interference in economic activity. And in June, the parliament adopted a gender parity law to ensure greater representation of women in local elections, though the elections planned for March 2017 were postponed.

In a sign of ongoing frustration with the lack of economic progress, protests broke out across the country in January. Police met the demonstrations with greater restraint than in recent years, when security forces had sometimes responded to protests with excessive or even deadly force. A major attack on the town of Ben Guerdane in March by militants affiliated with IS highlighted ongoing security threats that have triggered successive states of emergency.

At the start of the year, a number of parliament members with the leading political party, the secularist Nidaa Tounes, broke away after two years of growing internal disagreements. The development left Nidaa Tounes with 64 seats and handed a plurality to the moderate Islamist party Ennahda, which held 69. In July, the government of Habib Essid, an independent who had initially enjoyed the backing of both Nidaa Tounes and Ennahda but had struggled to address security threats and the faltering economy, was forced to step down after failing to win a vote of confidence. A national unity government assumed office in August, with Youssef Chahed of Nidaa Tounes as prime minister.

A controversial bill that would grant amnesty to individuals implicated in economic crimes under the former regime in exchange for their return of stolen assets to the state continued to meet resistance in civil society during the year, with activists claiming that it would undermine existing reconciliation programs. However, leading factions in the parliament indicated their intention to approve the measure.

Aggregate Score: 
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Political Rights: 
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