Background

It’s hard not to root for Tunisia. Of all the Arab countries that experienced the thrill of liberation in the uprisings of 2011, only this small North African nation has since managed to cling to the promise of democracy. While others have slid back into the iron embrace of autocracy or succumbed to the anarchic pull of civil war, Tunisians have gone on working to build the institutions of an open society: Free and fair elections that actually change who’s in charge. A vibrant civil sector that keeps new ideas flowing. Pluralistic media that provide criticism and analysis. And a court system that holds out the hope of justice.

Tunisia’s friends are right to applaud these successes. Yet, we would be doing the country a disservice if we were to leave it at that. The dawn of democracy has also created a host of new problems that have to be addressed if positive change is to prove sustainable. In this special report, Democracy Lab contributors delve into the complexities of a challenging transition. They chart the revival of long-suppressed minorities and the pitfalls of new cultural freedoms. They track troubled efforts to reform the courts and the system of local government. They show why finding the path to prosperity is proving elusive, and why free elections don’t necessarily guarantee social rights. And they explore the nuances of Tunisia’s war on terror, and the latest twists in the evolution of the leading Islamist party.

What all this shows is that we can’t reduce Tunisia to a symbol of the world’s democratic aspirations, no matter how well-intentioned that may be. This is a country full of individual people with different goals, values, and ideas, and by no means all of them are pulling in the same direction. We hope that these stories will offer some insight into those Tunisians who are shaping the future of their country. We hope that our report accomplishes this in a way that honours what their nation is going through.

By Christian Caryl, Editor of Democracy Lab and Legatum Institute Senior Fellow

Find out more about Tunisia: In Sun and Shadow here

About Democracy Lab

As part of the Legatum Institute's Transitions ForumDemocracy Lab is an online partnership between the Legatum Institute and Foreign Policy magazine, dedicated to covering political and economic transitions around the world.