It’s a country often billed as the sole success story of the Arab Spring. But the reality is far more fraught. Five years on, here’s how Tunisians are still struggling to make sense of their revolution.

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 way that honors what their nation is going through.

— Christian Caryl; Illustrations by Hylton Warburton for Foreign Policy


Tunisia's Glorious Confusion

The dawn of democracy is something to root for — but the forces that have pulled the other Arab Spring countries back into upheaval still threaten to undo its progress.

The Storyteller

Shukrii Mabkhout is not just a novelist — he's the biographer of modern Tunisia.

A Verdict on Change

This ambitious young judge wants to change Tunisia's justice system.

Missing the Old Days

Tunisia is a democracy. Here's a man who still mourns for the old regime.


Tunisia's War on Islam

Is overzealous prosecution of the war on terror contributing to radicalization?

The Tourism Crash

Tourism is Tunisia's lifeblood. It also shows what's wrong with the country's economy.

El Khadra Still Can't Breathe

They've been calling for help for years. But even now, no one's listening.

Not Arab, and Proud of It

Tunisia's Amazigh minority is finding its voice for the first time in years.


Crisis of Governance: Local Edition

In many ways, democratic Tunisia remains just as centralized as it was before the revolution. And that’s a big problem for the mayor of Kasserine.


Tunisia's glorious confusion

The dawn of democracy is something to root for — but the forces that have pulled the other Arab Spring countries back into upheaval still threaten to undo its progress.

Terms of Abuse

Tunisia has democracy. But Azza's husband still beats her every day.

Trouble in the Wild East

This border town is a smuggler's haven — and a crucible of terrorism.

Tunisia's Dying Jazz

How the revolution is undermining a rich musical tradition.


the mainstreaming of tunisia's islamists

Tunisia’s Islamists prove once again that they are uncommonly canny politicians.


Five Years of the New Tunisia

From revolution to disillusionment and back again: milestones on Tunisia’s rocky path to democracy.