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Tunisia: Legal tradition

The law in Tunisia blends Western and Northern African concepts and traditions. Many laws, and the court system, are based on the French civil law model, stemming from the period when Tunisia was governed as a French protectorate (1881-1956). In addition, the source of some legislation, such as the non-abolition of the death penalty and some aspects of family law, is Islamic law.

In this context, it should be noted that Tunisia was the first Arab country to revise its legal framework redressing some manifestations of discrimination against women. The Code of Personal Status introduced by President Bourguiba in August 1956, five months after the declaration of independence from France, among other things outlawed polygamy, established a divorce procedure that could be initiated by either partner and set a legal minimum age for marriage. Nevertheless, full equality between men and women in law and in practice remains elusive to this day.

Under President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who assumed power following a bloodless coup ousting Bourguiba in November 1987, human rights were repressed and Tunisia’s laws and regulations were adjusted to serve the dictatorial ruling and economic interests of the President and his family members and cronies.[1]

After President Ben Ali was ousted in the December 2010-January 2011 popular uprising, the transitional authorities began to comprehensively reform the country’s political and legal system. Legislative elections took place in October 2014 and presidential elections in November and December 2014. They were deemed fair and transparent by international observers.[2]


Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. 1. On the latter, see World Bank (Bob Rijkers, Caroline Freund, Antonio Nucifora), All in the Family: State Capture in Tunisia (March 2014).
  2. 2. See Carter Center, Election monitoring reports: Tunisia (last accessed 19 February 2015); Mission d’observation électorale de l’Union européenne – Tunisie 2014 (last accessed 19 February 2015).
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