Religious Freedom in Tunisia
The 2014 constitution includes a number of improvements in terms of freedom of expression, belief, and practice, as well as rights granted to women and religious minorities, that were absent from the Ben Ali and Bourguiba regimes. Leaders are acutely aware that their treatment of non-Muslim Tunisians affects the state’s credibility and have publicly voiced government protection of non-Muslim religious communities. Judaism represents Tunisia’s second largest religious minority after its 25,000 largely Catholic Christians, with a population of approximately 1,500. The government has encouraged its Jewish community, many of whom fled under fear of violence post-Ben Ali, to return and has strongly condemned incidents of anti-Semitism and violence against religious minorities in the country. In addition, the government partially subsidizes restoration and maintenance of religious minority buildings and pays the salary of Tunisia’s religious leaders, including the grand rabbi. At the same time, the freedoms brought about by democratization and reform have provided Islamic extremist groups with an open platform for sharing ideas and promoting hate. Growing public pressure among some groups for the integration of conservative Islamic norms in society has created tension between secularists and some Muslim communities. Sharia principles have been used in judicial rulings on divorce and family law, and freedom of speech has been curtailed in cases of criticism of the Prophet Muhammad. High rates of unemployment and frustration with a corrupt and brutal police system have influenced some Tunisians' decision to join militant Islamist groups, including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as a means of pursuing a socially just society. In 2013, the government labeled Ansar al-Sharia, an Islamist group created by former members of the Tunisian Combat Group, a terrorist organization for its role in the assassination of politicians and an attack on the US embassy. Despite the increasing role of religion in the public sphere, however, many of the laws of the previous regime regulating religious practices and restricting freedom of religion remain in place.