Tunisia finally has a new constitution. The National Constituent Assembly (NCA) overwhelmingly approved the charter three years after the ousting of the 23-year-rule of Zeine el Abidin Ben Ali. A total of 200 NCA members voted in favour of the final text, with 12 members voting against and only four abstentions.
The drafting and adoption of the 149 article document was a lengthy process, which started in October 2011, with the election of the NCA.
The assassination of opposition deputy Mohamed Brahmi in July, 2013, delayed the process when opposition deputies boycotted the NCA's activities for several months and protesters called for the dissolution of the elected assembly broke out.
Contentious points in the text, such as the place of religion in political life, division of executive powers between the Prime Minister and the President, the appointment process of judges, and the age requirements to run for presidency, also complicated the long process. Islamist and leftist NCA deputies were left with the one choice: finding compromises and the charter is often referred to as “the consensus constitution”.
The charter enshrines fundamental liberties and rights: freedoms of expression and press, the right to access information, freedoms of conscience and thought, gender equality before the law, and gender parity at elected assemblies.
The new constitution establishes Islam as the state religion, but does not make any reference to Islamic law as a source of legislation. It rather states that “Tunisia is a civil state based on citizenship, the will of the people, and the supremacy of law”.
The charter also establishes a mixed political system, distributing executive powers among the PM and the President of the republic.
As soon as the text was approved, feelings of euphoria broke out at the NCA.
On Twitter, Tunisians welcomed the “historic moment”:
University teacher Lilia Youssef tweeted [fr]:
Allez, avouez, c'est quand même un moment spécial #TnConstit
— Lilia Sfaxi Youssef (@Lillitou) January 26, 2014
Come on admit it! Despite everything, it is a special moment
Cyril Karray said:
Quelque soit le % que vous sentez que cette #TnConstit vous représente ou le respect que vous portez à ces dirigeants: c un jour historique!
— CGK (@CyrilGrislain) January 26, 2014
Regardless of how much you feel represented by this constitution, or if you respect those who wrote it or not: this is a historic day.
And Rabeb Othmani adds:
— Rabeb Othmani (@Rabeb_Othmani) January 26, 2014
Lotfi Azouz, director the Tunis office of Amnesty International wrote [ar] on Facebook:
اليوم يزهر الربيع في تونس
يحق لنا في تونس الاعتزاز بتجربتنا الديمقراطية الرائدة في شمال افريقيا والشرق الاوسط حيث تم التوصل لانجاز دستور هو نتاج تفاعل ايجابي بين مختلف مكونات الطيف السياسي ومختلف مكونات المجتمع المدني حيث وللمرة الاولى يشارك المواطن بفاعلية في التاثير في عملية صنع القرار.
Today, spring flourishes in Tunisia. In Tunisia, we do have the right to be proud of our pioneering democratic experience in the North Africa and the Middle East region, where we were able to achieve a constitution, which was the result of a positive interaction between the different components of the political spectrum and civil society. For the first time, citizens effectively participated in influencing the decision-making process.
However, not everyone was satisfied with the end result, including Ahmed Kaaniche [ar]:
— ahmed kaaniche (@kaanicah) January 26, 2014
A constitution that justifies the death penalty and at the same time bans torture can only be a hypocritical constitution. #Does_Not_Represent_Me
Article 21 of the constitution states that “the right to life is sacred and shall not be prejudiced except in exceptional cases regulated by law.”
In a second tweet, Ahmed added [ar]:
— ahmed kaaniche (@kaanicah) January 26, 2014
A constitution that deprives me of my right to run for presidency because of my religious choices, does not represent me
Under article 73, only a Muslim can run for presidency.
Tunisia LGBT, was not happy either [fr]:
Félicitations pour tous ceux qui se voient représentés par la nouvelle constitution, pas nous. Elle ne nous protège même pas des insultes.
— Tunisia LGBT (@TnLGBT) January 27, 2014
Congratulations to all those who feel represented by the new constitution, but not us [the LGBT community in Tunisia]. It does not even protect us from insults.
— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) January 27, 2014
Article 6 of the constitution tasks the State of “protecting sanctity and banning attacks on it”.
But, the battle for democracy is ongoing and does not end with the approval of a constitution.
140 characters does not suffice in describing how I feel. It isn't a perfect document. Battle is won but the war is far from over. #Tunisia
— Wafa Ben Hassine (@ousfourita) January 26, 2014
Mediapart reporter, Pierre Puchot tweeted [fr]:
Même avec ses contradictions, ce texte comporte de belles avancées. C'est une étape importante dans la construction démocratique #TnConstit
— Pierre Puchot (@PierrePuchot) January 26, 2014
Despite its contradictions, the text contains good advances. It is an important step in the democratic construction
And Malek tweeted [fr]:
— Malek404 (@Malek404) January 26, 2014
Constitution adopted with 93% of the votes. Congratulations. Now we can turn the page. Life goes on as well as the fight for a better Tunisia