06/02/2014

THREE YEARS AFTER THE FALL OF BEN ALI, TUNISIA SETS A GOOD EXAMPLE

By Geoffroy d’ Aspremont .

With a delay of more than a year on the original schedule, the Constituent Assembly of Tunisia finally adopted a new constitution by an overwhelming majority. Three years after the fall of President Ben Ali, Tunisia has just taken a further step towards the establishment of a democratic state and the rule of law. If we can legitimately welcome this development which should serve as an example, the path to a democratic Tunisia full of promises for all its citizens is long and still fraught with pitfalls .

The drafting process was difficult and studded with many incidents. The method of starting from scratch rather than proposals by lawyers strongly delay the process. In addition, the Constituent Assembly’s members have been criticized for their absence or salary, while the government was bogged down in ideological debates without addressing economic problems. Thanks to the creation of a commission of consensus, necessary compromises were achieved wherever there was blockage.

During these three years, the political and social situation has not improved and has even deteriorated. Tunisia was indeed the stage of political assassinations (Chokri Belaid, Mohamed Brahmi), and violence – particularly by radical Islamists, some armed from Libya – have raised fears of a conflagration. Moreover, the economic situation, mainly due to the economic crisis in Europe, the fall in the number of tourists and the neglect of successive governments have failed to meet the aspirations of the first revolution and pave the way for radicalism. Despite this, the constituents were able to complete their work.

This constitution provides significant improvements compared to the 1959 Constitution, especially in terms of protection of the rights and freedoms of citizens. The principle of freedom was clearly stated in Article 30: «Freedom of opinion, thought, expression, information and publication is guaranteed.» Article 32 is, in turn, a reference to academic freedom and freedom of research, and ring-fenced. Creative freedom is devoted (Article 41) , which is a significant step forward, considering  the controversy during the Spring Arts Festival at the Abdellia Palace in June 2012 that caused violence  made by Salafis who wanted to assimilate the freedom claimed by the artists as blasphemy. Article 6 sets up the state « guarantor of religion «and « protector of the sacred » , while guaranteeing freedom of conscience, without including the concept of « threat to the sacred  » that some conservatives wanted to see included. The right to strike is recognized by Article 35, which was not included in the text of 1959, and Article 36 enshrines the freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration.

Thanks to this new constitution drafted and adopted by democratic consensus, the Tunisian people have a framework to establish a rule of law that guarantees all Tunisians freedoms, individual and collective rights, as well as a promising future for themselves and their children.

Future governments will have to act as acted constituents, in order words, beyond partisan interests to defend the interests of all Tunisians. They should tackle primarily economic problems, especially in the most remote and ignored areas for so many years, that can fuel protest, unrest and radicalism. In addition, the professionalization of law enforcement and the administration should reduce corruption, impunity and arbitrariness that may exist within these services. The State shall guarantee the independence of the judiciary, which will be accountable to increase its legitimacy and to make Tunisians trustful in their institutions and the rule of law. The task is therefore huge.

After this first stage, we congratulate all Tunisians especially for their ability to overcome their differences, to demonstrate great political pragmatism to achieve a consensus. Each camp has admitted the existence of the other camp in the Tunisian public space and has been able to reach compromise in the public interest. Tunisia, once again, paves the path, and this time, not only to other Arab nations in transition, but also to all the others  » democratic » countries where the culture of consensus tends to disappear in  favour of the defense of individual or corporate interests .