Tunisian assembly passes new constitution
By Heba Saleh and Borzou Daragahi in Cairo, The Financial Times, January 27, 2014
Tunisia’s constituent assembly on Sunday night voted overwhelmingly in support of a new constitution after two years of often tense political bargaining between the country’s Islamists and secularists. Zaid al-Ali, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance and an expert on Arab constitutions, praised both the process that produced the Tunisian charter and the text of the constitution. “The Tunisians did a great job of negotiating the text in very difficult circumstances,” he said, citing the coup against the Islamist government in Egypt that prompted many Tunisian secularists to make maximalist demands of Islamists. “The coup pushed the process to the edge and they were teetering on the edge. They deserve a lot of credit for getting away from that.” He described the text itself as a big improvement on the country’s previous 1959 constitution because it strengthens the independence of the judiciary. “This cleavage between Islamists and secularists in Tunisia is going to continue for a very long time, so if the courts can really be considered an independent, fair institution, people will rely on them to resolve conflicts in a legal way,” he said. Mr Ali said the constitution lacks details spelling out the exercise of basic rights for individuals, but he pointed out that it also contains stronger guarantees preventing parliament from curbing rights than any charter in the Arab world.