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The Fruits of Tunisia’s Uprising: An Extraordinary Constitution


By Garibaldi

Before the Arab Uprisings a narrative almost as well known as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was indoctrinated into the minds of many US and European citizens; the claim that Arabs and Muslims were inclined to tyranny and dictatorship. Columnist David Brooks of the New York Times encapsulated this frame of mind, about Egyptians he wrote, “they don’t have the mental ingredients for democracy.”

Islamophobes were appalled by the uprisings which saw their myths and prejudices regarding “subservient” Arabs and Muslims who either “only know dictatorship or theocracy” fall apart. Bigots such as Deacon Spencer were quick to claim that these nations would quickly be living in Iranian-style theocracies.

While the uprisings and revolutions have faltered or are continuing at varied paces in most of the nations that have seen uprisings, the country that birthed the momentous wave of protest and upheaval, Tunisia, has achieved a tremendous milestone: a Constitution through consensus and hard, political work.

Tunisia was well placed for this achievement, considering its history of Constitutionalism,

Tunisia was the first Arab country ever to draft its own constitution – the qanoon al-dawla al-tunisiyya, or ‘law of the Tunisian state’ – which came into force in 1861.”

The process took two years, every jot and tittle was fought over and at times the impasse between the secularist opposition and the Ennahda led government seemed to be teetering on the brink of disaster and all out chaos: a happy prospect for those who have a seething hate for Arabs, Muslims and Islam and cheer on whenever they see disorder.

The naysayers were disappointed when the Ennahda led coalition and Nida Tounes negotiated a deal under the auspices of civil society organizations that paved the way for: a resignation of the government, a completion to the Constitution and an interim care-taker government of technocrats until fresh elections will be held later this year.

So what happened when Tunisia passed its constitution? Wallah! The praise has come in from all quarters: The New York Times, France24, The Economist, The Washington Post, Fox News, etc. had forgotten their age old prejudices and “congratulated” Tunisians.

Equally as important as the Constitution is to Tunisians it is also an example to the nations in the region. It shows that if one is ready to negotiate, compromise, to see beyond the simplistic demonizations of one’s opponent, you can overcome religious, ethnic, ideological and political divisions.

The outcome is a document that the vast majority of Tunisians have unanimously accepted and, crucially, has popular legitimacy.

The document isn’t perfect and contains some self-contradictions that highlight fissures and insecurities in Tunisian society. For instance what does it mean to protect ‘freedom of conscience and speech’ and at the same time outlaw takfir (declaring a Muslim to be a non-Muslim)? What does it mean for the state to ensure the “neutrality of mosques” and “protect sanctities?”

On the other hand it is a document that is confident in its identity, history and heritage, enshrines freedom of religion, conscience, individual rights, minority rights, gender parity, and a separation of powers.

It rivals any constitution in ambition and scope, and is more progressive in several ways than our own 226 year-old US Constitution that still contains outdated language stating for instance that slaves are the equivalent of “3/5ths” of a full vote. A few years ago the Congressional reading of the Constitution omitted this section which caused some right-wingers, like Glenn Beck, to throw a fit. Maybe it’s time we had another Constitutional convention ourselves?

The future for Tunisia is still wide open and by no means have Tunisians arrived at a moment in which the aims of their uprising have been fully realized,

Measured against the aims of the revolution, the constitution can be said to have met a number of key expectations. But for those in the marginalized parts of the country, seeking tangible improvement in their social and economic situation, the constitution is not going to do that-not immediately at least-and, in truth, does not guarantee it on the long-run. The state, in Article 12, promises no more than “striving to,” rather than the much demanded “commits to” achieve regional balance within the framework of positive discrimination.

The hope is that the spirit of negotiation, determination and compromise will continue until those aims are reached. However, what can be said is that despite tremendous pressures from the West, regional neighbors and fissures within Tunisian society, Tunisians have made it happen — and that is something not only to congratulate but to emulate.

Video: Tunisia Gets New Constitution

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  • Seeker

    And now setting up spying along the lines of the NSA. Democracy has finally come to the ME !

  • GaribaldiOfLoonwatch
  • Rights

    A good post, Timothy. And don’t we all know that simply legislating stuff in beautiful, just words doesn’t quite cut it when the practice of the same words is made unlikely, or even impossible. “All men are created equal” didn’t quite apply. But the thought is awesome. Any born citizen of the US can be a candidate for the presidency, but that’s all. We know very well what kind of people have chances of becoming presidents in the US. Written word is one thing, but its following quite another.

  • The State religion is Islam. The Zakah is collected by the state, from Muslims, for distribution in the aid of Muslims, Interfaith relations, and Protection of a State founded on the State religion of Islam.

    God says that the leader should be muslim according to the religion of the State.

    I know this leaves out 2% of the people from the contest for figure head, but…

    Why must the US president be US born? Is the immigrated citizen not discriminated against? Chance of birth and choice of faith are also unequal in the fact that one is a chance of circumstance while the other is a choice of loyalty. Both can be a source of political legitimacy however. Age is also a factor in both systems, and it is not justified in reaching majority.

    Does it make more sense to have a native born give out Gods property to the muslims and protect their wealth, honor, and religion, though not designated with them in this association?

    The sad fact of the matter is that what I say above does not even come close to the powers of the Tunisian president. The real power is in the PM if I read the constitution correctly, there is no Imam, but a split president and mufti.

    Will people only be happy when no man, in the name of anything other than pure control has the right to rule? Islam has tighter electoral restrictions than most secular societies, yet the cries for further division in the branches of government are still touted, when it is ignored that localization is one of the requirements of Zakah (I am glad they added this as an administration goal as well.)

  • Zionism – The Anti Zakah

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  • Mehdi

    Yes in Libya, but it won’t happen from a magical leader… My take is that progress happens when people take it upon themselves and practice democracy.

  • The greenmantle

    You are correct but still ……it just seems a bit slow and stuck in tribalism sometimes
    Sir David

  • Mehdi

    Actually I think it’s time to drop the dream of the panarab savior leader, it’s just never going to work, top down can’t work, I believe things will change from people’s demands, not from a charismatic leader.

  • The greenmantle

    Nope I think it quite mild considering what she writes about muslims
    Sir David

  • The greenmantle

    Is it not time for a real “Pan Arab ” leader to imerge ?
    Since Lybia is in reality a small thinly populated country but with lots of natural resourses it is a pity that it could not join with another country . I know the previous ruler tried this but maybe there was a good idea at the heart of his madness
    Sir David

  • Elmorocojo

    You’re a hypocrite because you think the US is a democracy but they discriminate against naturalized citizens and dual citizens, who cannot become President.

    Also Executive power is divided between the president and prime minister.

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