Tunisia Begins Drafting a New Constitution
Yesterday, Tunisia’s newly-elected Constituent Assembly began drafting a new Tunisian Constitution. Elections for the Constituent Assembly were held on October 23, 2011, and the Assembly then adopted a provisional Constitution on December 11 that allowed for the election of a interim governmental to rule until a new Constitution is drafted and ratified. The moderate Islamist Ennahda party won 40 percent of the vote and became the main political force in the country. Ennahda then formed a ruling coalition with the Congress for the Republic (CPR) and Ettakatol parties.
The discussion of the draft started with the sensitive constitutional definition of the country’s national identity. Hajer Azaiez, the commission’s deputy and Ennahda member, said “we are already all in agreement with Islam being the official religion, and Arabic the official language. Why don’t we discuss the rest of preamble?.” However, Issam Chebbi, a representative from the opposition Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), replied “we cannot do that. We, as a republic and state, cannot have an official religion. We want to be consistent with the republican form of government.” Mabrouka Mubarek, a member of the Constituent Assembly and of CPR, proposed that the Constitution’s preamble should reference the Universal Declaration of Human Rights instead of ‘Islamic values.’ The Popular List Party released a draft Constitution stating that “Tunisia is a free, independent and sovereign country, Islam is its religion and the principal source of its legislation, Arabic is its language and its system is a republic.” The debate on the nature of the Constitution will remain vivid as it continues to raise questions throughout Tunisian society, such whether to female students have the right to wear the niqab (a full-body veil) in universities, which is currently banned.
However, while the most divisive debate within the political sphere is about the constitutional definition of Tunisia’s national identity, recent polls stated that 40 percent of Tunisians listed economic issues as their top priority, while only 18 percent said ‘national identity’ was most important.