Tunisian Constitution: The Debate Continues
M. Steven Fish and Katherine Michel wrote a piece highlighting what Tunisia has done right on its path to democratic reform. Despite the country’s issues with security and unemployment, Fish and Michel emphasize that the constitution’s call for a “strong parliament and a constrained president is a recipe for robust democracy.” An emboldened parliament free of president-appointed legislators was listed as key to ensuring long term democracy and a model for the rest of the region. Samia Abbou of the National Constituent Assembly was not as optimistic, exclaiming that a constitution based on the principles of Islam “is not leading a life of true democracy.” She asserted that the Ennahda party treats minority parties like “companions and not as real partners” in the drafting process, and that they have “embarked on the path of a religious state” casting aside the revolution’s objectives.
In a recent interview, co-founder of the Ennahda party Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi expressed a different perspective, arguing that “the primary goal of the revolution—which is a democratic transition—has come true.” Ghannouchi attested that no newspapers have been banned, no journalists imprisoned for their views, and no political parties banned. He also said that “Sharia is not needed” as the constitution “should be built on what all people believe,” and that “women have full equality without restriction.” He also stated that blasphemy laws are not a domestic issue to be addressed by Tunisia’s constitution, but rather an international issue the party would prefer to see addressed at the United Nations.
In other news, eight people suspected to have been involved in the death of an opposition party official last month, were arrested. Meanwhile, hundreds of Salafists protested in front of the Tunisian Ministry of Justice, calling for the release of suspects implicated in the U.S. embassy attacks. Many Salafists have also expressed a growing sense that they are being increasingly discriminated against in Tunisia.