January 26, 2014, three years after the revolution, known as the Arab Spring spread across the Arab world, from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya to Syria to Yemen, Tunisia celebrated a new beginning with a new constitution, approved by 200 of the 216 members of the National Assembly. " We have known fear for our country and its institutions, " said President Moncef Marzouki. " Today, we have the right to be joyful" and he held the document aloft, kissed it and signed it. It was then signed y he Speaker of Assembly, Mustafa Beb Jafar and the Prime Minister Ali Larayedh.
It all began with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a young fruit seller ( he, like many youths were unable to find employment, something that still adversely affect the country today and with poor economic conditions, rising prices, debt and demonstrations, pose a possible threat to stability of the country), whose wares were confiscated by a municipal inspector, Dec 17, 2010 (this had happened time and again and was the only means he had to earn money for his family). An hour later he doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire. His death on Jan,4, 2011, brought together various groups, dissatisfied with the system.....the unemployed, students, labor, trade unionists, educators, lawyers and others. The revolution had its spark. It then spread to Egypt to Libya to Syria to Yemen and elsewhere, where autocrats had trampled on the rights of the people and used repressive measures to terrorize and control them, while they , their families and cronies live in luxury.
The last constitution was adopted in 1959, three years after Tunisia had won its independence from France. However the country swiftly descended into a dictatorship as Presidents from Habib Bourguiba to Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, used he various state apparatus, from the police to the military to the courts to stay in power. The military, unlike its counterpart in Egypt had had never experienced combat and did not dominate the domestic economy or had much political clout and so was of little use to Ben Ali when demonstration after demonstration took to the streets and demanded his ouster ( he and his extended family were particularly rapacious and greedy, dominating the economy and business of he nation). He fled the country on Jan. 11, 2011 and a caretaker government took over, organised and held an election which was dominated the Islamist Ennahda Party which won 40% of the seats in the Assembly. It was decided that the Assembly would draft a new constitution.
A culture war had broken out in the country between the secularists and the Islamists. It was a tense, bloody struggle, that only ended when Ennadha ( perhaps seeing what had happened in Egypt with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, who were ousted from power by the military coup, arrested, hunted down and declared as illegal) decided to make concessions and stepped down from power in favour of a caretaker government This willingness to compromise and negotiate ( there had been some killing of prominent secularists, and the Salafists. a hard line Islamist group aligned to Ennadha, was blamed),was in stark contrast with the Brotherhood in Egypt.
The constitution, which introduces democracy and protection of civil rights will be sorely tested, especially by the Islamists and the very serious economic conditions. It establishes a civil democratic state , with an independent judiciary and the protection of basic individual rights. An entire chapter, some 28n articles, is dedicated to protecting citizen's rights, including protection from torture, the right to due process and freedom of religion. It guarantees equality between men and women before the law and the state commits itself to protecting women's rights. One of the most hotly debated articles , the one on religious freedom, guarantees " freedom of belief and conscience". This would allow atheism and the practice of non-Islamic religions ( something frowned upon in other Islamic countries). It also bans incitement to violence and declaring a Muslim an apostate ....a fallen Muslim....which leaves open to death threats.
There are many contradictions ----stating that Islam is the Tunisia's religion, but also that it is a civil state; old laws have to reconciled with new laws and must be reformed ( a Constitutional C ourt will be established to interpret and clar settle disputes).
It is a glorious beginning , a fresh start for Tunisia. Unlike Egypt where the ouster of Mubarak was followed by the holding of the first democratic election, which saw the Muslim Brotherhood in power, with Mohamed Morsi as president, a military coup ousting him and the anointing of Army Chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi as the next president ( only waiting for the formality of an election, which he is expected to win handily with the support of a scared middle class, the business community and the military which dominates the internal economy).
Egypt has gone backwards. Tunisia has taken a step forward. The Arab world looks on with interest. Our wishes for success go with Tunisia, always one of the more forward-looking countries in the Arab