|Interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa addresses the media after the new government presentation |
ceremony at the presidential palace in Carthage near Tunis.
A Moderate Constitution
Women's Rights and Freedom of Religion make Tunisia
one of the most progressive in the Arab world.
After decades of dictatorship and two years of arguments and compromises, Tunisians on Sunday finally have a new constitution laying the foundations for a new democracy.
The document is groundbreaking as one of the most progressive constitutions in the Arab world — and for the fact that it got written at all. It passed late Sunday by 200 votes out of 216 in the Muslim Mediterranean country that inspired uprisings across the region after overthrowing a dictator in 2011.
"This constitution, without being perfect, is one of consensus," assembly speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar said after the vote. "We had today a new rendezvous with history to build a democracy founded on rights and equality," reports the Associated Press.
The constitution enshrining freedom of religion and women's rights took two years to finish. During that period, the country was battered by high unemployment, protests, terrorist attacks, political assassinations and politicians who seemed more interested in posturing than finishing the charter.
The new constitution sets out to make the North African country of 11 million people a democracy, with a civil state whose laws are not based on Islamic law, unlike many other Arab constitutions. An entire chapter of the document, some 28 articles, is dedicated to protecting citizens' rights, including protection from torture, the right to due process, and freedom of worship. It guarantees equality between men and women before the law and the state commits itself to protecting women's rights.
"This is the real revolution, many democratic constitution don't even have that," said Yahyaoui. "It will have a real impact on the rest of the Arab region, because finally we can say that women's rights are not a Western concept only, but also exist in Tunisia."
Tunisia has always had the most progressive legislation on women's rights in the Arab world and Yahyaoui believes the long period of writing has made people comfortable with its contents.
One of the most hotly debated articles guarantees "freedom of belief and conscience," which would permit atheism and the practice of non-Abrahamic religions frowned upon in other Islamic countries.
It also bans incitement to violence and declaring a Muslim an apostate — a fallen Muslim — which leaves them open to death threats. In response, conservative law makers insisted that "attacks on the sacred" be forbidden, which many see as a threat to freedom of expression.
Constitutional scholar Slim Loghmani said despite some drawbacks, the constitution is an "historic compromise between identity and modernity" that can serve as a model for other countries in the region seeking a balance between an Arab-Islamic heritage and contemporary ideas of human rights and good governance.
"It's a step forward in the nagging question of cultural identity in Arab countries," he said, lauding in particular not just freedom of religion but what he calls the freedom "not to have a religion."
|Secular Tunisians protest|
|Secular Tunisian demonstrators wave their national flag during a demonstration |
against the country's Islamist-led government in Tunis on August 24, 2013.