A Search for Compromise – Debate on Tunisia’s Democracy and Constitution

The implementation of Tunisia’s five-year-old constitution remains work in progress. While new institutions have been created and laws have been changed, the ‘to do list’ remains long. Among other things, the Constitutional Court – a key guarantor of the constitutional order – has still not been established. Yet, the Constitution has stood the test of time so far, despite many challenges, such as difficult economy, terrorist attacks and wide-spread social protests. The somewhat ambiguous constitutional provisions on the role of Islam, a reflection of compromises reached by the constitution-makers, leave many questions unanswered. However, the text provides a basis on which this divisive topic can be further discussed and developed in legislation and jurisprudence. Other provisions of the Tunisian constitution are more ambitious than those in many established democracies, such as the guarantee for equal representation of men and women in local elections.  These were some of the conclusions of a panel debate DRI held on 12 February in cooperation with Heinrich-Böll-Foundation in Berlin with an audience of some 100 people.

In line with DRI’s approach of providing platforms for different political positions, the debate gathered a diverse range of high-level political and civil society representatives from Tunisia to reflect on achievements and what remains to be done to turn the constitutional promises from 2014 into reality.

To provide a factual basis to the discussion DRI’s  legal expert Mehdi Foudhaili presented the latest version of DRI’s Constitutional Monitor that tracks progress on the implementation of legal reforms stipulated in the Tunisian Constitution. Foudhaili stressed that while the process of drafting laws is well underway in some areas, the actual challenge remaining is their implementation.  According to Fadhel Moussa, Chairman of the City Council of Ariana and former member of the Constituent Assembly, this process presents a “continuous search for compromise”, given the complex and sometimes ambiguous provisions of the Constitution. His view was seconded by Samir Dilou, member of the Executive Committee of the Ennahda party, who also highlighted the responsibility of the Tunisian citizens to shape their country’s future.

Confronted with a question from the audience on the low turnout during the 2018 local elections, with young people in particular shunning the ballot, Bochra Bel Haj Hmida, an MP and the president of the Committee on Individual Freedoms and Equality, stressed the need for re-establishing trust between Tunisian citizens and the government, while also calling on young people to vote: “Before the revolution, young people had to whisper – now is your time to speak up!”. Nour Kaabi, CEO of the CSO-platform jamaity.org, criticized that citizen groups have less space now to operate in Tunisia, which hampers meaningful political engagement of citizens. She also highlighted the necessity of further defining the role of civil society in Tunisia, which by some is perceived as an ally to the government and by others as the opposition.

Watch the recoding of the debate here.

 This event took place in the framework of DRI’s project “Support to Constitution Implementation in Tunisia Part III”, funded by the German Federal Foreign Office

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