What has become of Tunisia’s constitutional promise?

The Tunisian Constitution was adopted on 26 January 2014, carrying with it the hopes of Tunisians for a prosperous, more democratic future. The implementation of the constitutional vision is an immense challenge in itself and four years into the process many people are disappointed. The Constitution has established a political and legal framework based on the essential elements of a democratic system and with stronger guarantees for fundamental human rights and freedoms, but many of its provisions, such as the chapter on local governance, remain to be implemented. The weak economic development and social tensions weigh heavily on the democratic transition.

Democracy Reporting International (DRI) and the European Endowment for Democracy (EED) used the 4th anniversary of the Tunisian Constitution to discuss the constitutional implementation process in an event held on 26 February 2018 in Brussels. Six Tunisian speakers from politics, academia and the civil society debated the achievements and shortcomings in implementing the Tunisian Constitution, what the country’s political and socio-economic outlook is and what role the EU and its member states can play in supporting Tunisia’s democratisation process.

The speakers stressed advances, such as the strengthening of women’s rights, freedom of expression and laws and practices of democratic elections. Yet, they agreed that the constitutional implementation process had fallen short of citizens’ expectations. “There is a huge gap between the constitutional philosophy and citizens’ lives. So far, social and economic rights are being neglected in the democratic transition”, explained Lobna Jeribi, Founder and Director of Solidar Tunisia and former member of the Constituent Assembly. Bochra Belhaj Hmida, Independent Member of Parliament, added: “The problem is not that young Tunisians do not believe in democracy, but that they are losing hope that the revolution will help to fulfil their dreams of a free and dignified life.”

The underlying reasons for the protracted constitutional implementation process are diverse. “The problem of Tunisia is its highly polarised landscape”, said Chafik Sarsar, law professor at the University of Tunis El Manar. Civil society speaker Amine Ghali, Director of the Al Kawabiki Democracy Transition Centre, criticised the administration for delaying the implementation of human rights guarantees. “The 3-year delay in setting up the Constitutional Court is a political choice. he said. He also fears that in such a long process the “civil society is burning out”. Yet, all speakers agreed that calls to rewrite the Constitution are misguided. “Transition is a long-term process that requires patience”, said Samir Dilou, Member of Parliament for the Ennahda Party, and added: “Our Constitution does not yet have a lot of life experience. You should not already think about moving out when the house is not yet fully built.”

2018 is an important year for the implementation of the Tunisian Constitution. The transfer of political power to the local level following the municipal elections in May 2018 is an opportunity to strengthen people’s trust in the democratic process. “It’s hard for Tunisians to identify with the Constitution if it does not have a real impact on their life. Decentralisation can bring democratic governance closer to citizens”, explained Jaouhar Ben Mbarek, Founder and Director of Tunisian civil society organisation Dostourna.

The event was attended by 50 representatives of European institutions, think tanks and the Tunisian diaspora living in Europe.


To rewatch the two panel discussions, check out the following videos:

Panel 1: Stocktaking – four years of the 2014 Tunisian Constitution, with Bochra Belhaj Hmida, Chafik Sarsar and Samir Dilou

Panel 2: Civil society and human rights outlook on the Tunisian Constitution, with Amine Ghali, Jaouhar Ben Mbarek and Lobna Jeribi

For a full overview on where the implementation of the Tunisian Constitution currently stands, have a look at our latest Constitutional Monitor here.

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