January 27, 2016 marks the two year anniversary of the signing into law of Tunisia’s 2014 Constitution, which still stands as the most progressive in the region.
After Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali’s ouster in January 2011, and several attempts to form a transitional government, a Constituent Assembly was chosen through elections in October 2011. The ensuing debates became polarized over several issues including Presidential eligibility and the post-Constitution transitional process. But the main sticking point was between Secularists and Islamists over the Constitutional status of Islam. The process slowed over the issue and, when coupled with the assassinations of Mohamed Brahmi and Chokri Belaid in 2013, the drafting of the Constitution came to a grinding halt.
Mass rival-protest movements took to streets in late 2013 and Tunisian society seemed on the verge of tearing itself apart. To emerge from the crisis and revive the process of drafting the Constitution, the ruling Ennahda party agreed to take part in negotiations which saw it agree to hand power over to a caretaker government once the Constitution was approved. The mediation process by civil society groups is now known internationally (after being recognized with the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize) as the National Dialogue Quartet of the LTDH, UTICA, UGTT and the Tunisian Order of Lawyers.
With the power transfer agreed to and with the failures of Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Egypt as examples, the process of Constitutional writing and compromise resumed. The process reached its conclusion when on January 26, 2014, the Constituent Assembly overwhelmingly passed the Constitution.
“With the birth of this text, we confirm our victory over dictatorship,” President Moncef Marzouki said before the Constituent Assembly on the day of its approval .
The next day January 27, 2014 the Constitution was signed into law by Marzouki.
The new constitution legally guarantees equal rights for men and women, although there remains a great deal of work to do towards achieving de facto equality.
Although Islam is not enshrined as the source of legislation (i.e. Sharia) it is recognized as the nation’s religion and the Constitution prohibits “any attacks on the sacred”.