On August 8, 2012, the Tunisian paper, Al Chourouck, published a draft of the country’s constitution as written by Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly (NCA). So far, a number of concerns have been raised with the document.
Unsurprisingly, the American press has focused on the draft’s impact on the status of women, debating the translation or mistranslation of Article 28. Indeed, it is unclear whether the article that notes, “men and women’s roles complement each other in the family,” undermines other declarations of equality between citizens, such as in Article 22.
The NCA and other experts have also identified other potential sources of trouble. First, the draft raises questions about whether the president will be elected through a direct vote or by parliament. Al Nahda, the party once outlawed by the Ben Ali regime that now holds 40 percent of seats in parliament, favors a parliamentary system. Second, while the draft currently guarantees freedom of religion, expression, and creativity, it effectively criminalizes blasphemy by outlawing attacks on “that which is sacred”. Finally, the draft establishes a media regulation body that would monitor the accuracy of media and crack down on libel and misinformation. Critics believe the group, which would be composed of journalists, would limit freedom of the press.
Tunisia-Live has developed a great graphic that maps theses controversies.
Hand and hand with these potential pitfalls, the constitution is at times an expression of tremendous hope, an imagining of what a different reality could be. Responding to the people’s economic aspirations will undoubtedly be one of the government’s major challenges, as reflected in Article 21, which promises that “the state aims to facilitate the appropriate conditions for marriage and to guarantee appropriate living conditions for every family and to provide a minimum income to ensure the dignity of its members.” Other articles forbid torture, establish the presumption of innocence in criminal matters, guarantee the right to gather and demonstrate peacefully, and prohibit discrimination against citizens with disabilities.
At the same time, in sections on rights and freedoms, the draft reflects the tensions between individual freedoms and mainstream religious sentiments that have so dominated the headlines. Bizarrely, in this same section on rights and freedoms, Article 27 criminalizes any normalization of relations with Israel.
Officially currently estimate that the constitution will be completed some time in February 2013. Before finalizing the document, the NCA will conduct a line-by-line review. A majority of the NCA members must approve each article. The NCA will then vote on the full document, which requires two-thirds approval for passage. Should the draft fail to pass, Tunisians will vote on the document in a referendum.