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.”
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.It was actually Tunisia that, in 1861, had the first constitution in the Arab world, which made it officially a constitutional monarchy. That document, however, was crafted under European pressure, and the Bey Muhammad III even had Napoleon III give his approval before it went into effect. Today's document, however, is a purely Tunisian achievement, cementing that nation's status as the second Arab democracy and providing a model for other states to potentially follow.