Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa (right) addresses the parliament during a ceremony in Tunis to celebrate the adoption of a new constitution on February 7, 2014
Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa (right) addresses the parliament during a ceremony in Tunis to celebrate the adoption of a new constitution on February 7, 2014 © Fethi Belaid - AFP
Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa (right) addresses the parliament during a ceremony in Tunis to celebrate the adoption of a new constitution on February 7, 2014
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Antoine Lambroschni, AFP
Last updated: February 7, 2014

Tunisia celebrates adoption of new constitution

Tunisia celebrated Friday the adoption of a new constitution three years after the revolution, a landmark in getting its troubled transition back on track and hailed as a model by foreign leaders.

A ceremony at the national assembly, where the constitution was adopted on January 26, burnished Tunisia's positive image in contrast with other Arab Spring nations, such as Libya and Egypt, which remain plagued by instability and political turmoil.

The long-delayed charter, finally approved three years after the revolution that toppled autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and inspired uprisings across the Arab world, is widely regarded as being the most progressive in the region.

The ceremony was not without incident.

US diplomats walked out when Iran's parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani accused the United States and Israel of seeking to prevent the Arab Spring revolutions from succeeding.

"The hands of Israel and the United States have tried to render these revolutions sterile, and to make them deviate from their course so that Israel can benefit," he said in a speech to the assembly.

The US embassy later denounced Larijani's comments as "false" and "inappropriate."

"What was intended to be a ceremony honouring Tunisia’s achievements was used by the Iranian representative as a platform to denounce the United States," a statement said.

French President Francois Hollande, the only European head of state attending the ceremony, hailed the constitution as an example for other countries.

"The constitution honours your revolution and is an example for other countries to follow," he told the packed chamber, including the Algerian and Kuwaiti prime ministers and the presidents of Chad, Gabon, Guinea and Mauritania.

"It confirms what I had said (on a visit) in July, that Islam is compatible with democracy."

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy also called the charter a model to be followed.

"This constitution that we are celebrating today is a hope and an example for other countries," he said.

The fundamental law was forged during two years of acrimonious debate, amid deep divisions and mistrust between the Islamist party, Ennahda, then in power and the largely secular opposition, aggravated by sporadic jihadist violence rocking the country.

Assembly speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar described it as "consensual, far from logic of the (parliamentary) majority and minority."

Friday's ceremony comes a day after the anniversary of the assassination by suspected jihadists of Chokri Belaid, a prominent leftist politician and virulent critic of Ennahda.

The slain politician's family continues to demand clarity on the circumstances of his death, despite the killing of his alleged assassin, Kamel Gadhgadhi, by police earlier this week.

Leftwing parties were to meet later Friday to commemorate Belaid's death, after a candlelit vigil in central Tunis on Thursday evening, and with a large demonstration planned for Saturday.

The assassination, the first of two last year, triggered massive anti-government protests and a crisis from which Tunisia has only now started to emerge, with adoption of the constitution and the Ennahda-led government's replacement by a technocrat administration.

Mehdi Jomaa, the new prime minister, hailed the charter's adoption but warned that it "should not make us forget the importance of the challenges to come."

"We are committed to completing the process and preparing for free and fair elections," he added of parliamentary and presidential polls he is tasked with organising later this year.

The new constitution is a compromise that reduces the prominence of Islam -- which is not mentioned as a source of legislation but is recognised as the nation's religion -- and cites the objective of bringing about gender parity in elected institutions.

Executive power is divided between the prime minister, who will have the dominant role, and the president, who retains important prerogatives, notably in defence and foreign affairs.

Imed Daimi, head of President Moncef Marzouki's Congress for the Republic party, stressed the economic problems facing Tunisia, after three years of turbulence, and used Friday's ceremony to call on the help of the country's allies.

Foreign officials have "come to share in our joy and support the Tunisian experience... We want this political support to translate into economic support," he said.

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