Tunisia Signs New Constitution, Appoints Government

It has taken two years to complete, but the African nation of Tunisia has a new constitution, and citizens hope that it will bring about major change in the country.  In particular, Tunisia’s new constitution could bring about changes for women as the Islamist party known as Ennahda placed the African nation’s government under the control of a newly-formed caretaker government.

On Jan. 28, Prime Minister Ali Laarayedh handed over control to Mehdi Jomaa, a former minister for industry and the country’s new prime minister. This step, thought to be the last step to usher in democracy, came five months after the killing of Mohamed Brahmi.

Ennahda rose to power in 2011, after President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was removed from power.

The country’s president is Moncef Marzouki. He told reporters that the newly-signed constitution guarantees equal rights for men and women. It also puts the power into two men’s hands. Power over the country is split between Marzouki and Jomaa.  Marzouki will have important roles in defense and foreign affairs, but the Jomaa will have the dominant role in the government, according to media reports.

In addition to equal rights for women, the constitution also requires that the government protect the environment and work to stop corruption.

The caretaker government will run the country until elections, which are due this year. There has been no specific date set for the next elections though. . The new cabinet includes Hakim Ben Hammada as finance minister and Mongi Hamdi as the foreign minister. There are 21 ministers and seven secretaries of state, in total.

Criticism abounds

In the days following the handover, citizens, activists and media have criticized the new constitution, noting that it doesn’t do enough to reflect what the citizens want and that the committee drafting the document did not have the power to change constitutional sections on the right to strike and freedom of expression. There is also concern that the document doesn’t do enough to protect men from violence. The document does not ban the death penalty, but makes accusing people of being nonbelievers an illegal act. Attacks on religion are also restricted.

For many women, the newly-adopted clause guaranteeing equality of the sexes and protecting women from violence is a big deal. Even with this advance, there are women like Fattouma Attia, who believe that equality is not something the government can regulate, that it is something the women of the country must seize on their own.

Although Ennahda is no longer fully in control over the government, the Islamist party still dominates the national assembly.

This is the third draft of the country’s constitution. Amendments have been made to articles within the constitution related to the rules of the assembly’ confidence to vote and to facilitate the appointment of the government as well.

The creation of this document brings the Arab Spring to a close in Tunisia, while nations like Libya and Egypt, both active in the 2011 revolt, are still in turmoil.

Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations called the country’s progress “a model for people seeking reforms.”

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