Traducción: Annchen Doherty
TUNISIA 13/06/2021: First steps of a constitution written “in the name of the people and with God’s blessing”
The process of reinventing post-revolutionary Tunisia has recently taken one of the steps required by the road map: it has presented a first approach to the new Constitution, which should be ready by October. The draft of the preamble to the Constitution came to light after months of deliberation and debate, and has been a relief to those who feared that the religious component would weigh too heavily or that it would contain a restriction on freedoms.
The introduction of this draft has cleared up some doubts about the direction the Constituent Assembly will take in which 90 of the 217 seats are occupied by the Islamist party Ennahda. Halfway between conservative and liberal ideas (reflecting the current management of the country by a troika in which the Islamists are accompanied by liberals and social democrats), the text is one of negotiation and compromise, with no mention of the Sharia, as requested by some sectors, but without the secularization demanded by others.
The document, adopted by consensus in the Chamber, begins by recalling the historical struggles of the Tunisian people for freedom and closes with the statement written "in the name of the people and with God’s blessing". It defines the national identity of Tunisia as Arab-Muslim, states that the regime should be a "participatory democratic republic" based on civil institutions, and it commits itself to seeking mechanisms to ensure the separation of powers, supremacy of the law and respect for rights and individual freedoms. It also notes the will to strengthen the unity of the Maghreb and the Arab region as well as supporting "the right of peoples to decide their fate" in a clear allusion to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Negotiations on the fundamental principles that followed this preamble began immediately on the presentation of the draft. This happened with the participation of an unexpected partner in the debate: the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda, which launched a message on the Internet for the Ennahda party. In a 12-minute recording distributed through websites related to the organization, a voice attributed to Ayman Al-Zawahiri leader accused the party of "violating" the Quran by accepting a constitution that is not based only on Islamic law and calls on Tunisians to rise up against the coalition government.
Some have indeed done so, but not necessarily inspired by this message. The attack by a group of Salafists on a contemporary art exhibition, considered an insult to Islam, sparked a wave of riots that swept the neighborhood of La Marsa, where the exhibition took place, other areas of the capital and several cities. Different fundamentalist groups attacked government institutions, police stations and bars in a very disturbed night that left one dead, hundreds of injured and 162 arrested. In response, the government declared a curfew in eight governorates, a measure which it imposed again the following day, in anticipation of further clashes.
In any case, the Salafists are not the only Tunisians who are unhappy, although they are perhaps those who make the most noise. High unemployment and social and regional inequalities continue to push many people to take to the streets in various areas, including Kef, in the northwest, where last week's confrontation between demonstrators and the police ended with fifteen wounded. In addition, strikes in sectors such as health and justice are a continual reminder that the problems facing the country are many and varied.
Meanwhile, several bloggers went on a hunger strike of just over a week, started by the journalist Bettaieb Ramzi, as a protest against the police confiscation of their cameras while they were covering the military trial for the deaths of some 300 martyrs during the riots against Ben Ali's regime
Nor have the so-called "wounded in the Revolution" stopped protesting. These are people who were injured during last year's protests and are demanding better medical care and financial compensation. About 1,500 people are in this situation and many of them are suffering the after-effects that force them to rely on charity, because of the lack of state benefits. One of them, Hassan Saidi, committed suicide last week after being arrested by police in a gathering.
Where the issue of victims of the revolution is being considered, albeit indirectly, is in the courts. Two weeks ago, the military court prosecutor of the city of Kef called for the death penalty for the former president, Zine Al- Abidine Ben Ali, for "complicity in voluntary murder" during the suppression of revolts in Thala and Kasserine, two key areas in the struggle last year where two dozen people were killed by law enforcement troops. Not everyone agrees, however, to the death penalty for the former dictator, who was processed in absence: some lawyers, not just the defense, argue that "Ben Ali is not the main actor in these killings but is accused of complicity, and yet a greater sentence is being asked for this than for those accused of committing them. " This debate about who is more responsible, who gives the orders or who carries them out, is repeated often as Ben Ali faces dozens of processes throughout the country, before civilian or military courts on charges including embezzlement, drug trafficking and embezzlement of public property. Just for those processes that have been resolved for the time being, he has already accumulated 66 years' imprisonment, a sentence that the former dictator looks at from a distance in his refuge in Saudi Arabia, which has so far ignored the international arrest warrant and multiple extradition requests.