Just over three years ago, President Ben Ali of Tunisia fled his country following the outbreak of violent demonstrations throughout the region. In what was one of the first uprisings of the ‘Arab Spring’, as it became known, thousands of Tunisians took to the streets to protest about their human rights.
Photo: Tunis Times
After two and half months of civil conflict and an estimated death toll of 250 people, the government of Ben Ali resigned and a new transitional government was put in place.
However, one might have been forgiven for being sceptical as to whether this new ‘transitional’ government would actually act as a stepping stone from dictatorship to fully operating democracy. How many times before have countries claimed they are becoming a democratic nation with open and fair elections? –Mugabe’s rule in Zimbabwe highlights how these promises of a ‘better’ political system can be nothing more than empty words and quasi-democracy.
In Egypt too, where people also rebelled against their militarised rule at the same time as the uprisings in Tunisia, there has been proof of transition from one dictatorship to another. The election of Mohammed Morsi in 2012 was meant to signal a new political direction for the ancient country. However, after the president took steps seen by many to put him in a position too similar to a dictator, he was ousted in the summer of 2013 and once again civil unrest characterises Egypt.
Tunisia, on the other hand, has proven to be different. Just a few days ago the transitional government that was put in power in 2011 announced that the country had adopted a new constitution.
The assembly of mainly technocrats who will rule the country until general elections (although no date has as of yet been set for these) claim that ‘This constitution, without being perfect, is one of consensus’. The constitution was passed by 200 votes to 16. UN chief Ban Ki-moon has called Tunisia’s constitution an ‘historic milestone’. The text is the first in Tunisia’s history to recognise equality between men and women. The agreement also accepts freedom of religion, although it highlights that Islam shall remain the state religion.
This next step towards a stable and democratic government, respected by its people, indicates hope to other countries in the Middle East that are equally seeking reform. Despite the lack of improvement in many countries trying to establish a new political system in the Middle East, Tunisia highlights that progress is still very much possible.