26 January 2014, the moments that put tears in my eyes..


National Constituent Assembly president, Mostapha Ben Jaafar (Ettakattol, socialist) extends his arms forward and invites the deputies with a "please vote".  Seconds later, a storm of green quickly dominates the display panel indicating a massive yes vote and a wave of applause fills the assembly.
The operator in charge of the second panel deletes the term "draft" to leave the new title as "Constitution of the Republic of Tunisia".  The votes were 200 yes, 4 abstentions and 12 no.  The 217th member, Mohamed Allouche (no-affiliation), passed away of a heart attack days before the final vote.
The national anthem plays from loud speakers and some members are seen holding portraits of deputy Mohamed Brahmi (left-wing), shot dead on 25 July 2013 by religious fundamentalists.

At 3'37", the video shows deputy Haitham Belgacem (CPR, centre-left) saying a prayer.  Some attendees could not hide their football fanaticism and screamed the famous italian expression "Campione! Campione!".

12"00 shows deputy Jawhara Ettiss (Ennahda, islamist) who was elected single and will be leaving the assembly married with a baby.. and a constitution.

A long sequence of hugs, tears and kisses follows, but out of all the hugs, the one at 16'06" is particularly telling:  Habib Ellouze (Ennahdha, islamist, but seen fundamentalist) hugs Mongi Rahoui (Popular Front, left-wing), nobody ever expected these two to even look at each other before.

The fact that this is the first democratic, progressive constitution with strong institutions in the entire region is an impressive achievement by itself.  However, the context in which it was drafted makes of it no less than a small miracle:

  1. the electoral code under which the assembly members were voted in used a Hare-Niemeyer method (largest remainder), the objective was to give more chances of representation to smaller parties and political trends which is a wise choice to improve the acceptance of the chart. However, it created an insanely diverse mosaic of very differing, and even warring, ideologies. In my opinion, getting all this diversity to agree on anything is much more important than the constitution text itself, because it's a definite proof that this nation decided to live together and to accept difference which is the _key_ to success. The form and system of government is, in perspective, a mere detail.
  2. the Tunisian people, after decades of stiff dictatorship, does not have any parliamentary tradition nor a culture of debate, criticism and dialogue, so getting it right from the first shot was a divine mercy. Obviously, we did have a parliament, but it was as vocal as the walls of the assembly.  An anecdotal, revealing example is the case of the "bread events" in 1984:  when the then authoritarian president Habib Bourguiba ordered the lift of subsidy on bread, the parliament voted anonymously yes, when the same president ordered the re-establishment of the subsidy weeks later, the same parliament voted anonymously yes!
  3. dictators in this region kept telling us "it's either us or the islamists" and since it was very difficult to claim that dictatorship was good, it was easier to demonstrate that islamists were bad, hence the infinite waves of vilification. Unfortunately, this latter exercise was not too hard with all the horrors some islamist factions have committed. The western powers put their democratic values on hold and decided to support dictatorships all in the fear of the islamist threat. Therefore, when this constitution is produced under an islamist leadership (40% of the assembly seats) securing unprecedented civil and public rights for men and women, for believers and non-believers, it speaks volumes about the imposture entire nations lived in for decades and made them cheer bloody dictators. I am sure some of us have heard the famous "Islamists use democracy as a one-way street: when they reach power in election, they'll never relinquish it", so when the Islamist-led government in Tunisia willfully resigns to hand power to a non-partisan government in an answer to opposition mistrust around the upcoming elections, it certainly bewilders the likes of Daniel Pipes and David Horowitz.
  4. the security context is suffocating:  our Libyan neighbours to the south are struggling with an armed chaos and a weak state. The police was despised as the strong arm of dictatorship with pandemic corruption and wide spread torture, so it struggled to provide effective security under the new democratic system. The military coup in Egypt emboldened the anti-revolutionary forces and gave them strong hopes that they can actually stop the transition to democracy. The general amnesty law passed weeks after the revolution have released hundreds of prisoners convicted under unfair trial conditions, however, some of those turned out to be dangerous terrorists for real. With the military incursion in Mali, some militants fled the combat zone and seem to have settled in the mountainous areas bordering Algeria. Needless to say that those were the most unwelcome guests causing dozen of casualties in confrontations with the security forces and two political assassinations.
  5. the economic context is suffocating with our primary markets (France namely) in steady decline. Since the main motives of the revolution demonstrators were economic and social, the lack of significant and rapid economic growth left the entire democratic transition process sitting on a powder barrel.