Not late to help shape Tunisia’s constitution

Not late to help shape Tunisia’s constitution

With the recent protests decrying the assassination of Tunisian opposition leader Mohamed Brahmi and calling for dissolution of the government, it is clear that there is no political apathy on the Tunisian street. More than ever, it is important to remember that Tunisians have been given the opportunity to help draft the constitution, and now, with the National Constituent Assembly’s (NCA) president Mustapha Ben Jaafar calling for national dialogue, it is time to reinvigorate those discussions to bring about a constitution the majority of Tunisians can call theirs.

Thanks to national and regional consultations launched by non-governmental organizations and the NCA, whose function is to draft the new constitution, Tunisians were called upon to give their advice and input during this process – which has already spanned two years.

Yet many Tunisians, especially young people, have been hesitant to participate whether because of lack of confidence or interest in the transition process or because of a breakdown in communication.

Since only 40 per cent of Tunisians voted in the election, the NCA is not totally representative of Tunisia’s population. The rate of abstention in the elections was particularly high among young voters between the ages of 18 and 35. Still, it is important that all Tunisians participate in drafting the country’s constitution.

NCA representatives met with more than 5,000 Tunisian citizens in the country’s 24 governorates, as well as Tunisian diaspora groups, to listen to the proposals and criticisms and provide explanation regarding their decision when clauses were retained.

Among the most important recommendations that were integrated were the inclusion of the universality of human rights, the recognition of the civil nature of the state, freedom of conscience and the rights of the disabled. Tunisian associations have also reached out to certain target groups that may otherwise have been overlooked to solicit their input on the draft.

The impact of this outreach was the addition of Article 8, which states: “Young people are a strong force in the building of the nation. The state strives so that favorable conditions for the expression of their capabilities and their taking of responsibilities are brought about and to broaden and make widespread the participation of young people in social, economic, cultural, and political development.”

However, many youth have not felt the need to get involved in drafting the constitution. They have considered the exercise unimportant because they feel it’s insufficient to protect them. Others have not had confidence in the process or have been unaware they can participate due to poor communication.

But the redefinition of the concept of the state and the social contract that binds it to the individual requires a new constitution that protects the rights of all citizens. Participation in the consultations is necessary in order to establish this new social contract. It is also a constructive avenue through which youth can be heard.

Certainly the constitution will be written by our generation, but it will remain valid for future generations. This is why each citizen is in a position to contribute to the protection not only of his own rights but also those of future generations.

The participation of citizens in this phase of democratic transition is fundamental because it guarantees the realization of legitimate demands that were expressed during the popular uprisings. Points of view can be expressed and the right to influence public affairs can be exercised.

Tunisians have long been excluded from political life and the making of political decisions, but now is the moment to interact. This constitution is ours and no one is in a better place than we are to judge its content.

Hela Boujneh is a doctorate student in Transitional Justice, member of the Sousse youth leader’s council and an activist in the civil society. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).