Tunisia has adopted a new constitution. Does that mean the North African country will soon be experiencing more democracy and increased employment? At gatherings in Brussels and Berlin, the Bertelsmann Stiftung recently brought together public figures from Europe and Tunisia to discuss answers to that question and other issues critical to the country's future.
In the shadow of Ukraine's political upheaval and the Crimea conflict, Tunisia's population of 10 million is moving swiftly toward consensus and democracy. Might this be a ray of hope, a real-life example of positive transformation, right on Europe's doorstep? In fact, the small North African country, a popular destination for tourists, leads the ranking of Arab countries that have increased political and civil rights, published in the current release of the Bertelsmann Stiftung's Transformation Index (BTI).
Three years after the fall of the Ben Ali dictatorship as a result of the Jasmine Revolution, Article 20 of Tunisia’s new constitution states: "All citizens, male and female alike, have equal rights and duties, and are equal before the law without any discrimination."
An Islamic country adopted a secular constitution – not an easy undertaking. Only after two and a half years of negotiations did 90 percent of Tunisia's National Constituent Assembly vote to approve the document. "Consensus and compromise are the most important factors for success," says Zied Ladhari, spokesman for the Islamist party Ennahda, the country's largest parliamentary bloc. It's a phrase he likes to repeat. After all, it took ongoing efforts by trade unions, business groups, human rights organizations and others to overcome the mistrust separating Islamists and the country's secular minority.
Tunisia's new-found agreement faces a new round of challenges, however. It remains to be seen whether the country's political parties and civil society will be able to nurture their budding consensus into a robust culture of compromise – especially when it comes time to turn constitutional ideals into concrete laws.