On July 25, Tunisians will vote on the new constitution drafted by President Kais Saied. The constitutional referendum comes during a difficult economic and political period in Tunisia. Economically, the country is reeling from high inflation, spiking unemployment, as well as sharply elevated commodity prices, and is in desperate need of an IMF deal—which the Tunisian government is currently negotiating. Politically, Kais Saied threw the country’s entire structure into chaos one year ago by suspending parliament and subsequently dissolving the legislature and suspending the constitution, which he has now redrawn to reflect a hyper-presidential system.
Please join the Middle East Institute on Thursday, July 21, at 10:00 a.m. EDT, for a panel on the details of the new constitution, the opposition’s reaction to it, and what it means for Tunisia’s political future.
Senior Advisor, Constitution-Building for the Arab Region, International IDEA
Mouna Ben Halima
Founder and CEO, Hotel La Badira in Hammamet
General Coordinator, Mourakiboun
Intissar Fakir, moderator
Senior Fellow and Director, North Africa and Sahel Program, MEI
Five Key Takeaways
- Tunisia’s proposed constitution, which will be put to referendum on July 25, does not closely resemble the 2014 constitution: The process by which the constitution was drafted indicates a sharp departure from the ideals upheld by the 2014 constitution and a return to values that the 1959 constitution established. “There’s not much that’s left over from the 2014 constitution. When so much has changed it’s difficult to speak of a revision or an amendment,” said Zaid Al-Ali. As opposed to the 2014 constitution, which came about by a negotiated process, this iteration of the constitution takes few ideas from dialogues with diverse voices. Instead, the draft appears to come directly from the president himself or those who are close to him.
- The draft constitution would establish a hyper-presidential system: The current text of the proposed constitution firmly places policy formulation and implementation in the hands of the president. It also would establish the power of the president to dissolve parliament under certain circumstances and limit the power of the judiciary. All branches of the government would be subservient to the president in this structure.
- A lack of participation by opposition parties limits options for Tunisian voters: The political opposition in Tunisia rejects the process of the referendum for a revised constitution, calling it illegal and unconstitutional and citing a lack of confidence surrounding transparency of the vote and suspected fraud. The most common position amongst opposition parties is to call for a boycott of the referendum. By avoiding participation in voting, Founder and CEO of Hotel La Yadira in Hammamet Mouna Ben Halima, a business woman and civil society activist, warned that Tunisians could risk the opportunity to establish a political alternative. The expected low levels of voter turnout could diminish the constitution’s legitimacy.
- The lead-up to the referendum has been marred by weak enforcement of rules by the electoral commission: Rafik Halouani said that “the electoral commission is lacking when it comes to respecting the rules.” Paid advertising campaigns for the referendum illustrate the lack of action by the electoral commission. The president weakened the electoral commissions independence a month before announcing the referendum by shifting the organization of the legislative council.
- Political tension in Tunisia is underscored by intensifying social and economic stresses: High unemployment rates, skyrocketing inflation, and declining access to social services, education, and transportation color daily life. These social dynamics have contributed to a sense of political disillusionment from the Tunisian public. Ultimately, economic grievances are likely to mobilize people more than political demands. There is a lack of appetite from the public for outside interference in Tunisian politics from the international community.
Detailed Speaker Bios
Zaid Al-Ali is the Senior Adviser on Constitution-Building for the Arab Region at International IDEA and an independent scholar. In his work, Al-Ali focuses on constitutional developments throughout the Arab region, with a particular focus on Iraq and the wave of reforms that took place in Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Jordan, and Yemen following the start of popular uprisings in December 2010. Al-Ali has published extensively on constitutional reform in the Arab region, including on process design issues and the impact of external influence. He is the author of Arab Constitutionalism: The Coming Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 2021). Prior to joining International IDEA, Zaid worked as a legal advisor to the United Nations in Iraq, focusing on constitutional, parliamentary and judicial reform. He also practiced international commercial arbitration law for 12 years, representing clients in investment and oil and gas disputes mainly as an attorney with Shearman & Sterling LLC in Paris and also as a sole practitioner.
Mouna Ben Halima
Mouna Ben Halima is the Founder and CEO of Hotel La Badira in Hammamet, with more than 20 years of experience in the hotel and travel industry, particularly luxury tourism. She is the current President of ATUGE, Association of Tunisians graduates from “Grandes Ecoles.” Halima is also a permanent jury member at “El Pitch” a TV competition for start-up’s. She was formerly a member of the Executive Board of the Tunisian Hotel Federation (FTH). In addition to the tourism industry, Halima is an active member in several NGOs, including Reseau Entreprendre and SOS Children's Village. In 2011/2012, Halima founded and served as the first project manager of “Le Bus Citoyen”, a civic education and democracy awareness organization. Halima holds a Master’s degree in management from Université Paris-Dauphine and an Executive MBA from the Mediterranean School of Business at South Mediterranean University.
Intissar Fakir, moderator
Intissar Fakir is a senior fellow and director of MEI’s North Africa and Sahel Program. She is an expert on North Africa, the Sahel, and key regional thematic issues, including governance, social change, migration, and security. She has written extensively on North Africa’s evolving politics, including Islamist electoral politics in post-2011 Morocco and Tunisia, the Western Sahara issue, foreign policy priorities in Morocco and the broader region, and the impact of COVID-19 on regional political stability. Her research has also encompassed political transitions, mobilization trends, energy, and social change in Morocco, Mauritania, Algeria, and Tunisia.
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