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Tunisia

After two years of painstaking negotiations between secularists and Islamists, the National Constituent Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of the new constitution in January 2014. Ennahda abandoned its requirement that the constitution recognize Tunisia as an Islamic state that observes Sharia law, and the secularists agreed that the document would say that Islam is the national religion. The constitution also spells out that Tunisia is a civil state with a separation of powers between the president and parliament, recognizes men and women as equals, calls for parity for women in elected bodies, and protects freedom of religion and expression. Tunisia was widely praised for producing a fair and progressive constitution, one of the most liberal in the Middle East.

In October 2014 elections, the secularist coalition Nidaa Tounes (Tunisian Call) won 85 out of 217 seats in parliament, defeating Ennahda, the governing Islamist party, which took 69 seats. Ennahda came under fire for failing to lift the lackluster economy and for being unable to stem the spread of jihadism in the country. Nidaa Tounes is headed by Beji Caid Essebsi, an 88-year-old former government minister who headed the interim government in 2011. The election was considered fair and free of irregularities.

November’s presidential elections were closer than expected. Essebsi prevailed over Moncef Marzouki, 39.5% to 33.4%, and a runoff is necessary. Marzouki, a former dissident, has served as interim president since 2011. He has vowed to preserve the democratic reforms that resulted from the revolution and warned that the country would revert back to authoritarianism if Nidaa Tounes held both the presidency and premiership. Essebsi won the runoff election, 55.7% to 44.3%, and many of his opponents echoed Marzouki"s concern.

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