Hariri Center for the Middle East non-resident fellow Duncan Pickard presented his new issue brief, Developing the Tunisian Constitution: Lessons Learned from the Process? at a roundtable discussion on Thursday, December 13 with commentary by Mondher Ben Hameda, a prominent Tunisian-American business leader, who offered his insights on the constitution process and broader political trends. Dr. Karim Mezran, Hariri Center senior fellow, moderated an engaging discussion with participants from the Administration, the State Department, and civil society organizations engaged in Tunisia’s transition.

Though the process remains unfinished, Pickard stressed the importance of benefiting from the Tunisian experience to inform the process as it gets underway in Libya, Yemen, and other countries grappling with constitution-writing in the future. Pickard highlighted a number of key lessons from Tunisia’s drafting process thus far. The Tunisian National Constituent Assembly’s dual role as both constitution-writing body and legislative assembly has far reaching implications on not only the constitutional draft but the country’s larger democratic transition. Members are often distracted by multiple roles and therefore feel rushed in the constitution-writing process in order to make time for pressing public policy issues on their agenda and they have time for public engagement. Moreover, parliamentary politics colored the constitutional process, which is problematic if the constitution ultimately seeks to promote consensus and longevity, rather than maintain the current political climate. 

Mondher Ben Hameda elaborated on many of the issues raised by Pickard, stressing that the constitution should not be an end in itself, but rather a roadmap that provides a clear direction to build democratic institutions. Ben Hameda noted that the way members were selected for the NCA was problematic because it emphasized party representation rather than competent individuals for constitution-drafting. As a result, many of the more qualified individuals who should be weighing in on the country’s constitution have been sidelined in favor of less qualified MPs who won seats by virtue of party affiliation. Despite such shortcomings, Ben Hameda stressed that there is a great need to generate sufficient momentum to continue the democratic process forward to complete the constitution and move toward parliamentary and presidential elections.

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