Celebrating the first bloom of the Arab Spring: Tunisia adopts its new Constitution

Feb 14, 2014

Signature of the Tunisian Constitution on 27 January 2014. Photo: Olivier Pierre–Louveaux, UNDP Tunisia

On 27 January 2014, the new Constitution of Tunisia was adopted by an overwhelming majority of the National Constituent Assembly, marking a historic moment for the country. This is Tunisia’s first democratic constitution and opens a new chapter in the country’s democratic transition.

The new Constitution has been hailed as a landmark document in the Arab region, not only for its progressive approach to religion and the state, but also its strong commitment to human rights and the promotion of gender equality. The document is also the result of an inclusive process, involving the country’s various political and ideological formations.

Tunisia started its journey towards constitutional democracy after the Jasmine revolution in early 2011. Free and fair elections held in October 2011 led to the establishment of a 217-member National Constituent Assembly (NCA) that was entrusted with the task of drafting a new Constitution. In December 2011, the NCA adopted a ‘Provisional Constitution’, which served as the main guiding document during the transition process leading to the adoption of the new fundamental text.

The process of drafting and approving the Constitution was a complex one. It was rocked by two political assassinations, rising insecurity, economic recession, and political divisions that at times threatened to derail the process. Since 2012, UNDP, through its Constitutional Support Project (2012-15), has been a key partner in providing support to the constitutional process and capacity development to the NCA. The project was supported by various donors, including the EU.

During this time, UNDP mobilized international constitutional expertise when requested by the Assembly, provided in-depth technical expertise on constitutional and legal provisions, and developed, in partnership with other UN agencies, recommendations to ensure that the new constitution would meet Tunisia’s international human rights commitments. Together with UN Women and other UN agencies, UNDP also worked to promote gender issues and women’s equality during the constitutional process.

In addition, UNDP granted support for the organization of a nationwide dialogue between Assembly members and citizens and civil society organizations across the country. Over 6000 citizens, 300 civil society organizations, and 320 university representatives provided input during the dialogue. 30,651 citizens were also consulted on the draft Constitution through civil society initiatives supported by UNDP.

The new Constitution will grant Parliament considerable powers. With that in mind, while engaging on the short-term constitutional reform process, UNDP has also provided long-term assistance to build an effective and efficient parliament. This is being done through the organization of trainings and study trips on various issues aiming to familiarize parliamentarians with the effective functioning of democratic and pluralist parliaments. UNDP is also facilitating collaboration and contacts between the NCA and other regional legislatures, such as the European Parliament, and national parliaments in Europe (Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark, Portugal, France), the Arab world (Lebanon), and Africa (South Africa).

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