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Politics 2013-07-25

Consensus urged on Tunisia constitution

By Mona Yahia in Tunis for Magharebia – 25/07/2013

As Tunisia's Constituent Assembly prepares to debate the long-delayed draft constitution article by article, political parties are calling on elected leaders to reach consensus.

But Ennahda and the opposition remain divided on the final text.

Assemblyman Monji Rahoui of the leftist Popular Front said it was Ennahda's constitution, rather than that of the Tunisian people, while Samia Abbou, a Democratic Trend Party representative, criticised the latest draft as an "Ikhwan constitution".

The opposition has also accused Ennahda member Habib Kheder, head of the Constituent Assembly's Public Authorities Subcommittee, of distorting the work of the parliamentarians.

"We've spent more than one year working on this, only to have Mr Habib Kheder unilaterally writing a constitution the way he likes," MP Ikbal Msadaa said July 15th during a panel discussion on the draft constitution.

After bursting out in tears, she added, "Now there is still hope...to examine the amendments that must be introduced to the fourth version of the constitution. There are certain points that we've agreed on, and this is good."

Faced with the political changes in Egypt, pressure from the opposition in Tunisia and its threats to take to the streets, as well as calls to disband the government and Constituent Assembly, the ruling troika reached an agreement with parliamentary blocs to form a "consensus committee" to introduce the necessary amendments to the constitution.

The new committee is Ennahda's "last chance before it is washed away by a flood", La Presse reporter Zied El-Heni wrote on his Facebook page.

Lawmakers must reach an accord on several contentious issues.

According to Consensus Committee member Mahmoud Baroudi, these include "the judicial system, the supreme judicial council, articles 30 and 48 about freedoms and powers of the president and head of government, and especially article 141, which states that Islam is the religion of state".

"There are certain topics which I think will be resolved quickly, while others will need some time," Baroudi told Magharebia.

"We've decided that we wouldn't move on to discuss each article of the constitution unless an agreement has been reached about these controversial points," he said.

Still, Baroudi remains optimistic about his committee's chances.

"I think we'll reach a solution because the political, economic and social situation in Tunisia is facing a crisis, and we can't prolong the transition period beyond that," he said.

As to article 141, which the opposition claims would lead to a theocratic state, Ali Fares of Ennahda responded, "We're writing a constitution for the Arab, Muslim people of Tunisia".

In his turn, Mohamed Hamdi, head of the Democratic Alliance Party, stressed the need for Constituent Assembly members to work together.

"Tunisia deserves a real stance from us," he said. "Therefore, we have to reach consensus about the constitution, because there are clear differences."

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