Foreign leaders hail Tunisia's constitution

Symbolic ceremony hails adoption of document after fractious assembly finally wrote and passed progressive constitution.

Last updated: 07 Feb 2014 17:11
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French President Francois Hollande and other world leaders attended the ceremony in Tunis [AFP]

Tunisia has celebrated the adoption of a new constitution three years after the country's revolution, a landmark in getting its troubled transition back on track and hailed as a model by foreign leaders.

A symbolic ceremony on Friday at the national assembly, where the constitution was adopted on January 26, burnished Tunisia's positive image in contrast with other Arab Spring nations such as Libya and Egypt that remain plagued by instability and political turmoil.

French President Francois Hollande, the only European head of state attending the ceremony, hailed it as an example for other countries, the AFP news agency reported.

The constitution honours your revolution and is an example for other countries to follow.

Francois Hollande,
French president

"The constitution honours your revolution and is an example for other countries to follow," he told the packed chamber, including the premiers of Algeria and Kuwait, and the presidents of Chad, Gabon, Guinea and Mauritania.

"It confirms what I had said [when I visited] in July, that Islam is compatible with democracy."

Hollande's words were echoed by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.

"This constitution that we are celebrating today is a hope and an example for other countries," he said.

The constitution was forged during two years of acrimonious debate, amid deep divisions and mistrust between the moderate Islamist party Ennahda, then in power, and the largely secular opposition - aggravated by violence rocking the country.

The ceremony was not without incident.

US diplomats walked out when Iran's parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani accused the United States and Israel of seeking to prevent the Arab Spring revolutions from succeeding.

"The hands of Israel and the United States have tried to render these revolutions sterile, and to make them deviate from their course so that Israel can benefit," he said in a speech to the assembly.

The US embassy later denounced Larijani's comments as "false" and "inappropriate."

"What was intended to be a ceremony honouring Tunisia's achievements was used by the Iranian representative as a platform to denounce the United States," a statement said.

Friday's ceremony comes a day after the first anniversary of the assassination of Chokri Belaid, a prominent leftist politician and virulent critic of Ennahda.

Arab Spring beacon

The speeches lauded the country's ability to transcend differences and forge the necessary consensus that is necessary to produce a constitution.

The president of Libya's parliament sounded almost rueful in his praise of Tunisia, the AP news agency reported.

"Libya intends to follow the same path," said Nouri Abu Sahmein, whose country is still struggling to register voters to elect the commission to write a constitution.

"Despite the difficulties, the General Congress and the Libyan government are working to ensure the conditions for successful democratic transition."

In his address, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki highlighted the sacrifices the country had made as well as the achievement the constitution represented.

"By adopting the constitution, Tunisia celebrated a triple victory, over dictatorship, over terrorism that seeks to spread chaos and block our path to democracy and over our own divisions," he said.

Conspicuously absent was any representative from fellow Arab Spring nation Egypt, whose relations with Tunisia have been tense since Marzouki called for the release of his Egyptian counterpart Mohamed Morsi following his imprisonment by the military.

On Monday, US President Barack Obama called interim Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa and congratulated him on the new constitution, inviting him to visit Washington.

With the passage of the constitution, Tunisia's image abroad has brightened considerably, as symbolised by the IMF release of its loan a few days after the document was adopted.


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