Tunisia’s government falls, Arab democracy is born

Noah Feldman writes: If you blinked, you missed it, but the democratically elected Islamist government of an Arab country just promised to resign peacefully, with no threat of a coup d’etat in sight.

Tunisia is still a long way from political stability. Yet once again, the nation that started the Arab Spring is showing the rest of the region how it’s supposed to be done. Reasonable people facing deep disagreements are negotiating and power-sharing their way to the Holy Grail of legitimate constitutional democracy.

Start with the deal. Ennahda, the Islamic democratic party that formed a government after Tunisia’s free elections in 2011, didn’t agree to step down for nothing. In exchange for agreeing to resign in favor of a caretaker government of nonpartisan technocrats, Ennahda got the opposition to agree to ratify a draft constitution that has been painstakingly drafted and debated over the last year and a half.

Under the rules of the road, adopted after the old regime fell in January 2011, the constituent assembly can approve the constitution if two-thirds of its members vote in favor. That structure put a premium on consensus, the political value most valued by Tunisian political culture. It also put Ennahda in a tough position during the drafting process: Its slight coalition majority in the assembly gave it almost no leverage, because it needed lots of opposition votes to get to two-thirds. The only alternative was to go to the public, which might have approved the constitution by a bare majority. But that would have violated the goal of consensus, and Ennahda consistently refused to treat it as an option. [Continue reading…]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email