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The New Constitutions in the Arab World: Consensus between Islam and Modernity

The new Tunisian constitution has just turned one month old: this was the occasion to organise a two-day colloquium in Tunis that analysed the new constitutions of the Arab world in a comparative perspective. Just under 170 participants followed the invitation of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and the Research Institute for International Law, International Jurisdiction and Comparative Constitutional Law of the University of Tunis.

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Professor Rafâa Ben Achour and Hardy Ostry for the KAS Tunisia as well as Peter Rimmele for the Rule of Law Programme Middle East / North Africa welcomed guests from Morocco and Egypt as well as Tunisian participants to the conference.

It was the aim of this international colloquium to compare the new Arab constitutions in Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt regarding their drafting processes and their specific stipulations. Thus, in his introduction, Professor Ben Achour analysed the similarities and differences regarding the drafting processes of the constitutions that were discussed in the course of the colloquium. The presentations were given by experts on constitutional issues from Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt. The subsequent lively discussions reflected the struggle between political reformers and the ideas of the forces of the old authoritarian regimes, which already during the drafting period of the constitutions in question, most notably in the Tunisian case, played a significant role.

At several occasions the discussants and participants to the conference turned to the issue of women’s and minorities’ rights as addressed by the three constitutions. In this regard, the choice of discussants did not leave any room for critique, for more than half of the presenters were female, leading to the conclusion that the quota of 50% for women in elected committees, as introduced by the new Tunisian constitutions, was applied even in the context of this particular conference.

The second day of the conference concentrated on the issue of constitutional review and the way in which this concept is addressed in the new constitutions of Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt. This was of particular importance, for the best constitutions cannot be perfected if they do not provide for sufficient mechanisms that ensure the protection of the rights that are granted in theory, as highlighted by Peter Rimmele, head of the Rule of Law programme, at the beginning of the second conference day.

At the end of the event, Professor Ben Achour remarked in his conclusion that all countries concerned were on their way to a modern constitutional state. Even if there is still a long way to go––through passing their new constitutions and in spite of several difficulties, Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt have reached an important milestone on their way towards democratisation, Ben Achour stressed. He further argued that without codifying a theocratic constitution, the new constitutions in the Arab world reflected an equilibrium between Islam and Modernity.

Finally, Ben Achour characterised the path of the Tunisian constitution as the most difficult but also most democratic path of all countries in question. In his opinion, the Tunisian constitution could therefore serve as an example for Arab world as a whole.

Not only the Tunisian press (see the article and report on the conference in the magazine Leaders) covered the event and the topic of the new Arab constitutions, but this was also the case for Lebanese media (see the article in The Daily Star, Lebanon).

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