Kas Saed’s draft constitution in the crosshairs of civil society

After a few weeks of work, which proved to be useless, the Advisory Commission set up by the President of the Republic Kaïs Saïed gave him a draft constitution. This one never left the drawer as it was slipped on June 20, 2022. It is another – scaffolding, we do not know how – that the head of state urges us to embrace by putting a small “yes” at the polls on July 25. The draft constitution, drawn up by Kaïs Saïed on 30 June in the Official Journal of the Republic of Tunisia, has put an end to all illusions and given way to an outcry of criticism, even from those who thought they were helping to build a better future for Tunisians over the next forty years.

Retrograde is the leitmotif that we have heard from those who have clearly been against this project, especially national organizations and sections of civil society. The union saw in this project a return to authoritarianism. In its press release on its position on the Constitution and the planned referendum, the steering group of the Tunisian General Workers’ Union (UGTT) noted an accumulation of powers and an annihilation of the role of government guardians. UGTT also pointed to a risk of “misinterpretation” and “a danger to freedom” due to the absence of any mention of the courtesy of the state and the notion of the universality of rights and freedoms in the Kaïs Saïed project. According to the organization, the wording can lead to several violations.

And yet the UGTT did not impose a categorical “no” to the draft constitution. After not taking a position on the issue of voting in the referendum, the trade union has otherwise withdrawn from the campaign. The organization officially stated that it had given its members the freedom to vote “no” or “yes”. Behind the scenes, however, there is a “no” trend that prevails.

The National Union of Tunisian Journalists (SNJT) condemned several assaults; the suppression of the notion of state courtesy, the absence of guarantees for the separation of capacities and the risks that this text poses to press freedom. According to the SNJT, the President of the Republic, by vague references to “common morals” and “national security and health”, has left a breach that threatens press freedom. Laminating the role of constitutional bodies, such as the High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (Haica), opens the door for the executive to intervene directly in the granting and revocation of licenses to the media. What does it say goodbye to the independence of the press, according to SNJT.

The SNJT reaffirmed its position by joining other organizations – the Tunisian League for Human Rights (LTDH), the Tunisian Anti-Torture Organization, the Tunisian Economic and Social Rights Forum, the Tunisian Coalition for the Abolition of the Death Penalty and the Al Bawsala Organization, among others – which issued a joint communiqué to say “no” to a “constitution of dictatorial power”. According to them, Kais Saied’s draft constitution reflects a one-sided approach in which the head of state confiscated the Tunisians’ right to debate their fate and their future by imposing their own choices. The project has also been described as an attack on the idea of ​​citizenship, uniting Tunisians without discrimination based on faith, color or gender, with reference to the requirement that the head of state must be a man and a Muslim.

These associations say they are mobilized to take all legitimate steps to achieve constitutional reforms that respect the dignity of Tunisian women and men and fulfill their aspirations for dignity, freedom and equality.

This exclusion of women from the Supreme Court and the attack on equality between men and women was also raised by another group of Tunisian associations: feminist dynamics. ATFD, Calam, Beity and other organizations have expressed deep concern about the dangers posed by Kais Saïed’s project to democracy, freedoms, citizenship and genuine equality. According to them, the new constitution undermines the principle of effective equality between men and women through a religious vision in which equality has no place.

For the Tunisian association of constitutional law, there is no doubt. The references to Islam and its objectives in Kais Saied’s draft constitution pave the way for the establishment of a religious state. The deletion of the first article of the reference to the religion of the state in the Constitution of 2014 would have been useless! During a study day organized by the said association, law professor Slim Laghmani mentioned Article 5 of Kaïs Saïed’s project and explained: “There is a huge difference between a religious state and an official religion of a state … Several democratic states have an official religion … A constitution is a text that includes a vision of the state, its identity, its strategic choices, the establishment of a political system and guarantees rights and freedoms. ”According to Mr Laghmani, the 2014 constitution, which the President of the Republic destroyed with his current project, clearer and more precise on certain aspects.which makes it a more modern text compared to Kaïs Saïed’s project.

The draft Constitution of the President of the Republic will, it will be recalled, be submitted to the vote of the Tunisian people on 25 July. Its entry into force is scheduled for the day following the announcement of the final results of the Independent High Election Authority.

Nadya Jennene

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