With the adoption of a new constitution last weekend, Tunisia became the first post-revolutionary country in the Arab world to forge a political settlement accepted by the broad mass of its people. The process has hardly been swift, but the passage of the document by an overwhelming majority—200 delegates in favor and only 12 against—is a significant achievement. At a time when the other Arab countries that saw popular uprisings in 2011 have been dragged down by polarization and violence, Tunisia provides an example of political compromise overcoming broad national differences.
Tunisia’s path to this moment has often been precarious. The killing of two leading opposition politicians in 2013, apparently by extremist Islamist groups, sparked an extended political crisis, during which the constitutional assembly’s work was suspended and the opposition demanded the resignation of the Islamist-led government.
However, Tunisian political society was ultimately able to pull back from disaster and find a consensual way forward. After negotiating the terms of a commission to oversee forthcoming elections, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Ennahda party under Prime Minister Ali Larayedh handed over power to a caretaker technocratic government—a voluntary transfer of authority that stands in marked contrast to the military’s seizure of power from President Mohammed Morsi in Egypt. Ennahda’s move cleared the way for constitutional negotiations to resume, and remaining disagreements were resolved, albeit with some fudging and internal contradiction within the constitution.