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Kerry: Tunisia's New Constitution is Model for Arab World

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says Tunisia's new constitution is a model for political reform in the Arab world. Kerry made an unannounced visit as part of a trip to Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

Secretary Kerry said he was in Tunisia to show Washington's support for this young democracy.

"The Tunisian people have ratified a new constitution, a constitution that is rooted in democratic principles - equality, freedom, security, economic opportunity, and the rule of law. And it is a constitution that can serve as a model for others in the region and around the world," he said.

As the birthplace of the so-called Arab Spring uprisings, Tunisia remained a powerful symbol, said Oxford University researcher Monica Marks in an interview on Skype.

"Tunisia is the country in the region that has the greatest chance of succeeding with its revolution. And if it fails, it’s going to be very difficult for democratically-minded reformers and revolutionary thinkers to stay inspired, to keep up the hope. Because if we look elsewhere in the region - in Egypt, in Syria, in Libya - the situation ranges from dire to depressing," she said.

Tunisia's Constitution

  • Approved 3 years after the uprising that launched the Arab Spring
  • Guarantees freedom of worship but says Islam is the state religion
  • Splits executive power between a president and a prime minister
  • Prime minister has dominant role and answers to parliament
  • President is elected by the people and responsible for defense and foreign relations
  • Recognizes gender equality
  • Guarantees right of free expression and association, and a free press
Tunisia's new constitution is the product of crisis negotiations between Islamists and more secular parties. But opposition politician Nadia Chaabane said it discriminated against women and non-Muslims.

If Islamists wanted a religious state, Chaabane said, they should make that clear so everyone else would know how to react. But, she said, they should not publicly support the idea of a civil state, then included things that violate its formation.

Marks said Tunisia was also facing considerable economic challenges with politicians under pressure to show they were improving people's lives.

"They’re seeing that the cost of food is higher relative to income than it was before the revolution. Believing that the revolution was a good thing, believing that democracy is a positive change becomes harder, and as a wonderful as the passage of the Constitution recently was, your average Tunisian needs to feel a difference," she said.

Stability is central to attracting outside capital. And the United States continues to provide security assistance to counter threats from the terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia/Tunisia.

While that assistance was meant to help reinforce Tunisia's democratic trajectory, a senior U.S. official traveling with Kerry said the Obama administration was looking for more aggressive action against those responsible for the September 2012 attacks on the American embassy and the American school in the capital.

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