On January 26, 2014, the national assembly of Tunisia passed a new constitution that created a full democracy in the country. The constitution was the first in the Arab world to provide full equality for men and women.

Article 20 guarantees male and female citizens equal rights and equal treatment before the law. Article 45 of the constitution requires the state to protect women against violence and guarantee equal presentation of men and women in elected institutions.

Ms. Lobna Jeribi, a member of the Ettakattol party, described the article as “a revolution in itself. It’s a big, historic step, not only for Tunisian women”.

But has this new constitution truly given women their rights? Will women be seen equal by the law after the passing of this constitution?

In September 2012, Meriem Ben Mohamed was out with her fiancé in Tunis, the capital city of Tunisia. Two policemen took turns raping her in a police car, while her fiancé was forced by a third policeman to hand over cash money.

On March 31st, the three policemen were convicted in a Tunis courtroom. The two men who raped her were given seven years in prison, while the third policeman was convicted of extortion and was given a two-year sentence.

However, Ben Mohamed’s road to justice was long and full of obstacles. When she first accused the policemen of sexual assault, the Tunisian security services charged her with “public indecency”. After public outcry, the president of Tunisia, Mocef Marzouki, gave her an official apology.

The policemen denied the charges of rape and accused Ben Mohamed of seducing them on that night. During the trial, medical evidence was presented, which demonstrated that Ben Mohamed was sexually active before the policemen raped her.

In Arab countries, sexual activity before marriage is taboo. Instead of focusing the attention upon the perpetrators, much criticism during the trial was launched towards Ben  Mohamed herself, in a standard case of victim blaming.

Ben Mohamed currently lives in France and has described her ordeal in a published book called “Guilty of Being Raped”. When she walked out of the courtroom, Ben Mohamed shouted, “when I demand justice, they insult me”.

In Tunisia, the maximum jail term for rape is 25 years. Because the policemen were only given seven years in prison, Ben Mohamed’s legal team will appeal for a longer sentence.

Ben Mohamed’s case demonstrates the fierce opposition Tunisian women face in day-to-day life. Despite the newly adopted Tunisian constitution that guarantees women protection against violence and equal rights before the law, there is still a long road before women can walk the streets of Tunis, unafraid.

– Sarah Yan

Sources: The Economist, BBC, Iol

The Arab Spring brought the air of revolution to Tunisia, and after years of struggling to create a steady and free democracy, the assembly has reached an agreement and approved a new constitution.

Out of the 216 members of the Tunisian assembly, 200 affiliates voted to pass the constitution. Of the remaining 16 members, 12 voted against the constitution and four members abstained from the vote.

Three years ago, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted from the highest political office in Tunisia, which marked the beginning of the tumultuous journey towards democratic stability.

Ben Ali was overthrown in January 2011, and it was not until about October 2012 that the Islamist party, Ennahda, gained control of Tunisia. It has held power ever since, but agreed to step down from office once the final draft of the constitution was passed in the assembly.

After the overthrow of Ben Ali, there came multiple terrorist attacks and two political assassinations of secular leaders. The Islamist party Ennahda denounced the violent acts, but certain radical Islamists are held responsible. Their motive was to maintain Islamic leaders in powerful positions.

The two years it took to draft the new Tunisian constitution stirred tensions between Islamists and Secularists, as the Islamists wanted to invoke Sharia (Islamic) law. The compromise within the constitution seems promising, and the Ennahda has stepped down. An appointed caretaker government will be taking power until elections that will take place later this year. The Prime Minister of the caretaker government, Mehdi Jomaa, is a respected technocrat who will lead the transitional period until the time comes for free elections.

The Assembly Speaker, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, was quoted after the vote, saying, “This constitution, without being perfect, is one of consensus… we had today a new rendezvous with history to build a democracy founded on rights and equality.”

From what is known of the new constitution so far, it seems to be the most broadminded within the Middle East/North African region, with the guarantee of gender equality and protection of the environment. There are also laws that keep the state responsible for detecting and confronting corruption.

Power is split between the Prime Minister and the President, with more control in the Prime Minister’s hands and the President’s dominance lying mostly within defense policies and foreign relations.

The Tunisian constitution does not cite Sharia law, but Islam is declared as the country’s religion and the state outlaws attacks on Islam. As religious differences were a major obstacle in drafting this new constitution, this is a remarkable step for the North African country.

“All eyes around the world are fixed upon Tunisia’s democratic experience,” Jaafar stated. His words are appropriate, especially with the most recent turmoil in nearby countries, such as Egypt and Yemen.

Hopefully this milestone in Tunisia will be a model for countries struggling to obtain stability after the turmoil of the Arab Spring. The revolutions were necessary for the inspiration of new democratic ideals, however the loss of control has left many countries vulnerable to terrorist organizations and leaders with ulterior motives. The constitution marks a new era for the Tunis people that will hopefully lead to a thriving economy and strong democracy.

– Danielle Warren

Sources: Aljazeera, CNN, New York Times
Photo: Blouin News

At the onset of 2011, discontented Tunisians ejected former president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali from his ruling seat, ending his 23 year-long strict one-party rule. The revolution, the first of many throughout North Africa and the Middle East, was sparked by Mohammad Bouazizi, a 26-year-old vegetable vendor who set himself on fire in protest of high unemployment, police corruption and political repression. Nearly three years later, the demands of Tunisian revolutionaries have still not been met. The largest demand of the uprising was jobs, particularly for young graduates.

Tunisian youth unemployment is at 17 percent, but for young adults with a university degrees, it is actually 30 percent. Seeing no response from the government that they had hoped to move to action, some Tunisian youth are demonstrating a disturbing trend of radicalization. Islamist groups recruiting fighters for conflicts in regional areas from Libya to Syria, promise those who join them food and compensation for their services. Growing numbers of young Tunisians are being recruited to Jihad groups.

For now, Jihadi violence in Tunisia is minimal. Two political assassinations and 30 members of the security forces were killed this year. There is however, growing concern that hundreds of young volunteers, possibly even several thousand of them, have been recruited through a widening network of Salafist mosques and then trained to fight in Syria, with the potential to return home to cause more trouble. Since the ousting ofZine el-Abidine Ben Ali, who had forcibly secularized the country, fundamentalist Salafi groups have sprouted in almost every town. The Salafist mosques provide open spaces for inquiring youth who are lured by charismatic preachers offering a stirring mix of camaraderie and talk of holy war and self-sacrifice in the name of God. They draw thousands of young men and women to their mosques, where they recruit volunteers for missionary work in Tunisia, but also for jihad.

Recruits, many of whom drop out of high school, are organized by a network of facilitators who supply cash, cars and safe houses. The travel through Libya, where they receive military training, and then make their way to Turkey, the main entry point for rebels entering Syria. Two teenage Tunisian boys who recently tried to join the fighting in Syria were told at the Libyan border to turn around, that “the fight is in Tunisia right now, we want to create an emirate there.” The boys were instructed to blow themselves up among a group of tourists at the tomb of Habib Bourguiba, the Tunisian post-independence leader, in the town of Monastir. One did, the other was caught before he could detonate the bomb attached to his body.

The Tunisian police and military forces are working hard to dismantle the Jihad groups forming inside their borders, but they are failing to address the issue at its roots. Would Tunisian youth be enticed by talk of Islamic Holy War if they were employed, contributing members of their society? With depressingly high unemployment rates and continued political repression many young Tunisians see little hope in their future. The Jihad recruitment is an outlet which provides a means of taking some control of their lives and a sense of purpose, no matter how extreme it may be.

– Paige Veidenheimer

Sources: New York Times
Photo: The Star

On October 11, 2013, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Office welcomed the unanimous adoption of a new anti-torture law in Tunisia which will go about creating a new formal advocacy body dedicated to preventing and eliminating torture. The Office hailed the anti-torture initiative as a step forward in Tunisia’s ongoing transition to democracy since the country’s revolution that sparked the Arab Spring in December 2010.

Officially created by the Tunisian government on October 9, the Anti-Torture Initiative, formerly known as the National Body to Prevent Torture, is the first of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa, according to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) spokesman Rupert Colville. Tunisia has been taking steps to eradicate torture since June 2011, when the North African nation ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture.

The Body will be independent from the Tunisian government, but it will have broad jurisdiction, which includes the power to visit and hold accountable all sites of detention in the country. Additionally, the largest UN committee, the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, will also have permission to visit Tunisian detention sites as well as assist Tunisia’s new initiative in the implementation of such a national body.

The OHCHR bureau in Tunisia, which was established there about two years before the start of the Arab Spring, had an important role to play in the creation of the National Body to Prevent Torture in Tunisia through debates and consultation sessions. This collaboration with the international community also helped to bring together Tunisian governmental officials, such as the Ministry for Human Rights and Transitional Justice, as well as vital non-governmental officials such as national and international NGOs.

The president of Tunisia claims that this all-encompassing approach to the transition to democracy post-Arab Spring is necessary to see the “fruition of Arab revolutions.” In his statement to the General Assembly on September 26, President Marzouki advocated for a more stable Tunisia and other Arab Spring countries, as well as the international community’s support to make the transition, as was done with the creation of the National Body to Prevent Torture.

– Elisha-Kim Desmangles
Feature Writer

Sources: UN News Centre: Tunisian law, UN News Centre: General Debae


The International Trade Center housed within the UTSA (University of Texas at San Antonio) institute of Economic Development is partnering with USAID to train small businesses in Tunisia.  UTSA will take their Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Counselor and Director Certificate Training program to Tunisia.  The goal of the training is to help Tunisia establish SBDCs to train and support small business owners and entrepreneurs. Many of these are women and young adults with little hope of a sustainable future.

UTSA’s training program is just one component of a larger initiative focused on strengthening Tunisia’s economic development. The initiative is funded and led by USAID.  UTSA and USAID will provide the SBDC training in Tunisia, as well as stay involved with providing technical support to owners and employees of small and medium-sized enterprises.  The program will work to provide a competitive  advantage to these small business owners and work to improve  their lifestyles.

North Africa’s smallest country, Tunisia, is working to rebuild its democracy after the 2011 revolution. It is bordered by Algeria, Libya, and the Mediterranean Sea. Tunisia is ready to promote economic growth and trade opportunities with a special focus on small and medium businesses.

The International Trade Center at UTSA has grown to be one of the largest trade assistance organizations in Texas. They have been  working with countries in Central and South America.  The trade center helps companies increase their global competiveness through technical trade consulting, market research, and innovative training. Follow them on Twitter (@TexasTrade) or find them on Facebook (

– Amanda Kloeppel
Source: UTSA