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Tunisia, Again A Regional Model For Democracy?

Tunisia, Again A Regional Model For Democracy?

Change is afoot again in Tunisia, with a new constitution, a new technocratic government, and a Parliament in full celebration mode. Three years after triggering a wave of popular upheaval across North Africa and the Middle East, marked by decidely mixed results, Tunisia is again offering a snapshot of democratic hope.

"Nothing can describe my pride," is how one Tunisian put it, with a tweet in English, when the new constitution was ratified late Sunday.

Even well-known enemies, like, Habib Ellouze and Mongi Rahoui, two men famously on opposite sides of the political and religious spectrum, exchanged a gesture of congratulations. ("Here's the photo of the year!")

La photo de l'année en Tunisie est ici! -:) #TnAcpic.twitter.com/TEdjr7lHvJ

— Taïeb Moalla (@moalla) January 26, 2014

It seems that over the past few weeks, a cautious optimism has replaced the unrelenting criticism and doubts that have dominated Tunisia's fraught post-revolutionary period. In another touch of positive symbolism, the constitution, finally approved after more than two years of debate, was accompanied by images of a newborn baby - her mother, a parliamentarian, got married when she assumed her official functions in 2011. Images of mother and child appeared on Tunisian television, a sign of new life and hope for the future.

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Early on Monday morning, Shems FM, a popular Tunisian radio station, appropriately tweeted a whimsical play on words:

"Good morning the morning of goodness, the morning of Tunisia, the morning of the adoption of the constitution."

صباح الخير، صباح تونس، صباح المصادقة على الدستور http://t.co/ZeEPMUM7NIhttp://t.co/mJ8RjqA2W5

— ShemsFm (@RadioShemsFm) January 27, 2014

Afterwards Shems FM triumphantly played Queen's song, "We expand=1] Are the Champions."

The new constitution, which had gone through several rounds of drafts, includes some controversial measures - such as article 6, which while guaranteeing religious freedom, also makes it a crime to insult the sacred. Yet it also contains some articles considered revolutionary in the region, including one mandating legal equality between men and women.

Mention of Sharia law is notably absent from the constitution, an important concession made early on in the process by the Islamist party, Ennahdha, which strategically chose to avoid pressing for articles which would raise the ire of the frightened though vocal minority of Tunisian anti-Islamist progressives.

The new government of technocrats is another source of hope for Tunisians weary of the often incompetent and stagnant post-revolutionary governance. Staffed by technocrats with top-notch CVs, the caretaker government will remain in place until the next elections, tentatively scheduled for six to nine months from now.

Here's new interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa's declaration that a new government had been successfully formed.

Though Facebook and Twitter were overwhelmed with relieved and joyful posts from Tunisians and international observers, there was still some notable skepticism

One Kuwaiti twitter user warned Tunisians against returning to a trustful stupor, in light of the divisive and bloody road taken by its fellow Arab Spring country, Egypt.

"To the Tunisian people, beware of the enemies of the revolution inside and outside the country: the adoption of the constitution is not the end of the road… you are not as far from Egypt as you may think."

على الشعب التونسي الحذر الشديد من أعداء الثورة �ي الداخل والخارج، �إقرار الدستور ليس نهاية المطا�.. وما #مصر منكم ببعيد. #تونس

— عبدالرحمن بدر القصار (@bodeema) January 27, 2014

The twitter account of an apparent Islamist extremist also reminded jubilant observers that security issues remain, as jihadists generally refuse constitutions for "usurping" the divine authority of God. Referring to ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), the radical jihadi group wreaking havoc in Iraq and among Syrian jihadi rebels, this twitter user reminds us that the jihadi movement is alive and well in certain corners of Tunisia - especially the vast Sahara desert.

من صحراء تونس / ينشد بوبكر يابغدادي يامرهب الأعادي http://t.co/OjSe6thlTd روعه #الدولة_الإسلامية_�ي_العراق_والشام

— أبو لادن (@aljabiri999) January 27, 2014
(Main photo after approval of constitution Chokri Mahjoub/ZUMA)

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