The Struggle for Political Pluralism in Tunisia

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In January, after more than two years of deliberations during which the country lurched from one crisis to the next, Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly passed one of the most progressive constitutions in the Arab world. This hard-won victory came after protracted negotiations between Ennahda—Tunisia’s largest Islamist party with links to the Muslim Brotherhood—and the non-Islamist opposition. The main political factions reached agreement on a text that excluded the explicit mention of Sharia law as the basis for legislation, bridging, at least temporarily, a divide that has polarized Islamist versus non-Islamist political camps in the North African nation. The breakthrough was especially noteworthy in light of the violent ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government only seven months earlier in Egypt.

Tunisians have every right to be proud that their country’s political transition since the 2011 revolution remains on track. But major security, economic, and political challenges remain. Tunisia will need substantial international assistance to solve these problems, and there is an appetite among Tunisian political actors for greater U.S. engagement. Washington’s enthusiasm for engagement in Tunisia cooled after an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tunis by an Islamist mob in September 2012. However, the approval of Tunisia’s new constitution gives the United States an opening to re-engage. Secretary of State John Kerry’s February visit to Tunisia was a step in the right direction, and the upcoming visit by the new Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa to Washington will serve as an important opportunity for overall U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa.

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