On September 16, the ruling Nidaa Tunis coalition, backed by the Islamist Ennahdha movement, finally succeeded in passing a modified version of the Economic Reconciliation Bill that Essebsi pushed forward two years ago. This bill, now labeled the Administrative Reconciliation Act, was the first proposal suggested by the Tunisian presidency to the parliament, and Essebsi’s majoritarian bloc in the parliament defended it continuously for over two years, even holding a special parliamentary session during the summer parliamentary break. The decision to hold the session meant that the bill was voted upon without receiving the opinion of the Supreme Judicial Council, which viewed the bill as unconstitutional.
Less than 24 hours after the special session, the members of the parliament who joined the protesters outside the Bardo National Museum and boycotted the vote started gathering signatures for an appeal of the constitutionality of this law to the Interim Constitutional Committee. This raises the question of why Tunisia does not have a constitutional court, nearly seven years after the revolution and almost four years after the adoption of its new constitution. The answer is quite clear: This has never been a priority for the elected parliament and the ruling coalition of recycled Ben Ali regime members alongside Islamists who are grateful to have dodged the Egyptian scenario.
Tunisia’s hope of restoring the hijacked process of transitional justice and a real democratic transition was yet again aborted, at the hands of the Interim Constitutional Committee, an interim institution in absence of a constitutional supreme court. The committee, which examined the appeal of the Administrative Reconciliation Act, has been under pressure from the parliament, so the outcome of its deliberation was uncertain but predictable. The even number of members—six—leads to the return of any laws to the president for final say in case of a deadlock. In this case, Essebsi, who pushed this bill forward, will decide whether to approve it. The bill creates a parallel route for transitional justice, the path of which had been set and established a while ago. The most dangerous part is the absence of any measures for bringing the perpetrators to justice. It offers simply a general amnesty that would discourage honest and patriotic public servants from standing against corruption, since the worst of them could get away with it. In real life and out in the streets, most Tunisians may have given up on the hope of holding the icons of Ben Ali and Bourguiba’s regime accountable, including Essebsi himself, so that future generations do not have to face this again.
What can be learned from Tunisia’s experience following the overthrow of Ben Ali, the reelection of his party members, and the amnesty from his regime to his regime, is that the democratic transition probably cannot lead to democracy when it is too democratic: when many called for the ban of the former regime from rejoining the political life, permanently or for a few electoral cycles, most international and local organizations opposed this “undemocratic” measure. Today we are dealing with the consequences of tolerating the atrocities of the past and accepting with wide arms every criminal without a filtering process.
Babies who were born during the revolution time are now going to school, but with the beginning of the academic year, the average Tunisian was focused not on school but on news about next year’s budget cutting subsidies, which is being followed with great worry. As ordinary Tunisians are poised to be hit hardest by austerity, state corruption continues, amnesty is codified in law, and transitional justice is blocked.