Barkeep! Five araks over here, please. Plus some tabouli and figs. What's that? Oh sorry, my mistake. Let's make that one arak, four iced teas ... Actually, forget the arak. Make mine a Cuba Libré. Virgin. Thanks.
So tonight we're toasting you, Tunisia, for finally finishing your draft constitution. Sure, I realize that this is not the end of the story. You've still got some unresolved issues (and some opposition leaders crying foul about alleged changes smuggled into the text). But your constitutional process still remains the best in class. As my friend Taufiq Rahim recently put it: "[Tunisia] is the place where there is a potential for change, new ideas, and a new direction for the Arab world."
Okay. So guys, I'm sorry it's taken us so long to have this talk, but I just don't think we can put it off any longer. The main events of the Arab Awakening are now two years behind us, and you're all still having big problems with drafting and implementing new constitutions. Only one of you has succeeded in passing a constitution into law -- doing so in a fashion that just ensured all sorts of problems will go on simmering. (Yeah, I'm looking at you, Egypt.) As for the rest of you, you've gotten bogged down debating procedure or wrangling over language or arbitrarily extending deadlines.
More from Democracy Lab
- The Ukrainian President's Big Broken Promise
- The Heretical Pope Francis vs. Rush Limbaugh
- A Deeper Shade of Orange
Now I realize that you've a lot of other stuff on your plate -- you know, trivial matters like, say, holding elections or reviving your economies. But the more time you spend dithering over constitutional specifics, the more frustrating it is to stick to the process. Just look at Nepal: They've been trying to agree on a constitution for eight years now. Nobody wants to end up like them, right? And don't even get me started on Zambia ...
But here's the good news: These aren't the examples you should really be worrying about. If I had only one message to give you, it would be this: Chillax.
As exasperating as this halting process might be, you may actually be better off this way. Making constitutions has always been a difficult proposition. Even Machiavelli knew that and said as much: "It should be borne in mind that there is nothing more difficult to handle, more doubtful of success, and more dangerous to carry through than initiating changes in a state's fundamental order..." That was centuries before constitutions came to be regarded a hallmark of the modern, functional state (like a good international airport or a nationwide TV network).
The fact is that it's way better to draw up a constitution that's built to last, rather than steamrolling through some tragically flawed caretaker document simply to get the monkey off your backs. When constitutions are rushed, they often prove untenable. And if there's one thing we know about constitutions, it's that having broad-based agreement is paramount. Only when numerous groups feel a strong stake in a constitution's success will they defend it -- should the need arise. Getting there requires horse-trading, which in turn requires time.