Tunisia’s New Assembly Holds Historic First Session

Posted November 22nd, 2011 at 9:40 am (UTC-5)
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Tunisia's democratically elected constitutional assembly held its opening session Tuesday, 10 months after a popular revolt ended years of dictatorship and sparked similar uprisings across the Arab world.

Lawmakers tasked with drafting a new constitution sang the national anthem and were joined by senior officials in the incoming coalition government and ministers in the outgoing Cabinet.

The 217-member assembly – the first body elected in the aftermath of the Arab Spring – is expected to confirm a deal under which the moderate Islamist Ennahda party and Tunisia's two other main political groups split the country's top three jobs.

The agreement, announced Monday, awards the post of prime minister to Hamadi Jebali of Ennahda, which received the most votes in last month's parliamentary elections.

The head of the center-left Congress for the Republic party, Moncef Marzouki, will become the new president. Mustafa Ben Jafaar of the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties – or Ettakatol – will be assembly speaker.

About 1,000 protesters, including relatives of people killed in the revolt, gathered outside the assembly building on the outskirts of the capital, Tunis. The demonstrators are from dozens of different organizations, many representing women calling for their rights to be guaranteed under the new constitution.

Among the protesters was the mother of Mohamed Bouazizi, the young vegetable seller who immolated himself last December in an act of protest that triggered the revolution.

Ennahda took 90 of 217 assembly seats in last month's polls – three times the number won by its nearest rival. Its leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, said his party would work to form a new government in “friendliness” and “brotherhood.”

The secular Congress for the Republic placed second with 30 seats, while Ettakatol came in third with 21 seats.

Tunisia's landmark elections were widely considered free and fair. The vote came nine months after protesters ousted longtime president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.