Realizing that constitutional reform is a foundational process of the transition period, in which the actual framing of the state is in the making, ARI serves as a resource for information on constitutional provisions concerning critical issues like the social role of the state, the role of the military, and regulation of diversity. In the project ‘Living Constitutions’, which ran from 2012-2014, ARI convened discussions between Arab constitutional lawyers, sociologists, economists, political scientists and experts in conflict resolution as well as experts in comparative constitutional law, in order to discuss constitutional reform and its processes. The ultimate objective of the project was to promote the principle of constitutionalism, a dynamic and ongoing process that needs to be sustained after a constitution is adopted to help relate the text to the day-to-day practice of citizenship.
The project focused on constitution writing in Egypt and Tunisia under their respective transitions, and also undertook comparative research into constitution making in Arab countries (Egypt, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia), in multi-ethnic federations (Bosnia and Herzegovina and India), and in transitions from military to democratic rule (Brazil, Portugal and Spain). Through the project, ARI monitored, documented and conducted a series of interviews on the constitutional process in Egypt during the first phase of the transition covering the two failed experiences since the fall of Mubarak in 2011 and the early phase of the third attempt in 2014. The resulting research highlights the repetition of the same mistakes in the process itself. Likewise, with regards to Tunisia, ARI engaged directly with the leading figures driving the constitutional process.
In addition, in order to explore the different constitutional trajectories undertaken by Tunisia and Egypt since the first revolutions of the Arab Spring in December 2010 and January 2011, ARI held a regional policy round table entitled “The Constitutional Experience in Tunisia and Egypt” in May 2014 in Tunis. The discussions centred on three aspects: the process of constitution-writing, the roles of various actors from inside and outside the constitutional assemblies, and the features of the new constitutions. Participants included scholars, political actors, and active members of civil society from Egypt and Tunisia – including five members of the Tunisian Constituent Assembly - as well as from Lebanon, Libya, and Syria.
As the culmination of the project, ARI produced an e-book in English and Arabic entitled "Constitutional Reform in Times of Transition". The book features ten essays addressing the challenges of constitutional reform during times of political transition. Containing insightful analysis of Arab and non-Arab transitions, the essays address both the transformational process of constitution building and the difficult questions of constitutional design: How can a constitution, and the process for developing it, affect efforts to accommodate the interests of different groups in diverse states? How easy should it be to change a constitution? How comprehensive should it be in addressing economic and social issues? Can a constitution resolve problems of civil-military relations? A presentation of the book followed by a debate at the Tunisian Constituent Assembly was held in June 2014 in the presence of members of the Constituent Assembly as well as participants in the Tunisian constitutional process from civil society.
Bassma Kodmani, ARI Executive Director led this project.