* New constitution one last step to full democracy
* Premier Jomaa names new technocrat cabinet
* Tunisia progress contrasts with Egypt, Libya turmoil
By Tarek Amara
TUNIS, Jan 26 Tunisia's national assembly
approved the country's new constitution on Sunday in one of the
last steps to establishing full democracy three years after the
uprising that toppled autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.
Just before the constitution vote, Prime Minister Mehdi
Jomaa appointed a caretaker cabinet as part of a deal to end a
crisis between Tunisia's Islamist party and its secular
opposition until new elections this year.
Tunisia's new constitution and progress contrasts sharply
with messy transitions in Libya, Egypt and Yemen which are still
caught up in turmoil after ousting their own long-standing
leaders in 2011 revolts and uprisings.
After the historic vote, the red and white Tunisian flag was
unfurled and assembly deputies embraced, danced and sang inside
the chamber in Tunis to celebrate the charter, which has been
widely praised for its inclusiveness.
"This constitution was the dream of Tunisians, this
constitution is proof of the revival of the revolution, this
constitution creates a democratic civil nation," Assembly chief
Mustapha Ben Jaafar said.
While the new constitution recognises Islam as the country's
religion, it also enshrines freedom of conscience and belief,
and equality between the sexes.
As one of the most secular nations in the Arab world,
Tunisia has struggled since the revolt, with divisions over the
role of Islam and the rise of ultra-conservative Salafists, who
secularists feared would try to roll back liberal rights.
The assassination of two opposition leaders by Islamist
militants last year, though, pitched the small North African
country into crisis with the ruling moderate Islamist party,
Ennahda, under pressure to step down.
Opposition leaders blamed Ennahda for going easy on hardline
Islamists who promoted the idea of Islamic state based on strict
After the vote, in what many saw a symbol of compromise,
Mongi Rahoui, a deputy from the assassinated leaders' party,
embraced Habib Louz, an Ennahda hardliner. The two men sparred
furiously over Islam last week.
"With this, Tunisia should be a model for the region,"
Ennahda chief Rached Ghannouchi said of the charter. "These
advances in democracy in Tunisia should have a positive effect
on the other Arab Spring countries."
Such compromise, though, looks difficult elsewhere.
Two years after Muammar Gaddafi was toppled, Libya's
congress is deadlocked between Islamists and a nationalist party
over the route for transition, a constitution is still
undrafted, and former militia fighters run amok.
Egypt's own elected Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, has
been deposed by the army and jailed and his Muslim Brotherhood
declared a terrorist organisation.
Egyptians this month approved their new constitution as part
of a transition plan from army chief General Abdel Fattah
al-Sisi after he ousted Mursi in July.
Tunisia's Islamists were more willing to compromise. After
months of protests and deadlock, Ennahda agreed late last year
to step aside for a caretaker administration of nonpolitical
appointments that would govern until elections.
Mehdi Jomaa, an engineer and former minister appointed as
premier in December, on Sunday named his cabinet with key posts
given to technocrats with international experience.
Hakim Ben Hammouda, an economist with experience at the
African Development Bank, was named finance minister and Mongi
Hamdi, a former U.N. official, foreign minister.
"The objective is to arrive at elections and create the
security and economic climate to get out of this crisis," Jomaa
No date has been set for elections but they will be held
later this year with Ennahda and key opposition alliance Nidaa
Tounes likely to battle for the government.
Jomaa's new cabinet will have to tackle demands from
international lenders to cut public spending and curb the budget
deficit without triggering protests over social welfare.
Islamist militants, tied to al Qaeda operations in North
Africa, are also an increasing threat for a country that relies
heavily on European tourism and overseas remittances for its
hard currency income.