Tunisia signs new constitution in big step toward democracy

TUNIS (Reuters) - President Moncef Marzouki and the head of the National Assembly signed Tunisia's new constitution on Monday, enshrining one of its last steps toward full democracy after a 2011 uprising that inspired the Arab Spring. After years of autocratic rule under Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia's charter has been praised as one of the most progressive in the Arab world, designating Islam as the state religion but protecting freedom of belief and sexual equality. Parliament erupted in celebration after the official signing of the constitution following its approval by assembly deputies on Sunday evening, which ended months of deadlock that had threatened to undo Tunisia's transition. "This is an exceptional day for Tunisia, where we celebrate the victory over dictatorship. The government and the opposition have won, Tunisia has won," Marzouki said. The small North African country's steady progress contrasts sharply with continuing turmoil in neighboring Libya and in Egypt, whose people followed Tunisia in ousting long-standing ruling strongmen in Arab Spring revolutions. Tunisia's stock market rose 1.7 percent on Monday in a sign of investor confidence in the country's stability with the constitution in place and the formation of a new caretaker cabinet that will govern until elections. After months of crisis, Tunisia's transition got back on track when ruling Islamist party Ennahda agreed to compromise late last year and step down to make way for a technocrat government that will preside until the vote later this year. (Reporting by Tarek Amara; writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Mark Heinrich)