A Tale of Two UI's: Tunisia Goes Open-Source, Hungary Uses iPad for New Constitution

More technology does not always mean more openness and collaboration. Consider the divergent examples of Tunisia, writing its new constitution via the collaborative, open-source PiratePad, and Hungary, writing its guiding document via the very proprietary iPad.

Thomas Jefferson with iPadThe worldwide political chaos of 2011 is spurring one fascinating side effect--constitutional conventions in Europe and Africa are turning toward iPads and open source software to construct their countries' new rules of government.

In Tunisia, the post-revolution government is using the popular PiratePad collaborative, open-source text editor to help construct their constitution. The idea appears to have originated with Slim Amamou, a blogger with deep roots in the hacker community who's ascended into the upper echelons of Tunisian politics to become a Tunisian cabinet member.


In a Twitter posting, Amamou invited Tunisians to propose changes to the country's new constitution online:

Modifions collaborativement la constitution. On va voir ce que ça donne http://piratepad.net/4BHO1W6B5q

(Let's collaborate to modify the constitution. Let's see what will happen.)

Over at the TechPresident blog, Micah Sifry notes that the move is stirring debate in Tunisia:

Judging from the chat thread that emerged on that PiratePad, one very tough issue emerged--whether a new Constitution for Tunisia could exclude references to Islam as the religion of the country, or to God. And that was with a relatively small number of people actively commenting.

Tunisia is currently in the process of electing a constitutional council to write the new document; Amamou's move is intended as a preemptive strike intended to shape the debate surrounding the future constitution.

Amamou's French-language Twitter feed remains one of the best sources for Tunisian news online.


Meanwhile, a new constitution is being written in Hungary, too. But the medium is nothing like open-source.

Although it has not been extensively covered in the American media, Hungary elected a new right-wing government this past year which has been attacked as xenophobic and authoritarian by foreign critics. A controversial media law that was recently passed radically restricts press freedom in the country. Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government is writing a new constitution for Hungary; the country's old, Communist-era constitution was never changed following the 1989 revolutions.

However, this constitution is being written via iPad.

Joszef Sajer, a European Parliamentarian with the ruling right-wing Fidusz party, recently posted on his Hungarian-language blog on March 1 about how he is drafting Hungary's new constitution on an iPad. Bloomberg's Zoltan Simon provided a translation:

Steve Jobs will surely be happy when he gets word that Hungary’s new constitution is being written on an iPad, actually my iPad [...] The best is I don’t have to wait for minutes to turn it on, like with a normal laptop. I can open it anywhere and can take advantage of every minute. It’s a miracle!

(Wait 'till he tries to watch a Flash video.)

Szajer is one of the three Hungarian politicians drafting a new constitution. The other two members of the Hungarian constitution committee are also fellow members of Szajer's right-wing Fidusz party. It is unclear whether they are also Apple fanboys.

For more stories like this, follow @fastcompany on Twitter. Email Neal Ungerleider, the author of this article, here.

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  • Tonya van Dijk

    These political initiatives show that government 2.0 is on
    the rise. Based on an editorial article by Ass.-Prof. Dr. Dennis Hilgers
    and Prof. Dr. Frank T. Piller, they concluded that “the move to
    Open Government is a logical step for citizens and Government bodies.  It
    is, in many ways, a chicken whose egg has already hatched. However, all
    organisations, public and private, need a process or a roadmap to show the way.
    Without it change feels like a descent into chaos”. To learn more about open
    government, read their editorial at http://crowdsourcing.org/l/550.