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 iPad

The 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

(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.