Monday, September 25, 2023

Tunisia will drop Islam as official state religion

Tunisian president Kais Saied

Tunisian President Kais Saied said on Tuesday that the new constitution will not enshrine Islam as the official state religion.

Saied received a draft constitution on Monday, which he is supposed to approve before submitting it to a referendum on July 25. 

“The next constitution of Tunisia won’t mention a state with Islam as its religion, but of belonging to an umma (community) which has Islam as its religion,” Saied told journalists at Tunis airport, emphasizing the separation between the state and Islam.

Prior to the new constitution, Islam has served as the “religion of state” in Tunisia, where the vast majority of the population are Muslims. The country, however, does not subscribe to Sharia law, but rather leans heavily on European civil codes.

Tunisia has been embroiled in a political crisis since Saied seized control of the government last year in July and dissolved parliament, a step that opponents describe as a coup.

Following Saied’s statement, Rached Ghannouchi, Tunisian politician and co-founder of the Islamic political party Ennahda, wrote on Facebook, “The greatest corruption in politics is tyranny, and the cure is to return to democracy and the separation of powers.”

Ghannouchi described the president’s roadmap for rebuilding Tunisia’s political system as a “road with a dead end,” emphasizing that Saied has transformed Tunisia from “a democratic regime to a dictatorial regime.” 

Sadeq Belaid, the legal expert who headed the drafting committee, had told AFP in an interview earlier this month that he would remove all reference to Islam from the new document in order to confront Islamist parties.

“80% of Tunisians are against extremism and against the use of religion for political ends,” Belaid said.

The first article of Tunisia’s 2014 constitution that was adopted after its 2011 revolution, maintains that the country is “a free, independent, and sovereign state, Islam is its religion and Arabic is its language.”

The adoption of the draft constitution would therefore mark an unprecedented break between Islam and the state within Tunisia.

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