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Sharia law to govern Tunisia under draft...

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Sharia law to govern Tunisia under draft constitution

Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Tunisia

Post-revolution Tunisia is moving in an increasingly Islamist direction with a draft constitution that denotes sharia as “the principal source of legislation”.

Tunisian-Constituent-Assembly-4X3.jpg
The National Constituent Assembly was elected in October 2011
Parti Mouvement Ennahdha / CC BY 2.0

Popular List, a party in coalition with the main Islamist party Ennahda, which took the largest share of the vote in the elections for the National Constituent Assembly in October, has been tasked with drawing up the country’s new constitution. On 20 February, it announced that in its draft, Islam is called “the principal source of legislation”.

Shortly after Ennahda’s election victory, in an apparent attempt to reassure secularists, leader Rachid Ghannouchi said that the first article of the constitution should remain unchanged.

It says, “Tunisia is a free State, independent and sovereign; its religion is Islam, its language is Arabic, and its form is the Republic.”

Ghannouchi said in November that the reference to Islam was “just a description of reality… without any legal implications. There will be no other references to religion in the constitution.”

Popular List founder Hachmi Hamdi said that the draft was more Islamic than expected because “the public that voted for us is a conservative public that wants sharia as the principal source of the constitution”.

The draft says:

Using Islamic sharia as a principal source of legislation will guarantee freedom, justice, social equality, consultation, human rights and the dignity of all its people, men and women.

The tenets of sharia are however incompatible with Western understanding of many of these concepts, as evidenced in other countries, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, that are based on Islamic principles.

Democratic rights denied

Key human rights, such as freedom of speech, are already under threat as Tunisia comes under increasing Islamist influence.

The broadcast of the French-Iranian film Persepolis, which features a cartoon depiction of God, sparked outrage; a mob of Islamists petrol-bombed the TV channel owner Nabil Karoui’s house. He is now on trial for blasphemy, having been accused of “violating sacred values” and “disturbing public order” in lawsuits filed by almost 140 lawyers. Mr Karoui is facing three to five years in prison if convicted.

Human Rights Watch called the trial “a disturbing turn for the nascent Tunisian democracy”, but Ghannouchi said that he supported Tunisians’ right “to denounce this attack on their religion.”

The direction in which Ennahda is leading Tunisia is not Islamic enough for the growing number of hard-line Salafists in the country. According to research by the French-based North African media outlet, Le Courrier de l’Atlas, there are an estimated 100,000 Salafist activists and sympathisers in Tunisia. They are targeting mosques and Quranic schools, and using various media, in an effort to increase support for their extremist agenda.

On 17 February, hundreds of Salafists rallied in Tunis, calling for Islamic law and shouting “Allahu Akbar” (“god is great”).

It appears that Western hopes that the revolution would lead to the establishment of a secular democracy in Tunisia are looking increasingly wishful.

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