Tunisian President Kais Saied has confirmed that a draft constitution to be put to a referendum on July 25 will not enshrine Islam as the “religion of the state.” This comes after years of debate and deliberation on the role of Islam in Tunisia, which saw the Jasmine Revolution in 2011 and eventually led to the ousting of longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Tunisian President Kais Saied announced that the decision was made to “turn the page” on years of debate and divisions over the role of Islam in Tunisia. The new constitution will instead state that Tunisia is a “civil state.”
The decision is part of his efforts to improve Tunisia’s political system, which has been labeled corrupt and chaotic. It has also been interpreted as a strategy to sideline competing Islamist groups.
‘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.
‘The umma and the state are two different things.’
The announcement has been met with mixed reactions from Tunisians, with some seeing it as a positive step forward for the country and others expressing concerns that it could lead to further divisions. There is also worry that the lack of clarity on the role of Islam in the constitution could lead to challenges down the line.
The draft constitution would be submitted without any reference to religion to weaken the influence of Islamist parties even further. “The first article will be amended, which says Tunisia is a free, independent, and sovereign state, Islam is its religion, and Arabic is its language,.”
Tunisia’s Islamic Ennahdha Party considers any attempt to delete or minimize the role of Islam…as aggression against Tunisian identity. The party called on Tunisians to protect their religion.
The July 25 referendum will be the first test of public opinion on the new constitution, and it is unclear at this point how Tunisians will vote. What is clear, however, is that the issue of religion in Tunisia is far from settled.
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