Tunisia’s Leading Party Reaffirms Commitment to Arab-Muslim Identity

By Carolyn Lamboley | Mar 26 2012 Share on Linkedin Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Share on pinterest Print

Tags: Arab ,Arab Islamic identity ,Campaign ,Constitution ,identity ,

Role of religion in Tunisia's constitution has been an ongoing debate

Yesterday, the Islamist party Ennahda declared on national evening television that it would keep intact Article 1 of the 1959 Tunisian Constitution.

Article 1 of Tunisia's first constitution explicitly states that Tunisia is a free, sovereign, and independent state, whose religion is Islam, language is Arabic, and regime is republic.

Ennahda holds 89 – or over 40% – of the 217 seats in the National Constituent Assembly, elected on October 23, 2011. Since its election, the Constituent Assembly has been working on drafting a new constitution from scratch. On December 10, 2011, the law organizing public powers was passed, granting a provisional working constitution until the new constitution is passed and ratified.

The debate surrounding the role of religion is becoming increasingly divisive, and is seen as stalling the drafting of the new constitution.

Zoubair Chhoudi, spokesperson of Ennahda, confirmed that his party's political bureau undertook the decision as a response to the increasing division the issue is causing. We felt it incumbent upon us to undertake an action that will unite Tunisians – not further divide them. The recognition of Tunisia as an Arab-Muslim state is more than enough to reinforce the country's identity.

Chhoudi also recalled that, This is a campaign promise that Ennahda made. There is no need to politicize identity issues – it is dangerous.

When questioned on the possible ramifications of this decision on the party's level of cohesion within the Constituent Assembly, Chhoudi asserted that, The highest legislative body within Ennahda has made this decision, but there will always be different opinions. The movement to include Shariaa in the constitution is a national, cultural one that is bound to impact the internal workings of any party.

Abderraouf Ayadi, secretary general of the center-left Congress for the Republic (CPR) party and a member of the Constituent Assembly, said that Ennahda's decision converged well with the CPR's platform. We are in agreement with the decision. A constitution bypasses any transitional phase and is here to stay. As long as the identity of the country is Arab-Muslim, the article remains accurate and relevant.

Ayadi also hailed the decision as one that could potentially prevent the abuse of religion for political gains. Prophet Mohammed used politics for religion. Now we are afraid that some will use religion for politics – especially when the goals aren’t always clear, he said.

This decision came in a very delicate political context, as an ongoing debate over the place of religion in post-revolutionary Tunisian society and government continues to evolve.

The past two weeks alone have seen several demonstrations, some calling for the implementation of Shariaa, law based on the Koran and other Muslim holy writings, in the constitution, and others calling for a civil state. On March 16, over 4,000 demonstrators descended on the National Constituent Assembly calling for Shariaa. On March 20, Independence Day, Avenue Bourguiba was a sea of red and white with up to 15,000 protesters calling for a civil state. On Avenue Bourguiba yesterday, March 25, Salafist protesters again gathered to call for Shariaa law as the principal and sole source of judicial inspiration that is recognized in the constitution.

It is arguable though whether maintaining the current structure of Article 1 will necessarily exclude the mention of Shariaa in other parts of the constitution.

Zied Krichen, journalist and editor-in-chief at the Tunisian daily Al Maghreb, described Article 1 of the 1956 Tunisian Constitution as descriptive, rather than prescriptive or normative. In this article, it is admitted that the ha (possessive affix) in dinuha (religion) refers to Tunisia, and not the Tunisian State, he explained.


Article co-written by Wafa Ben Hassine.

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    “Since its election, the Constituent Assembly has been working on drafting a new constitution from scratch”. Scratch? a few lines above we read “…would keep intact Article 1 of the 1959 Tunisian Constitution”. The drafting of the constitution is far from being from scratch, and I would say that the Constituent Assembly have all the material it needs to perform its job and that much of this material is ready to use without any need for any kind of modification.

    Both Government and Oppostion are doing their best to sell us their presumed truth that the Assembly is doing an epic job, well this is a big lie. They are engaging in futile and time consuming debates, and I seriously wonder if these representatives are really aware that they are paid from the pockets of people who bearly could afford to buy a loaf of bread.

    What matters is not the content of the constitution but how to implement it. I would reiterate what I wrote in a previous comment: had the 1959 constitution been fairly implemented, no one would have suffered in this country.

    • I agree Nasri “had the 1959 constitution been fairly implemented, no one would have suffered in this country”. Unfortunately Tunisia had two dictators serving their own interests and thye employed a legion of corrupt individuals to screw the country. Let us hope this time we have some more honest politicians. It seems good so far. Who could have imagined a human rights activist as president some two or three years ago.

    • Its been barely 5 months since the new government started to function. And they have to deal with the mess left over by more than 50 years of dictatorship. I dont know why people complain about lack of change. What do you seriously expect? Tunisia does not have the oil money like other Arab countries to turn around its economy in a matter of months. There will be change for the better in Tunisia but as long as Tunisians dont suffocate its elected government by complaining all the time and let it work for once.

  1. agreed and of course Mubarak had a constitution explicitly mentioning Sharia whereas he was the worst of criminals persecuting muslims. It is actions not workds tho be fair to the Government they are trying not to get drawn into the petty squabbles of the fundamentalist secularists and salafis. It is a difficult line to walk