TUNIS (Reuters) – The third-largest party in Tunisia’s constituent assembly, charged with writing a new constitution, yesterday proposed a draft document based on Islamic law which will likely alarm the country’s secularists.
The moderate Islamist Ennahda party won a 40 per cent share in the assembly, or 89 seats, in Tunisia’s first election since the ouster of Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali a year ago sparked the Arab Spring uprisings across the region.
The non-religious Conference for the Republic won 29 seats in the 217-seat assembly and Aridha Chaabia, or Popular List, came in third. Should the proposal win the support of more than 60 percent of parliamentarians, it would pass without a referendum.
Popular List said in a statement that its draft document “stipulates in its first article that Tunisia is a free, independent and sovereign country, Islam is its religion and the principal source of its legislation, Arabic is its language and its system is a republic”.
“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 proposal is certain to inflame political tensions in Tunisia, where secularists already fear that the Ennahda-led government will slowly Islamise Tunisian law and society.
Ennahda has sought to assure secularists that it has no intention of enforcing Islamic rules, but it has struggled to control more conservative Islamists who have been outspoken in their demands that religion play a greater role in public life.
Ennahda has yet to make clear its position on the role of religion in lawmaking and there appears to be splits within the organisation itself over an issue that could prove explosive in a country long considered one of the Arab world’s most liberal.
It was not clear however, if Ennahda would support the draft. Hachmi Hamdi, the head of the Popular List, was once a supporter of Ennahda but later fell out with the group. Its seats in the assembly were cancelled last year over campaign finance violations but were later reinstated. Critics complain that Hamdi, who is based in London, ran the election campaign from abroad and used a television station he owns to promote it.
Nevertheless, the proposal will put the Ennahda-led government in an awkward position where it risks angering more conservative members if it rejects naming sharia as a principal source of legislation but risks angering its secular coalition allies if it accepts the idea.
“The public that voted for us is a conservative public that wants Islamic sharia as a principal source of the constitution,” Hamdi told Reuters by phone from London.
“I also want to break this psychological barrier that has left some politicians afraid to declare their opinion that Islamic sharia should be a principal source of legislation.”