Ennahda eases sharia fears
TUNIS | 11/6/2011 12:00:00 AM |
The recent winner of Tunisia’s polls, the Islamist Ennahda party, has promised to essentially leave religious references out of planned changes to the North African country’s charter as it seeks to ease secularist fears
Tunisia’s Islamist-led government will focus on democracy, human rights and a free-market economy in planned changes to the constitution, effectively leaving religion out of the text it will draw up, party leaders said.
The government, due to be announced next week, will not introduce sharia or other Islamic concepts to alter the secular nature of the constitution in force when Tunisia’s Arab Spring revolution ousted autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January.
“We are against trying to impose a particular way of life,” Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi, 70, a lifelong Islamist activist jailed and exiled under previous regimes, told Reuters. Tunisian and foreign critics of Ennahda, the moderate Islamist party that won 41.7 percent of Tunisia’s first free election on Oct. 23, have voiced fears it would try to impose religious principles on this relatively secular Muslim country. Ghannouchi models his approach on the moderate stance of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan.
“All parties agreed to keep the first article of the current constitution which says Tunisia’s language is Arabic and its religion is Islam…There will be no other references to religion in the constitution. We want to provide freedom for the whole country,” said the Islamist leader, who will not take any official role in the new government. The new constitution is due in about a year.
“There shouldn’t be any law to try to make people more religious,” said Ghannouchi, whose party has pledged to continue to allow alcohol and Western dress here and pursue economic policies favoring tourism, foreign investment and employment.
The Islamist leader said he interprets sharia, the ill-defined and often confusing complex of Islamic teachings and laws, as a set of moral values for individuals and societies rather than a strict code to be applied to a country’s legal system. “Egypt says sharia is the main source of its law, but that didn’t prevent (deposed President Hosni) Mubarak from being a dictator,” he said, noting the explicit reference to sharia in Cairo’s constitution.
Samir Ben Amor, a leader of the secularist Congress for the Republic party due to join a coalition with Ennahda and another non-religious party, agreed there was no dispute about maintaining the brief reference to Islam in the first article. Meanwhile, Ennahda has been credited with an additional seat in the 217-member constituent assembly, taking its tally to 91 from 90. The Tunis administrative court reversed the result of the vote in Medenine, some 500 kilometers south of the capital, giving it to Ennahda instead of a small Arab nationalist party, the Progressive Unionist People’s Movement.
Compiled from Reuters and AFP stories by the Daily News staff.