Tunisian President Kais Saied confirmed Tuesday that a draft constitution to be put to a referendum on July 25 will not enshrine Islam as the ‘religion of the state.’ ‘The next constitution of Tunisia won’t mention a state with Islam as its religion, but of belonging to a community which has Islam as its religion,’ he told journalists.
Daily Mail Sadeq Belaid, the legal expert who headed the drafting committee, had told AFP in an interview this month that he would remove all reference to Islam from the new document in a challenge to Islamic extremist parties.
His comments, partly referring to Saied’s nemesis Ennahdha, a Muslim Brotherhood-inspired party which has dominated Tunisian politics since 2011, sparked a heated national debate. The first article of Tunisia’s 2014 constitution – and its 1959 predecessor – defined the North African country as ‘a free, independent and sovereign state. Islam is its religion and Arabic is its language.’
Thousands of Tunisians protested against this referendum in the capital over the weekend.
The new text, produced through a ‘national dialogue’ excluding opposition forces is meant to be approved by Saied by the end of June before being put to voters on July 25. That is a year after the former constitutional law professor sacked the government, later consolidating his power grab by dissolving parliament and seizing control of the judiciary.