Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

In Constitution, Tunisia Favors Unity over Islamic Law

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

In Constitution, Tunisia Favors Unity over Islamic Law

Article excerpt

The Islamist party, Ennahda, appears to be making good on promises to preserve Tunisia's secular nature, forged under decades of authoritarian rule.

The announcement by Tunisia's governing Islamist party, Ennahda, that the country's post-revolution constitution would not mention Islamic law as a source of legislation signals a forceful break with ultraconservatives who have been demanding an Islamic state.

A drafting committee will preserve language in Tunisia's current Constitution that refers to Islam as the state's religion and Arabic as its language, according to Said Ferjani, a member of the political bureau of Ennahda, the Islamist party that leads Tunisia's government.

He and other Ennahda leaders framed the decision, announced Monday, as a bid to unify the country's disparate political factions during a delicate political transition. "There is a huge consensus within Ennahda. We have to show leadership," Mr. Ferjani said. "We want everyone to get involved."

The move by Ennahda contrasted sharply with the actions of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which has angered leftists, liberals and other groups in recent days with its handling of Egypt's Constitution. Lawmakers associated with the brotherhood's political wing and an ultraconservative Salafi party voted on Saturday to fill a panel that will write the constitution with Islamists, causing a walkout by members of several other parties.

The debates in Tunisia and Egypt seemed to mark a critical phase in the evolving political life of both countries, as Islamist parties, forced to grapple with fundamental questions about the very nature of the state, started to reveal their intentions, after decades of often-theoretical debate about how such parties would govern.

At the same time, the contrasting responses reflected distinct movements shaped by differing histories and emerging political realities. Ennahda governs in a coalition with other parties, while the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, along with Al Nour, the Salafi party, dominate the Egyptian Parliament. The Islamist parties in Egypt serve under a government backed by the country's military rulers.

In rejecting a mention of Islamic law, Ennahda appeared to be making good on promises to preserve Tunisia's secular nature, forged under decades of authoritarian rule. And it distanced itself from the ultraconservatives known as Salafis, whose calls to build the features of a religious state have been marked by huge demonstrations in recent days and attacks on alcohol use or films that the conservatives deem to be blasphemous. …

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