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[LISTEN] Tunisia’s New Constitution Devoid of any Reference to Islam

Jun 09, 2022

Umm Muhammed Umar

On The Media Lens this week, Radio Islam discussed the rewriting of Tunisia’s Constitution with Ebrahim Deen. The man charged by President Kais Saied, with rewriting Tunisia’s constitution, said on Monday that he would present a draft which was stripped of any reference to Islam, claiming he wanted to prevent ‘political extremism’.

Deen said that it’s been almost a year now  that Kais Saied had grabbed power. Kais Saied had expelled the parliament, and stripped the immunity of Parliamentarians. He had also consolidated control over the over the judiciary – he dismissed 60 judges a few days ago – in a bid to restructure the political system. Deen said, “Saied has become increasingly authoritarian and the greatest threat to Kais Saied is actually political Islam. Deen said that this was an attempt to undermine Nahda. He explained, “all Arab constitutions generally have it that Arabic is the language, Islamic is the religion,” but that Arab countries desiring Western support were trying to remove this.

Deen said that rewriting Tunisia’s Constitution was sad, as it was one of the most progressive in the Arab world, and had taken three years to negotiate; Kais Saied’s power grab is seeing the constitution now being drafted by just one individual. Meanwhile, the media has not linked Islam to Nahda, which, according to Deen is the biggest issue regarding the reason for removing any reference to Islam.  He said, “specifically in relation to Western media, there’s no acknowledgement that this is an attempt to gain support from Western governments, or his power grab, because increasingly, many are seeing his rule as authoritarian, and a good way to change this is to try and get support.”

Staying with media coverage of this development, Deen said that Tunisia is a very secular society and we can see the culmination between leftism and authoritarianism, specifically in the region, and the media unfortunately has not necessarily picked up on this: “You appeal to secular.” Deen said that this shows how the tide has turned because of authoritarianism. He cited the example of Egypt, where, “it’s illegal to be part of the Muslim Brotherhood; in the UAE, you probably will get arrested, in Saudi Arabia as well. It shows how these authoritarians have managed to consolidate control and actually disempower, specifically, democratic political Islam.” He added that political Islam was not necessarily going to simply disappear, but would be forced to move underground, which would empower the ‘more militant aspects’. This is an indication of how politics shapes society, and how many of the political leaders don’t want overall inclusive processes.

Deen said that while Rachid Ghannouchi, the founder of the Tunisian Ennahda movement, and one of the most prominent Islamic thinkers in Tunisia, had been very critical of the event, many of the Islamist parties had taken a different path and were very conciliatory. He said that the belief is that Islamist parties, when they had power, should have actually been a lot stronger. He further said that there has been a lack of focus on economics in the Islamist parties. Ennahda has managed to create a coalition with other political parties. But the failure for economic transformation meant that, “many just want jobs and food and are not really worried about whether it’s a political Islamist party, or whether it’s an authoritarian party.” this, essentially, was the bigger issue. Deen said that while Ghannouchi was influential, his influence was limited by the fact that he was more influential, now, outside of Tunisia, than amongst the political elite and the people on the ground.



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