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Tunisia will abandon Islam as its state religion in new draft constitution 

Tunisia to abandon Islam as state religion in new draft constitution

  • Tunisian president announces new constitution without Islam as official religion
  • President Kais Saied fired the government and seized far-reaching powers
  • There is a heated debate as to whether the movement intended to consolidate is power?
  • A referendum on the new constitution will be held on July 25 next month

Tunisian President Kais Saied confirmed on Tuesday that a draft constitution to be submitted to a referendum on July 25 will not enshrine Islam as the “religion of the state.”

The move is part of his efforts to reform the political system in Tunisia, which is accused of being corrupt and chaotic, but it is also seen as a maneuver to sideline rival Islamist parties.

“Tunisia’s next constitution will not mention a state with Islam as its religion, but of belonging to an umma (community) that has Islam as its religion,” he told reporters at Tunis airport.

“The umma and the state are two different things.”

Saied took delivery of the draft on Monday, an important step in his drive to overhaul the Tunisian state after he fired the government and seized sweeping powers to rule by decree last July in moves that opponents called a coup.

Sadeq Belaid, the legal expert who headed the editorial committee, told AFP in an interview this month that he would remove all references to Islam from the new document in a challenge to Islamist parties.

Tunisian President Kais Saied confirmed on Tuesday that a draft constitution to be submitted to a referendum on July 25 will not enshrine Islam as the 'religion of the state'

Tunisian President Kais Saied confirmed on Tuesday that a draft constitution to be submitted to a referendum on July 25 will not enshrine Islam as the ‘religion of the state’

Saied spoke to the press at Tunis-Carthage International Airport as he bid farewell to the future Hajj pilgrims before their departure to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj pilgrimage

Saied spoke to the press at Tunis-Carthage International Airport as he bid farewell to the future Hajj pilgrims before their departure to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj pilgrimage

Constitutional lawyer Sadeq Belaid hands Saied a draft of the new constitution.  Belaid said he would remove all references to Islam from the new document in a challenge to Islamist parties

Constitutional lawyer Sadeq Belaid hands Saied a draft of the new constitution. Belaid said he would remove all references to Islam from the new document in a challenge to Islamist parties

His comments, which in part refer to Saied’s nemesis Ennahdha, an Islamist-inspired party that 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 her religion and Arabic is her language’.

The 2014 document was the product of a hard-won compromise between Ennahdha and its secular rivals, three years after the uprising that toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

The new text, which came about through a “national dialogue” that excludes the opposition and is boycotted by the powerful trade union federation UGTT, is to be approved by Saied by the end of June before being presented to voters on July 25.

That comes a year after the former constitutional law professor sacked the government and later consolidated his power grab by dissolving parliament and seizing control of the judiciary.

Thousands of Tunisians protested the referendum in the capital this weekend.

His steps have been welcomed by some Tunisians who are tired of the corrupt and often chaotic post-revolutionary system, but others have warned that he is returning the country to an autocracy.

Thousands of Tunisians protested the referendum in the capital this weekend.

Thousands of Tunisians protested the referendum in the capital this weekend.

Tunisian protesters chant slogans against President Kais Saied and upcoming constitutional referendum to be held on July 25

Tunisian protesters chant slogans against President Kais Saied and upcoming constitutional referendum to be held on July 25

Many are supporters of the Islamist party Ennahda, which dominates Tunisian politics but threatens to be pushed aside by the new constitution.  Others simply protested Saied's abolition of powers reminiscent of deposed dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali

Many are supporters of the Islamist party Ennahda, which dominates Tunisian politics but threatens to be pushed aside by the new constitution. Others simply protested Saied’s abolition of powers reminiscent of deposed dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali

Saied has long advocated a presidential system that avoids the frequent deadlock seen under the mixed parliamentary-presidential system.

Asked about that issue on Tuesday, he said: “Whether the system is presidential or parliamentary is not the question.

What matters is that the people have sovereignty. There is the legislative function, the executive function and the judicial function, and the separation between them.’

The powerful union UGTT also refused to participate in the talks on the new constitution, saying the outcome was already set. Only a few experts and minor parties took part in the talks.

Sources told Reuters that the draft will include some chapters of the 2014 constitution, particularly on freedoms, while the main focus will be on economics.

They added that the draft proposes a system with a powerful president appointing the prime minister.

Under the 2014 constitution, which enjoyed broad support, parliament had a major role and was able to withdraw government confidence. The winning party in the parliamentary elections appointed a prime minister to form the government.

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