Is it a good thing: Tunisia expert drafting new constitution says no reference to Islam?

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Tunis (AFP) – The legal expert charged with rewriting Tunisia’s constitution said Monday he would present President Kais Saied with a draft stripped of any reference to Islam, in order to confront Islamist parties.

The first article of a constitution adopted three years after the North African country’s 2011 revolution says it is “a free, independent and sovereign state, Islam is its religion and Arabic is its language”.

But Sadeq Belaid, the legal expert appointed last month to head the committee drafting the new constitution, told AFP that “80 percent of Tunisians are against extremism and against the use of religion for political ends”.

“That’s exactly what we want to do, simply by erasing Article 1 in its current form,” he said in an interview.

Belaid, 83, confirmed there would be no reference to Islam in the draft, which will be presented to Saied ahead of a planned July 25 referendum.

Sadeq Belaid, the legal expert appointed last month to head a committee to draft a new constitution, said the new document would contain no reference to Islam FETHI BELAID AFP

‘Parties with dirty hands’

The document is at the heart of Saied’s unilaterally announced roadmap for rebuilding Tunisia’s political system, after he sacked the government last July and later dissolved parliament, in moves described by rivals as a coup.

Belaid’s comments are likely to spark heated debate in the Muslim-majority country, which has a strong tradition of secularism, but where Islamist-inspired parties such as Saied’s arch-rival Ennahdha have played a major role since the 2011 revolution.

Belaid said he wanted to take those parties on.

“If you use religion to engage in political extremism, we will not allow that,” he said. “We have political parties with dirty hands. Whether you like it or not, French or European democrats, we won’t accept these dirty people in our democracy.”

He accused Ennahdha and others of being “backed by foreign powers, states or mini-states with lots of money to spend, and who use it to interfere in this country’s business. That’s treason.”

Belaid, a constitutional law professor who once taught Saied, now heads the president’s “National Consultative Commission for a New Republic”.

As well as redrafting the constitution, the commission is charged with leading a “national dialogue” which began Saturday and excludes political parties.

The powerful UGTT trade union confederation was invited but it questioned the dialogue’s legitimacy, saying its outcomes have already been determined, and refused to take part.

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