Tunisia: President says new constitution will remove reference to Islam as state religion

Tunisian President Kais Saied said on Tuesday that Islam will not be the “state religion” in the new constitution, which he will present to a referendum on 25 July.

“God willing, in the upcoming constitution for Tunisia, we will not talk about a state whose religion is Islam,” Saied told reporters at Tunis-Carthage International Airport, “but rather we will talk about a nation whose religion is Islam, and the nation is different from the state.”…

In an interview with Agence France-Presse on 6 June, the coordinator of the National Consultative Commission assigned to draft a constitution of the “New Republic” in Tunisia, Sadok Belaid, said that he would submit to Saied a draft that would not include any indication that Islam is the state religion. This is meant to confront the political parties with an Islamic frame of reference such as Ennahda Movement, and has caused controversy in the country.

The First Article of Chapter One of the General Principles of the 2014 Constitution stipulates that, “Tunisia is a free, independent, and sovereign state, Islam is its religion, Arabic is its language, and the republic is its system.”…

Kais Saied explained: “Rather we will talk about a nation whose religion is Islam, and the nation is different from the state.”

That distinction will be difficult to define and maintain. Saied seems to be saying that Tunisia will not be a Sharia state, and will not implement Islamic law in its fullness. But it will still be a significant presence. Despite that, however, he is certain to be charged with apostasy and worse.

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