Rome (AsiaNews) - Ennahda, Tunisia' governing Islamist party, has decided not to recognise Sharia as the basis of legislation. Instead, the party that won power after the Arab spring swept away the Ben Ali regime has opted to keep the wording of the old constitution, which proclaims Islam as the state religion but does not include Sharia. If it wins this battle, Ennahda could become a model for other Arab countries, Islam expert Fr Samir Khalil Samir said.
Ultra-conservative Salafis have called for the introduction of Sharia. "This movement has been trying to influence Tunisian society for some time," Fr Samir said. "For example, for a month they have been able to force women at Manouba University to wear a headscarf. Last Sunday, 25 March, some 10,000 of them demonstrated in favour of Sharia as the basis of Tunisian legislation (pictured). They also said that they would continue with hundreds of thousands of people. We should remember that Tunisia is the most secular Arab country, with one of the highest levels of literacy. The 1959 constitution clearly separates the state from Islamic law. If the Salafist proposal should pass, it would be a total reversal."
For the Jesuit priest, by reasserting article 1, which says that Tunisia's "religion is Islam, its language is Arabic and its type of government is the Republic" without any place for Sharia, the government is moving towards a compromise.
Ennahda leader Rashid al-Ghannushi and party spokesman Ameur Larayed said that they do not want to divide the country. "Greater fundamentalist influence could lead to a break. It is fundamental that the constitution not include this element, Sharia, because it could open the door to all other extremisms," Fr Samir explained.
Having a state religion "is not a major issue. Every Arab country, except for Lebanon, recognises Islam as state religion. That was the case under Bourghiba. The current government has opted for a middle road. It will be significant if it wins the battle against Salafists. They may be politically motivated, but they are taking into account the fact that most intellectuals and many prominent Tunisians are secular and liberal. Therefore, this positive step could serve as a model for other Arab countries like Egypt and Syria. From a political and human perspective, it is a well thought out move."