02/11/2014, 00.00
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Tunis: Arab world's most modern constitution comes into effect

The new charter does not recognise Islam as state religion nor Sharia as a source of legislation. It guarantees religious freedom, especially freedom of conscience (including the possibility of converting from one religion to another). Although it protects the sacred, it bans apostasy. Every citizen, man or woman, is equal under the law. Reconciling the country's secular tradition and Arab-Islamic heritage was not easy.

Tunis (AsiaNews) - Tunisia's new constitution came into effect yesterday after it was adopted in late January, nearly three years after the events that led to the Arab Spring and the fall of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

For two years, the Constituent Assembly worked on the new charter, one of the most modern in the Arab world.

Tunisia's new dispensation tries to reconcile its long-established secular tradition with its Arab- Islamic heritage.

Copies of the charter were printed by the state publisher, and have been available in bookshops as an elegant red booklet as of Monday evening.

The compromise between secularism and Islam was hard to work out, especially in the preamble and in some articles.

In the preamble, Tunisia claims both the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the Arab-Islamic tradition as its inspiration.

One important fact in a country where 98 per cent of the population is Muslim is that Islam is not declared state religion, nor is Sharia considered a source of legislation.

Significantly, Article 6 states that "The state protects religion. It guarantees freedom of conscience, of faith and of worship".

This means not only that religious worship and practice are protected, as they previously were, but that people can now change their religion.

This is a major step forward made possible by the Arab spring in an Arab country with a Muslim majority.

In addition, Article 6 goes on to say that the state "protects the sacred" but at the same time "The accusation of apostasy and the call for violence are forbidden".

The constitution guarantees all citizens the same rights and responsibilities and establishes perfect equality between men and women.

To prevent graft and corruption, like under Ben Ali, the new constitution requires that all political leaders publicly declare their assets and possessions (Article 11).

According to some analysts, the synthesis of Islamic and secular elements contains internal contradictions that will eventually emerge in society.

The new constitution was drafted bit by bit in a sometimes acrimonious debate that saw violence break out between the secularist opposition and Islamists from the ruling Ennahda party.

Overall, Tunisians appear happy with the result. For the past few days, neighbourhood celebrations have been held to hail the new constitution.

Both Muslim fundamentalists and secularists have come together, united by their "unique Tunisian identity."

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