Tunisia – Islam will no longer be the official state religion in Tunisia should the new constitution be passed. There is a sense that the constitution will be passed even though Tunisia is a Muslim majority country.
It has been one year since the coup took place. Under the rule of President Kais Saied, Tunisia has turned into an authoritarian country. Ebrahim Deen, Afro-Middle East Centre (AMEC) researcher, explained this new development does not come as a surprise due to how the country is being run.
“It doesn’t come as a surprise. We’ve seen this move coming. The state has become increasingly authoritarian. They have been suspending judges, controlling the media and now they are arresting very big party officials.”
The reasons behind this new constitution
Islamophobia is on the rise globally. Deen believes Tunisia is moving to pass this new constitution in an attempt to garner international support they have lost because of their authoritarian stance.
“Islamophobia is rampant internationally and globally. The argument or the belief is that by saying things like this and excluding Islam from the constitution you’ll be able to get international support even though you’re authoritarian.”
Tunisia is one of the most secular countries in the Middle East. It is the only country that celebrates its weekend on Saturday and Sunday. This move is an attempt to appeal to the secular opposition, said Deen.
“We’ve seen this in counter-revolutionary states where the leftists and the secularists all join together because of this perceived fear of the Islamists. It’s a political move not necessarily bound in reality.”
One of the biggest points made is that the current constitution is one of the most progressive in the world. It protects people’s rights and religions. There is no reason for changing the constitution in any way and this further proves Deen’s point that the change is only being made to garner international support.
“The constitution is very strong and generalised. Very strong religious rights … There’s no need for changing anything in the constitution. It protects freedom of religion, it protects gender, it protects a whole lot of issues that most other constitutions don’t. This is actually a setback. It shows how the authoritarians aim to consolidate power by actually using the Islamophobia present globally and internationally to try and position themselves in a way that would allow them to maintain support from these European countries.”
The reaction of the Tunisian people
For a majority Muslim country, one would expect there to be some outrage about the new constitution. Since Tunisia is a very secular country, Deen would not be surprised if there are people who support this new constitution. Furthermore, it is likely the vote will be manipulated given the current political climate.
“In these dictatorial countries either the vote is manipulated or there’s this illusion. We’ve seen this in Tunisia. There’ll just be no one to vote and the people who vote would vote yes. It’s likely to pass even though there may be this rumbling disagreement with the constitution itself.”
The bigger issue for Deen is the economy. It is more likely that the state of the economy will force people to break the regime rather than a spiritual or Islamic reason.
The coming weeks will be important to see if the constitution passes and what reaction it will produce.