Tunisia opposition thwarts Ennahda efforts to constitutionalise Islamic Council
TUNIS - The Commission on Constitutional Bodies at the Tunisian National Constituent Assembly voted on Tuesday against the draft law on enshrining the Higher Islamic Council into the Constitution.
After a tied vote, President of the Commission Jamel Ettouir made the difference by voting against the bill.
"We will keep only five constitutional bodies for independent elections, media, human rights, sustainable development, and rights of future generations, good governance and fight against corruption," Ettouir said.
Members of the commission opted for the vote because of the lack of consensus around this draft law.
"Enshrining this bill in the new constitution is designed to protect Tunisian youth from the new wave of fatwa (religious edict) and religious currents coming from the East," some of the bill's advocates from Ennahda party said.
However, opponents believed that the constitutionalisation of the council may render Islam a static religion.
In a country polarized between secularists and Islamists, the recent statements and positions of Ennahda senior leaders and supporters appear to reinforce deep-seated fears among some segments of the Tunisian society that the so-called line between Tunisia’s moderate and extremist Islamists is an artificial one and that the terms “Ennahda” and “Salafists” are interchangeable.
Opinion polls have shown that Ennahda’s popularity has plummeted by more than 30% amid rising unemployment and the party’s perceived failure to deliver on its electoral promises.
Last month’s attack on the US embassy in Tunis by angry mobs protesting an anti-Islam film has done little to rejuvenate Tunisia’s vital tourism sector or to allay foreign investors’ fears.
The growing popularity of a new secular party, Nidaa Tounes, led by veteran politician and former Tunisian Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi has also seen Ennahda struggling to secure its conservative base.
The first article of the now-suspended Tunisian Constitution decreed Islam the national faith, and 98 percent of the country’s 10.6 million inhabitants are Muslim. Public schools dispense religious instruction. Yet religious leaders have never played a role in government.
Habib Bourguiba, the father of Tunisian independence and the country’s first president, was a secularist who banned polygamy, and legalized abortion.
Ennahda has pledged to maintain Bourguiba’s social reforms. Party leaders compare Ennahda to Turkey’s Islamic ruling party. Other Tunisian Islamist groups have rejected Ennahda as being too secular, and many analysts consider the party to be distinctly moderate.