Tunisia: Islam will not be state religion, says Saied

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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.”

Saied received the new draft constitution on Monday that he is supposed to approve before the referendum. It will be held on the first anniversary of the president’s decision to control all executive powers in Tunisia.

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.

READ: Tunisia’s new Constitution to ‘remove reference to Islam’

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.”

The new constitution is supposed to replace the 2014 Constitution, which established an overlapping system that was a cause of frequent conflict between the executive and legislative authorities. Opposition and human rights organisations accuse Saied of seeking to pass a text that is being designed to suit his aspirations.

“The issue is not a presidential or parliamentary system,” explained the president when asked about the government system to be adopted by the new constitution. “What is important is that sovereignty is for the people, and the rest are functions, not authorities. There is the legislative function, the executive function and the judicial function; there is also a separation between functions.”

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