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A glance at Tunisia’s new charter

AFP-JIJI

The role of Islam

The Islamists from Ali Larayedh’s Ennahda party, which headed the outgoing government, renounced previous demands to enshrine Shariah Islamic law in the constitution. But the new document contains several references to religion, leaving certain parts open to interpretation.

The charter is written “in the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate,” and the first article defines Tunisia as a “free, independent and sovereign state, with Islam as its religion.”

Article 6, which guarantees “freedom of belief and conscience,” says the state forbids any “attacks on the sacred,” without elaborating. It also includes a ban on “calls to press charges for apostasy,” a demand of the secular opposition, and the head of state must be a Muslim.

Double-headed executive

Executive power will be split between the prime minister, who will have the dominant role and answers to parliament, and the president, who is directly elected by the people.

The prime minister will decide the “general policy of the state,” while the president will be responsible for “policies in the domains of defense, foreign relations and national security.”

The president will not be able to dismiss the government, but will be able to put it to a vote of no confidence in the assembly.

The constitution also defines the opposition as an “essential component” of the political process, and it will automatically be granted the presidency of the Finance Commission and the post of foreign relations rapporteur.

Rights and freedoms

The main innovation in the section dealing with rights and freedoms is the commitment to bringing about gender “parity in the elected assembly,” which will make Tunisia the only country in the Arab world to have that objective. The charter also recognizes gender equality “without discrimination” in Tunisia.

It also guarantees other key rights, including freedom of expression and association as well as a free press and the right to strike. Freedom of belief and conscience are also enshrined, although several lawmakers argued against them during the review.

But some NGOs have voiced concerns over the “subconstitutional” status given to international treaties, which they fear could pave the way for Tunisia’s noncompliance with its international human rights obligations.

The new constitution does not abolish the death penalty.