The man in charge of drafting the constitution, Sadok Belaid, resigned because he was unhappy with the draft

Tunisia: Saied backpedals in the face of criticism, corrects his proposed constitution

Tunisian President Kais Saied announced on the night of Friday the 8th to Saturday the 9th that he would modify at least two points of the text of the constitution proposed for referendum on 25 July. The decision came after harsh criticism from NGOs, the political opposition and the international arena. 

Kais Saied's proposal, which profoundly changes the Maghreb country, was questioned for being too presidentialist and for calling into question the separation of powers in Tunisia. Around 30 organisations such as the Tunisian League for Human Rights, the Tunisian Organisation against Torture and the National Union of Journalists denounced the authoritarian tendency of the draft and called for its withdrawal.

The modifications that Saied communicated focus essentially on two points. The first concerns the place of Islam, the country's majority religion, in the Magna Carta. In the 2014 Constitution, Islam appears in the first article and is defined as the religion of the state. The first draft of 2022 presented by Saied does not mention Islam until article 5, and in very different terms. 

PHOTO/REUTERS  -   Simpatizantes del mayor partido político de Túnez, el islamista Ennahda, marchan durante una manifestación en oposición al presidente Kais Saied

The 2014 constitution declares in its first article that 'Tunisia is a free, independent and sovereign state, Islam is its religion, Arabic its language and the Republic its regime'. While the new constitution states that "Tunisia is part of the Islamic Ummah, and the state alone must work to achieve the objectives of Islam while preserving the soul and honour". The 'Ummah' is the Arabic term mentioned in The Quran and Sahifat al-Madinah to refer to the global Muslim community. 

According to Amnesty International's allegations, this treatment remains highly ambiguous and could lead to percussions and discrimination against religions other than Islam. By moving towards an even more secular position than that proposed by Saied in the 30 June draft, Tunisia would move even further towards a state secularism never before seen in Arab countries. This places Saied's constitution at the forefront of the Arab world. 

AFP/FETHI BELAID  -  Sesión parlamentaria en la capital de Túnez

Secularism was always a strong point of Saied's proposal for Tunisia. The opposition in the country is led by the Islamist Ennahda party, which won first place in the last elections and is supported by Turkey and Qatar. 

According to Saied's statement, the second point that is open to amendment is article 55, which affects the rights and freedoms of the Tunisian people. According to the article, many individual rights of Tunisian citizens could be altered or suppressed on various grounds relating to state security or public order. Human rights NGOs in Tunisia raised their alarm about these provisions, which Saied is now willing to amend. 

Saied's gesture may have a positive effect on the 25 July referendum. Instead of appearing inflexible and unresponsive to the voices of protest, the professor of constitutional law wanted to be close to human rights organisations, to whom he has listened. On the other hand, the changes made could go against the interests of the Islamist party Ennahda, which is in the midst of a crisis following the indictment of its leadership in a terrorism case for the murder in 2013 of two socialist politicians during the government of Hamadi Jebali. 

Members close to Saied said on television that if the constitution is not approved in a referendum, Saied would leave power and possibly politics, which leaves several scenarios open in Tunisia. If the proposal does not pass, Tunisia could be back to square one in 2011.

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