Tunisia, Egypt Islamists signal bigger religion role (REUTERS) By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor PARIS, FRANCE 02/23/12 11:35am EST)
Reuters News Service
Reuters News Service Articles-Index-Top
PARIS (Reuters)- After months of reassuring secularist critics,
Islamist politicians in Tunisia and Egypt have begun to lay down
markers about how Muslim their states should be - and first signs
show they want more religion than previously admitted.
Islamist parties swept the first free elections in both countries in
recent months after campaigns that stressed their readiness to work
with the secularists they struggled with in the Arab Spring revolts
against decades-long dictatorships.
With political deadlines looming, a key Tunisian party in the
constituent assembly and the head of Egypt´s influential Muslim
Brotherhood both made statements this week revealing a stronger
emphasis on Islam in government.
Popular List, the party tasked with writing Tunisia´s new
constitution, announced on Monday its draft called Islam "the
principle source of legislation" - a phrase denoting laws based on
the sharia moral and legal code.
On Tuesday, Egyptian Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie said his group
wanted a president with "an Islamic background." That term is vague,
but not as vague as the conciliatory "consensus candidate" talk heard
from most parties until now.
Secularists in both countries warned voters against trusting the
Islamists and these subtle changes could have come straight from a
secularist playbook on how Islamists would gradually insert more
religion into the political and legal systems.
TAKING GHANNOUCHI AT HIS WORD
Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the largest party ennahda and a leading
reformist Muslim thinker during his years in London exile, reassured
secularists last year by agreeing with them that the first article of
Tunisia´s constitution should remain unchanged.
The article, which said Tunisia´s language was Arabic and religion
Islam, was "just a description of reality ... without any legal
implications, he told Reuters in November. "There will be no other
references to religion in the constitution."
In the draft constitution, Islam is described as Tunisia´s
religion "and the principal source of its legislation."
"Using Islamic sharia as a principle source of legislation will
guarantee freedom, justice, social equality, consultation, human
rights and the dignity of all its people, men and women," it says.
Mentioning sharia means all laws must be consistent with Islam, a
condition found in many constitutions in Muslim countries. This can
be interpreted broadly, or strictly if those vetting the legislation
impose a narrow reading of Islam.
Reaction in Tunis to the draft has been muted so far because
Ghannouchi is planning a news conference on Thursday where he will
probably have to declare Ennahda´s position on it.
Hachmi Hamdi, who supported Ennahda before forming Popular List, said
the draft was more Islamic than expected because "the public that
voted for us is a conservative public that wants sharia as the
principle source of the constitution."
EGYPTIAN PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS
In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has decided not to present its own
candidate for the presidential election due in June and argued until
now that it wanted a candidate acceptable to all.
Even Emad Abdel Ghaffour, head of the leading Salafi Islamist Nour
Party, told this to Reuters two weeks ago. He said the sharia mention
in Egypt´s constitution should be retained without being tightened,
as more hardline Salafis have urged.
But Badie told the daily newspaper of the Brotherhood´s Freedom and
Justice Party on Tuesday that "the candidate must have an Islamic
"It´s clear now the Brotherhood are willing to throw their weight
into the ring ...to support someone who is in line with Islamic
values and is sympathetic to Islamic law," said Shadi Hamid, an
expert on Islamist groups based at the Brookings Doha Center. "That
will have major implications for the race."
Badie´s comments seemed to rule out Brotherhood support for Amr
Moussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister and Arab League secretary
general seen as one of the frontrunners.
Lying between the two countries, Libya is also transforming its
political system after ousting Muammar Gaddafi but has not yet held
elections or begun work on a new constitution.
The chairman of the ruling National Transitional Council, Mustafa
Abdul Jalal, has said Tripoli would take sharia as the source for its
laws. Hundreds of Libyan Muslim Brothers and Salafists rallied last
month to demand sharia law. (© Thomson Reuters 2012. 02/23/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY