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TUNIS: Lawyer Sadok Belaïd, who is in charge of drafting a new constitution in Tunisia, told AFP on Monday that he would present to the head of state a draft charter removed from any reference to Islam to fight the Islamist-inspired parties like Ennahdha.

The first article of the current constitution, adopted with great fanfare in 2014, three years after the fall of the dictatorship of Zine El Abidine ben Ali, states, like the 1959 Charter, that Tunisia “is a free, independent and sovereign state, Islam is its religion, Arabic its language and the Republic its regime “.

Sadok Belaïd’s remarks are likely to provoke a lively debate in a country with a strong secular tradition, but where several Islamist-inspired parties have played a leading role since the 2011 uprising that overthrew the Ben Ali regime.

Appointed on 20 May to chair the “National Advisory Commission for a New Republic” responsible for drafting a new constitution, Mr Belaïd announced that he would submit the draft validation to President Kais Saied by 15 May. a referendum will be presented, a hearing announced for July 25th.

“80% of Tunisians are against extremism and against the use of religion for political purposes. That is exactly what we want to do by simply deleting Article 1 in its current form,” the lawyer said in an interview with AFP.

Asked if this meant that the new constitution would not contain any reference to Islam, he replied: “it will not be”.

“There is a possibility that we will delete Article 1 in its current version. We may well refrain from mentioning any religion.”

Dirty hands»

According to Mr. Belaïd, the suppression of any reference to Islam aims to fight the parties of Islamist inspiration, especially Ennahdha, the main force in parliament dissolved by Mr. Saied.

“If you use religion to practice political extremism, then we will ban it,” continued the 83-year-old academic, who claims to have “a very large and very deep friendship and closeness” with Mr Saied, whom he had had as A student.

“We have political parties with dirty hands, and whether you like it or not, French or European Democrats, we will not accept dirty people in our democracy,” he said.

According to him, “Ennahdha and other parties are henchmen of several foreign forces or powers or states or ministries who have a lot of money that they want to spend, that they want and that they use to intervene in the affairs of the country.”. “It’s treason.”

After months of political blockade, Mr Saied, democratically elected at the end of 2019, took full power on 25 July 2021 by dismissing the Prime Minister and suspending the parliament dominated by Ennahdha, his pet, before dissolving it in March.

Temptations of dictatorship»

In a roadmap to end the crisis, Mr Saied announced a referendum on a new constitution on 25 July 2022 before the parliamentary elections on 17 December.

The Commission, led by Mr Belaïd, is working to develop the new constitution through a “national dialogue” launched on Saturday, but from which the main parties have been excluded.

Invited to this dialogue, the powerful Tunisian trade union center UGTT, a key player on the political scene, refused to participate.

“We invite you, the door is open. If you do not want, the train will run on time,” Mr Belaïd told the UGTT address.

Mr. Saied calls for a “more presidential” regime instead of the hybrid system introduced in 2014 and a source of recurring conflicts between the executive and the legislature.

“The president can have greater powers, or maybe more useful powers. He only had blocking power, and that’s very bad. The president is the captain. He’s the admiral. So he must have not only the power to brake, but the power to train. .. in moderation, ”said the lawyer.

Nevertheless, the new government must be designed in such a way that the president is not “driven or attracted by temptations from dictatorship, tyranny or abuse of power”.

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