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Why Tunisia ignored sharia law

November 29th, 2012
12:47 PM ET

By Samuel Burke, CNN

The Arab Spring countries of North Africa are struggling to balance their secular and Islamic roots, but the leader of Tunisia’s ruling party thinks he has the answer.

Rached Ghannouchi co-founded the Ennahda party, but only returned from 22 years in exile after Tunisia became the first country of the Arab Spring to oust its leader.

Secular Tunisians and national media have questioned how much sharia law would be enshrined in Tunisia’s new constitution, but Ghannouchi told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday that the problem has already been bypassed.

“There was some dispute about enshrining sharia,” he said, “that’s why we had to push away the controversy and we settled for what was said in the 1959 constitution about Tunisia as an Arab country.” 

While Islam has always been the main religion in Tunisia, politics have long been secular.

Ghannouchi said the status quo for dealing with Islam and the constitution is the path for Tunisia and hopes to have an election over the constitution by June of 2013.

Egypt is struggling through its own constitutional process, with mass street protests and clashes, but Tunisia so far has steered clear of similar instability.

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“The situations are different, even though the Egyptian society and the Tunisian society are somewhat similar, and that's why I believe that Egypt will reach the point of harmony.”

He told Amanpour that there will be no sharia or anti-blasphemy laws in the Tunisian constitution.

Rabbi Benjamin Hatab leads Tunisia’s main synagogue and said that Ghannouchi had reached out to the country’s Jewish community. "He declared that the country would not change and that the only difference would be that it would be more democratic than Ben Ali's Tunisia,” the Jewish leader told Ynet.

Women’s rights have been in place for women since the 1960s, and Ghannouchi said there will be a “reconfirmation” of this in the new constitution.

“There is no dispute now between Islamists and secularists about that matter, either,” he said. “We are keen on harmony and constitutions are built on what's agreed upon.”

Earlier this year, a video was posted on YouTube showing Ghannouchi meeting with Salafist leaders; the video went viral amid concerns about his allegiances.

Ghannouchi told Amanpour that he met with them to try to build an inclusive state: one that doesn’t leave more conservative parties out of the spectrum.

“I wanted to tell the Salafists that they must be - they must work under the law because the law will give them all the ability to form political parties, to work in societies, to work in mosques,” he said about the video. “What I wanted to do is to convince them to become part of the legal system, like other countries like us, like leftists or like radical groups in Germany or in Italy and Ireland, which left - which abandoned violence and now work under the law.”

But could Tunisia be nurturing Salafists that could become violent and want an Islamic state?

Ghannouchi has no fear of that happening.

“I'm not worried about that, not because I trust Salafists or any other group that wishes to control the society,” he said. “What I see is that the Tunisian society is a Muslim society, but a moderate one. That's why there is no hope for any radical group to control the Tunisian society, because it's a society which went through a revolution against dictatorship and will not allow any group like that, even in the name of a religion.”

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Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Egypt • Latest Episode • Tunisia
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Salman Husain

    Please get clear Arabic translators CNN you can afford it.

    November 29, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Reply
    • jimmy

      inte magnoon. How's that?

      November 29, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Reply
  2. eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    Enquato não ouver uma base de intendimento do presidente do Egito e a oposição o Egito irá continuar sempre com conflitos entre a sociadade civil e as forças da ordem agora que tem que resolver a crise politica do Egito são os politicos os lideres religiosos os juizes esta base pode e deve resolver a crise politica do Egito

    November 29, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Reply
  3. Larry-Craig

    Gannouchi lived in England for 22 years, he may learned how to be pragmatic and be open to other non religious groups, but I worry about the salafist who are rabid and want to limit other people freedom.
    These jerks remind me of the tea-party members in the US: do not work, on welfare, ignorant, no dental plan and misled!

    November 29, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Reply
    • Muhammad

      RE: Tea Party: Sorry Larry, we are not like that. We are educated and informed. It is the liberal leftists, who accommodate these salafist lunatics whom you should be afraid of. Remember, Ghannouchi says "Tunisian society is a muslim society". That ends all talk of equality. Christians have been oppressed in muslim lands for thousands of years. What have you done for the Christians?

      January 1, 2013 at 2:42 am | Reply
  4. dZeki

    Turks (and all other pathetic "Islamic leaders") have a lot to learn from Tunisians.

    November 29, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Reply
  5. Tunisian Woman

    Ms. Amanpour please get your facts right! Ghanouchi is far from being the father of the Arab Spring ... He was in London enjoying his freedom when the Tunisian People took the streets and toppled the dictatorship. So pleaaase! Respect the souls of those who died for that moment of freedom & dignity and do not give credit to people who did not do anything to deserve such recognition. Ghanouchi Is NOT the father of the Arab Spring or the Jasmine Revolution, he is an opportunistic politician who played his cards right and used his followers to get what he wants. Thanks!

    November 29, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Reply
  6. AmericanPeasant

    This is some good news. Makes me think that Tunisia might actually become a legit democracy. I think we should pay a little more attention to Tunisia because of this. With all the other Arab Spring nations basically forsaking their revolutions by either embracing islamic extremism, fighting bloody civil war, or having a new dictator, it's nice to see at least one of them trully wants to have a peaceful democratic nation. If even just Tunisia embraces peace and democracy then at least the Arab Spring will not have been in vain.. Once again Tunisia must lead the way for the others.

    December 3, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Reply

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