Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock, Tick... Tock, everyone has been waiting for you, for weeks now, as the experts in charge of writing you, in an advisory capacity, have been making our mouths water and distilling hints here and there about your content, in view of the referendum to which you will be submitted on 25 July, one year after the dissolution of Parliament by President Saied.
Some are already eager to read you and others are already skeptical and against it and are yelling from all the prophets and saints that you are against God himself and that you are opening the door to all excesses outside the Muslim religion and are already preparing to boycott you and Tunisia entirely for not conforming to the Islamic Ouma. Why? Because one of the experts, already giving some general ideas, declared that you would be based on the civility of the state and not its religiosity, an inclusion, however, long overdue by the majority, and would solve many difficulties and confusions in the running of the country.
On June 20th 2022, you are handed over to the head of state, will you be adopted by him?
On June 30th, 2022 at 21:10 a text is published in the Official Journal of the Tunisian Republic. The next day a cloud of dust on social networks and in newspapers announced it, is it really you? Have you been adopted by the President of the Republic, are we going to go out to celebrate and make you yous of joy?
I'm looking for you, I'm reading you, but there's nothing in it of what the experts have said.
No, it's not you, it's a constitution for an ultra-conservative and bigoted society!
It was too good to be true, he already had another one ready that changed the game, one that contradicts all the statements made by Sadok Belaid, chairman of the commission in charge of drafting the new Tunisian Constitution.
In light of the statements made by the President of the Republic, it was already obvious that he would disregard the work of your progressive drafters, more than 90 experts from all sectors, women and men, progressive, deeply human and unconditional believers in the respect of human rights, in the necessity to separate religion from politics to build and found a strong state, to guarantee rights and freedoms, to strengthen the foundations of the Tunisian nation, and to revive the independence of the judiciary system, the basis of the first republic from the moment of independence in 1956.
However, the reality is hard-headed
While Tunisia is experiencing an unprecedented economic and social crisis, with a vertiginous drop in the purchasing power of middle-class and especially disadvantaged Tunisian families, a public system in agony, pushing our young people out of desperation to throw themselves into the sea and risk death to seek a better future on the other side of the Mediterranean, the President Saied launched his stunt to divert attention from the failure of his government, a constitution that was tailored to his measure, concerned to secure the practice of the precepts of the Muslim religion and to move from the “religion of the state” to the “religion of the community”, loyal to one of his statements: “The state must work to achieve the goals of Islam and Sharia”.
Whether you like it or not! It will be a step backwards for ten centuries... Removal of Islam as the "state religion", which was certainly controversial, substituted but by, worse, "Tunisia is part of the Islamic nation, and the state only must work to achieve the goals of pure Islam."
How can the state "work to achieve the goals of pure Islam", if not by reverting to Sharia (Islamic law) as the basis of legislation? The ruse is obvious, and only naives will be tricked.
In fact, far from keeping the legal and the religious separate, as has been demanded for years, this project aims to forcefully reintroduce the religious into the Tunisian legislation, to cancel the freedom of conscience of Article 6 of the Constitution of January 27th 2014, to establish the president's familialist vision of women's citizenship, which according to him, stops at home, to give primacy to the Quranic prohibition of women's equality in inheritance, and to give excessive importance to equity to the detriment of equality of rights.
Target: the Tunisian Woman, who has always been a bone in the throat of the Islamists
Sixty years of curbing religious extremism have not been enough. Even today, the rights of Tunisian women are under threat, as even the Islamists, who had tried to include Sharia as the sole source of laws in the 2014 Constitution, failed, and eventually accepted, that Article 1 of 2014 "Tunisia is a free and sovereign state, Islam is its religion" remains unchanged.
But even today, the rights of Tunisian women are under threat. This new Constitution will return our daughters, our granddaughters, their descendants and ourselves back under the yoke of Islamic law, and a regime with the obligation to be submissive, in our rights, our bodies, and our lives.
As it is not a proposed constitution but a de facto constitution since one of the articles says: "This Constitution will be put into force as soon as the results of the referendum are announced by the higher institutional body for the elections”, which means that whatever the results, this text will be put into force, and applied.
It is no longer a referendum but a plebiscite
In this case, the President of the Republic has written a constitution to suit him, faithful to all his previous declarations which only revolve around Islamic law, against equality, to educate young people in Arab-Islamic values. Why not educate young people on human values?
The sanctification of Islamic reason over civic reason
“The state only must work to achieve the goals of pure Islam." There is no longer any mention of the civil character of the State, the President of the Tunisian Republic is preparing to found, in 2022, a religious State, where the exercise of individual freedoms will be framed by a code of morality whose content is unknown.
This will be the end of the effervescence of this decade, after the popular uprising of 2011, of the democratic exception around the common progressive societal project, the quest for justice and freedom, goodbye to fruitful debates, this Constitution wants to muzzle any critical spirit, any opposition, and any attempt for questioning, since he will be the keystone of the whole system, whose tasks he will orchestrate. The government will have to obey only him and will be accountable for its actions only to him and not to third parties, and even less to the people. No assembly or parliament will have the power to exercise the withdrawal of power, and the creation of a National Regional and Territorial Council will enshrine the system of governance by the grassroots that he has decided, named by him, not by people’s election.
What do the authors of the first draft think?
Fortunately, they chose the path of transparency and published the text of the Constitution that they had drafted and submitted to the President of the Republic, in the newspaper Assabah and radio broadcasts followed to dissect the two texts. As much as Sadok Belaid, the Coordinator of the Drafting Committee, as Amin Mahfoudh, a member, have decided to come out of their silence and clearly take their distance from the text of the President of the Republic, out of a sense of conscience, at least in the eyes of all those who respect them and have always taken them as an example of righteousness, patriotism and sense of duty towards all those who said "no" to the Islamist dictatorship.
Tunisia, the country of Tahar Haddad and Bourguiba, towards an Islamist authoritarian drift
This year, we celebrate the 92nd anniversary of the publication of the greatest book in the history of Tunisia Our Woman in Sharia and Society which said: "No to underage marriage and a minimum age for a girl's marriage must be set"; "No to oral divorce and divorce must be given by a court decision"; "No to customary marriage"; "No to polygamy" … a work that questioned Islam from a social and legislative point of view, with a new vision of women in relation to the Sharia and within Tunisian society.
At that time, the angry hall boiled like a volcano and the clapping sound mingled with the voice of prayer in a general astonishment of those present; Taher Al-Haddad at that time broke down the walls and opened many windows. He was an enlightened man, before his time. He was the uncontested pioneer of modernity in Tunisian society. He called for the liberation of Tunisian women from ancestral customs, which were the cause of the damage that afflicted Tunisian society and prevented its evolution. He was one of the first to defend the idea that society cannot evolve without the emancipation of women.
He highlighted the misinterpretation of religion that led to absurd societal practices. "The day when our minds are freed from the prison of traditions and can freely judge our past and present in the interest of our future, that day will bring about the action of our lives," he wrote as early as 1933, as noted by the Revue Juridique Thémis, published by the University of Montreal. Convinced that Islam could adapt to all times, this trade unionist and thinker was opposed to polygamy and even to the wearing of the veil. Based on the precepts of the Muslim religion, he demonstrated in his plea that women had as many rights and duties as men in Tunisian society, an opinion that made the conservatives of the time cringe.
Bourguiba declared in 1981 that: “Women cannot enjoy full freedom and decision-making over their own future until they have gained full control over their own bodies.”
The path undertaken by Kaies Saied, since his election, is the opposite of that of Tahar Haddad and Bourguiba.
He first decided to bury the very symbolic bill in favour of equality in inheritance. In 2020, he closed the road to the final battle against legal inequality between the sexes in Tunisian society. Then he legitimised the wearing of veils for little girls, by accepting to give prizes at the Carthage Palace to veiled little girls dressed in the charia costume. By reinforcing the obscurantist actions that sexualise the bodies of little girls under the guise of religious fervour, by conditioning them from a young age and taking away their free will, he sends out a degrading message about women and defends the idea that a little girl, and a woman, without the veil, can represent any sexual attraction for adults.
Once again, women's bodies remain a political issue
And even though he appointed a female head of government, whose powers he restricted, all the substantive debates on the cause of women in the country, the resurgence of violence despite the presence of laws to protect them and condemn those responsible for these misdeeds, inequalities, sexism at its height, remained unanswered, as they were not part of the priorities of the government, which was trapped in an economic and social crisis inherited from previous governments but unable to resolve them.
Kais Saied calls for a ''yes'' vote in the referendum. This new Constitution will not only give him absolute power, with the impossibility of exercising on him any counter-power, any questioning or control as it is due in any democracy.
This Constitution, if applied as it is, will destroy the foundations of the independent and sovereign Tunisian republic, of a society where intra-family relations are based on equality, complementarity and solidarity, and beyond women's rights, of the social, political and economic project which has made it possible to unite the movement for the development of the Tunisian society as a whole and the movement for the emancipation of women, an authentically Tunisian approach, since it gives concrete expression to the ideas of Tunisian reformers over the last century.
Here we are today, after more than ten years of struggle to stop the Islamist project, faced once again with the imminent threat of losing all our achievements, the rights and freedoms for which our foremothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers had fought. Here we are, after Habib Bourguiba's Code of Personal Status, which was inspired by Tahar Haddad's book that rightly questioned Islam and its position towards women, after the struggles of Tunisian feminists from before independence in 1956 to the present day, facing the obscurantist monster, which, if it succeeds, will put to death all the bases of the economy and of modern Tunisian society.
No one knows how the referendum, oops the plebiscite, will go or what the results will be. The tendency is for an active minority against, in front of a silent majority, whose opinions are already pre-packaged, who do not need to invent a personal position, do not see the danger and only think about cutting in with those they consider “the creators of the 2014 Constitution”.
But the reality is hard-headed and more tenacious than an Islamist constitution that can neither hide nor offer economic and social answers to the growing crisis. Reality will continue to demand concrete, not ideological, solutions for families who can no longer cope with the high cost of living, for young people on the run, and for the elderly abandoned to their fate, and for the escalation of violence perpetrated against women after the 2019 presidential elections...
Tunisian women, once again, will not fail to oppose the Islamist project, for all of us and for all of Tunisia.