Home inContext Egypt, Tunisia Islamists Debate Sharia’s Role

Egypt, Tunisia Islamists Debate Sharia’s Role

Samara Greenberg

As the “Arab Spring” countries form amidst new political realities, one main question lingers overhead: What role will Sharia law play in government?

Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party, which holds 40 percent of seats in Tunisia’s constituent assembly, will not make Sharia law the main source of legislation in the country’s new constitution, a senior party official said on Monday. In an effort to maintain unity amongst Tunisians, Ennahda will keep the first clause of the previous constitution, which identifies Islam as the state’s religion but does not refer to Sharia. The party previously also promised to not impose the veil on women, ban alcohol, or disallow interest payments.

The first Egyptian parliament session after the revolution that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak. (Photo: Reuters)

Nearby, Egypt’s Islamists will soon be tasked with answering the same question. On Sunday, Egypt’s parliament voted to fill the 100-member panel charged with drafting the country’s new constitution. Nearly 60 members of the panel are Islamist, only six are women, and another six Christian, reinforcing fears that the Islamists in parliament would pack the panel with supporters. In protest, the liberal Free Egyptians party, The Revolution Continues, and the Social Democratic Party agreed to withdraw from the process. Since the vote, at least eight people have resigned from the panel and more are expected to follow.

Also raising eyebrows in Egypt, last week the Muslim Brotherhood announced it will consider fielding a presidential candidate, reversing previous statements that a member would not run for the position. According to reports, the Brotherhood failed to persuade several figures to run with the group’s backing and may be concerned with losing influence if an anti-Brotherhood president is elected. Egypt’s presidential election is scheduled to begin in May.

The countries affected by the Arab uprising continue to take shape. In deciding to not explicitly state that Sharia will determine Tunisia’s laws, the Ennahda party has left good room for the country to form without alienating Tunisia’s secularists. The same cannot be said of Egypt.