Tunisian Politics

Hebba Saleh in the Financial Times 25th September 2017, ” Azza Baaziz used to be afraid every time she stepped out of the car at night with her French husband in Tunisia, her home country. The teacher feared that police would arrest the couple or treat “me like a criminal” because marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men were not recognised in the north African state, she says. But those concerns evaporated last week when President Beji Caid Sebsi broke a centuries-old taboo in the Muslim world by scrapping administrative rules that prevented recognition of such marriages. “Now I have the right to be married to whomever I want and I am protected by the law,” says Ms Baaziz, who wed her husband in France two years ago.

Mr Sebsi’s move has been hailed as a landmark for women’s rights in the Middle East. But even as women’s groups welcome the measure, some say they also sense the president’s decision is part of a larger political game as he eyes local elections scheduled for March. The move could help secure his Nidaa Tunis party votes from women who worry that Islamist politicians could try to roll back reforms. . .

Mr Sebsi also wants to do away with Islamic inheritance rules that give a son twice the share of a daughter — a highly sensitive issue in the Muslim world. That proposal is currently under study by a committee that should report in six months. Many clerics have lambasted his proposals as violations of established Islamic precepts. Denunciation also came from officials at Al-Azhar, the Egyptian religious institution which provides guidance to Sunni Muslims around the world. In Tunisia, scholars are divided with some voicing support and others opposition. Nahda has offered no official reaction to the president’s ideas.

But Mehrezia Labidi, the most senior woman in the Islamist party, said that after spending 30 years living with the Tunisian community in France, she believes recognising the marriages of women to non-Muslim men responds to a real social need. “There is a reality to which we cannot close our eyes which is that many of our daughters are married to non-Muslims,” she says. “What I also notice is that there is no unanimity between Islamic scholars on prohibiting this type of marriage.” She did, however, voice reservations about changing inheritance rules that are spelt out in the Koran, arguing that the they are “built on values and a vision of relations between family . . . that goes beyond just the brothers and sisters”. [25 September 2017]