Drawing the Line
In late January of this year, Tunisia officially signaled its progress since the Arab Spring began in the country three years ago. The Tunisian president and the head of the Tunisian National Assembly officially signed the country’s new constitution. This recent national achievement shows the growing disparity in the region’s political recovery from the mass protests and revolution that began three years ago and have yet to fully die down. One of the key pieces of the constitution is that it declares Tunisia to be a secular state that endorses the freedom of conscience.
Tunisia is now the first nation, of all the states that were part of the Arab Spring, to have successfully developed a constitutional democracy. There is great potential for Tunisia to use the new constitution to create an exemplary Islamic society in terms of human rights. However, human rights analysts warn that Article 6 of the Tunisian Constitution is both contradictory and vague. The article, which leaves both the freedom of conscience and the statute of “offenses against the sacred” open for interpretation, has the potential to be applied against the interests of civil liberties. Article 6 grants the freedom of conscience, but further investigation reveals that it also puts government prosecution in charge of enforcing laws concerning blasphemy against Islam, which has remained the official religion of the state. When fellow Islamic Republics seek to enact and enforce legislation regarding both the freedom of conscience and protection of the sacred, they will certainly look to how Tunisia was or was not able to balance the conflicting interests of Article 6 of its new constitution. Where Tunisia draws that line will be critical in the advancement of human rights far beyond the Islamic world.