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Tunisia’s Ruling Party Vows to Keep Country Secular to Reassure

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March 28 (Bloomberg) -- Tunisia’s governing Islamist party rejected calls to make Islamic law the basis of a new constitution, citing the need to reassure the public and investors that the government will respect the values of all.

In the party’s first official comments on the matter, Rached Ghannouchi, leader of the Ennahda group that controls about 40 percent of the seats in parliament, said it is intent on backing a pluralistic system in Tunisia. Ennahda will keep unchanged the first article of the constitution passed in 1959, which says that Tunisia is a free and independent state whose religion is Islam, Ghannouchi said.

The decision was taken to “protect the interests of national unity and to prevent the division of Tunisian society into two ideologically opposed camps,” he told reporters today in the capital, Tunis. “There is no collective agreement to add another article.”

The issue of making Shariah, or Islamic law, the basis of the constitution has sparked protests and fueled concern that the country that was the birthplace of the Arab Spring would lose its secular identity. A committee elected in October is charged with drafting the new constitution following the uprising that ousted former President Zine El Abdine Ben Ali last year.

Salafis, who are followers of more strict interpretations of Islam, have pushed for the imposition of Shariah in Tunisia. About 3,000 Salafis marched in Tunis on March 25, demanding that Shariah be imposed and calling for the killing of Jews in the country. The press briefing was called to put an end to speculation over the party’s position after some members had given media interviews about the matter.

“Shariah never left Tunisia,” Ghannouchi said, pointing out that many of the country’s current laws mirror the precepts of Islamic law. The decision not to revise the first article was approved by the majority of the party’s top council, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jihen Laghmari in Tunis at jlaghmari@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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