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Tunisia: Government Lifts Ban on Inter-Religious Marriages

(Sept. 19, 2017) On September 14, 2017, the Tunisian government lifted a ban on inter-religious marriages between Muslim Tunisian females and non-Muslim males. (Tunisia Lifts Ban on Muslim Women Marrying Non-Muslims, AL JAZEERA (Sept. 14, 2017).) This measure was issued by Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi.  During his speech on the national Women’s Day that took place on August 13, 2017, Essebsi had proposed amendments to the provisions governing rules of inheritance and marriage contracts in the Personal Status Law of 1956. (Ahmed Nadhif, Tunisian President Calls for Gender Equality in Inheritance Law, AL-MONITOR (Aug. 21, 2017); Order of 13 August 1956, 66 AL RAA’D AL RASMI [OFFICIAL GAZETTE] (Aug. 17, 1956) (in Arabic).)

Essebsi proposed the repeal of the inheritance provision that grants men the right to inherit twice as much as women and adoption of a new provision that allows women to inherit on an equal basis with men.  Furthermore, he suggested the abolishment of the provision that bans inter-religious marriages between Muslim women and non-Muslim men.  It has already been legal for Muslim men to marry outside their religion.  (Essebsi Calls for the Modification of a Piece of Legislation Banning Tunisian Women from Marrying Non-Muslims, MOSAIQUEFM (Aug. 13, 2017) (in Arabic).)

Reactions to the Proposed Amendments

The statement of the President sparked widespread opposition among religious groups, which argued that it is in direct violation of Islamic law because it is Islamic law that governs such family matters. In a joint statement, Islamist political groups claimed that allowing inter-religious marriages and granting equal portions of inheritance to females conflict with the Quran and the main principles of Islamic Shari’a law.  (Nawal Sayed, Tunisian Opposition Call for Ouster of President Essebsi, EGYPT TODAY (Aug. 16, 2017).)

On the other hand, individuals supporting Essebsi contend that his approach towards inter-religious marriages and female inheritance adheres to provision 21 of the Tunisian Constitution of 2014. (Nadhif, supra.) Article 21 provides that “all citizens, male and female, have equal rights and duties, and are equal before the law without any discrimination.” (Tunisia’s Constitution of 2014, CONSTITUTE PROJECT (unofficial English translation).) Essebsi’s supporters say that the proposed amendments are also in line with article 46 of the Constitution, which stipulates that “the state commits to protect women’s accrued rights and works to strengthen and develop those rights” and”[t]he state guarantees the equality of opportunities between women and men to have access to all levels of responsibility in all domains.”  (Id. art. 46; Nadhif, supra.)