A new constitution in Tunisia could make Christians more vulnerable to hostility. The country is number 35 on the World Watch List and has seen a slight drop in persecution of believers.
A new constitution in Tunisia may further expose its Christians to persecution
Christians in Tunisia could be further exposed to persecution after the country voted in favour of a new constitution that gives sweeping powers to the sitting president and makes strong reference to Islam.
In recent months, observers and analysts have raised concerns over the draft of constitution, which was voted on last month. It ‘undermines institutional guarantees for human rights, including by further diminishing the independence of the judiciary’, Amnesty International warned. “It contains worrying provisions that would give leeway to authorities to interpret rights in restrictive ways in the name of Islam,” it added.
“What should concern Tunisia’s minorities, including Christians, is that the draft text makes strong references to Islam,” says Michael Bosch, persecution analyst with Open Doors World Watch Research. “It states that Tunisia ‘belongs to the Islamic Ummah’, a reference to the Muslim community. Unlike the current constitution it also no longer refers to Tunisia as a civil (secular) state.”
"What should concern Tunisia’s minorities, including Christians, is that the draft text makes strong references to Islam" Michael Bosch, Open Doors persecution analyst
“It also says that ‘the state is required to achieve the purposes of Islam in preserving [people’s] souls, money, religion and liberty’,” Bosch says. “It’s not clear what that ‘the purposes of Islam’ are or what it means and it seems that, in the end, it’s up to the president to interpret this.
“So, we will have to see what the president will do next once the constitution is passed and where that leaves both the established (expatriate) churches and house churches.”
Despite this, some Christians voted in favour of the new constitution. “Unfortunately, a decade of democracy has mostly brought political chaos, corruption and cronyism, instead of economic prosperity. The Tunisians want to move on and they trust the President to improve their livelihoods,” Bosh adds.
President Kais Saied came to power last year when he suspended parliament and dismissed the government. He says a new constitution is necessary to help ‘rebuild a new Tunisia and a new republic, one that breaks with the past’, the BBC quoted him as saying.
If passed, the new constitution would replace the one drafted in 2014 following the ‘Arab Spring’, which was a wave of pro-democracy protests that began in Tunisia and toppled several regimes in the Middle East and North Africa in 2010 and 2011.
Tunisia is number 35 on the World Watch List. While expatriate Christians are largely left alone, Tunisian believers experience high pressure in every area of life. This is particularly true for believers who’ve converted from Islam, because they could face severe levels of community and familial pressure.
The country’s ranking this year is a drop of nine places from last year. However, this represents only a small drop in persecution. There was a slight decrease in violence, due to fewer church buildings and properties of Christians being attacked, as well as a decrease in the number of Christians being detained. The lower ranking is largely because persecution has increased in other countries.
The pressure facing Christians in Tunisia is reflected in a report released last year by Attalaki, a Tunisia-based human rights organisation, which said that state policy regarded religious minorities more as a threat than as a force for good for society and national cohesion. The discrimination, ostracisation and attacks, that often go unpunished, cause Tunisia’s minorities to feel they are second-class citizens, the report said.
These trends may be exacerbated by recent developments. Please keep your Tunisian family in your prayers.
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