• The initiative of Caid Essebsi, On: Sun, 20 Aug 2017

  • The Abdali cell case in Kuwait reveals Iran’s true colours , On: Sun, 13 Aug 2017

  • Positive steps towards protecting the rights of women in the Arab world, On: Sun, 06 Aug 2017

  • Jerusalem remains the crux of the Palestinian-Israeli issue, On: Sun, 30 Jul 2017

  • Iran should cease its provocative behaviour, On: Sun, 23 Jul 2017

  • The cost of war in Syria , On: Sun, 16 Jul 2017

  • The Trump-Putin summit, On: Sun, 09 Jul 2017

  • Fighting terrorism after Mosul and Raqqa, On: Sun, 02 Jul 2017

  • A smooth transition in Saudi Arabia, On: Sun, 25 Jun 2017

  • Dealing with the Gulf crisis , On: Sun, 18 Jun 2017

  • The crisis over Qatar’s policies , On: Sun, 11 Jun 2017

  • The 50th anniversary of the 1967 war, On: Sun, 04 Jun 2017

  • Terrorists wage a war on life, everywhere , On: Sun, 28 May 2017

  • Could the Riyadh summit be a turning point?, On: Sun, 21 May 2017

  • Addressing the root causes of illegal migration is key, On: Sun, 14 May 2017

  • Arab youth surveys are useful, On: Sun, 07 May 2017

  • European vote matters to the Arab world, On: Sun, 30 Apr 2017

  • Populists in the West are building costly , On: Sun, 23 Apr 2017

  • Dealing with Arab diaspora communities , On: Sun, 16 Apr 2017

  • Endless civilian tragedies in Syria and Iraq , On: Sun, 09 Apr 2017

  • Tackling the roots of radicalisation , On: Sun, 26 Mar 2017

  • Lessons of the Dutch vote , On: Sun, 19 Mar 2017

  • Tough days for Arab women facing war and displacement , On: Sun, 12 Mar 2017

  • ISIS a failed idea and a failing project , On: Sun, 05 Mar 2017

  • Civilians continue to suffer in Iraq , On: Sun, 26 Feb 2017

  • Killing the Palestinians’ hopes for statehood , On: Sun, 19 Feb 2017

  • The migration issue after Malta , On: Sun, 12 Feb 2017

  • The Trump administration’s early record , On: Sun, 05 Feb 2017

  • Israeli settlement policies could endanger regional and global peace , On: Sun, 29 Jan 2017

  • The messages of Davos , On: Sun, 22 Jan 2017

  • Predicting MENA’s future, On: Sun, 15 Jan 2017

  • Welcoming 2017 , On: Sun, 08 Jan 2017

  • Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, On: Sun, 25 Dec 2016

  • The Cairo bombing , On: Sun, 18 Dec 2016

  • The wages of war , On: Sun, 11 Dec 2016

  • The continuing flow of migrants across the Mediterranean, On: Sun, 04 Dec 2016

  • Risks of social media abuse in MENA region , On: Sun, 27 Nov 2016

  • Arab youth should be a source of hope, not concern, On: Sun, 20 Nov 2016

  • After the election of Donald Trump , On: Sun, 13 Nov 2016

  • The initiative of Caid Essebsi

    2017/08/20 Issue: 120 Page: 6

    In a historic move that was largely ignored for days by Western media, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi has created a bit of an unexpected socio-political drama. On August 13, Women’s Day in Tunisia, Caid Essebsi took a stand that is unprecedented in the Sunni Arab world and has an enormous potential for controversy. He argued in favour of equal inheritance for both genders and for Muslim women to be allowed to marry non-Muslims.

    The conservative pushback was predictable. Al-Azhar, the Sunni world’s oldest seat of learning, expressed its opposition to Caid Essebsi’s ideas. There are sure to be others in the region who take issue as well.

    This is because any political initiative that involves religion is bound to be controversial in the Arab-Muslim world. Caid Essebsi’s is no exception. However, the Tunisian leader’s dramatic words can better be understood within the political and social context of his country.

    Tunisia has had a tradition of pro-women activism since the early 20th century. Tahar Haddad, a sheikh in the Zeitouna mosque, advocated for women’s education and their full participation in society at a time when many Western universities were opposed to admitting female students. Haddad’s ideas paved the way for Tunisia’s 1957 Personal Status Code, which banned polygamy and repudiation of a wife outside court-mandated divorce.

    It took courage and an immensely popular and visionary leader such as Tunisia’s first president, Habib Bourguiba, to get parliament to enact that legislation.

    Caid Essebsi, who regards himself as Bourguiba’s disciple, probably wanted to build on his legacy. He has, in fact, delivered where Bourguiba couldn’t. Tunisia’s first president is believed to have found the issue of equal inheritance too difficult to push.

    Caid Essebsi’s second proposal — for women to be able to legally marry non-Muslims — is likely to be, at least theoretically, less difficult to promote. The Quranic text on the issue is more open to interpretation; there is no law to abrogate, just an administrative decree dating to 1973. Even so, Caid Essebsi is taking on a rule that has long gone unchallenged despite its deleterious effects on Tunisian women, particularly expatriates in the West. Until now, they were unable to register weddings to non-Muslims in Tunisia.

    So why these initiatives and why now? Some say it’s all about political calculus. That after three years of cohabiting with Islamists in government, Caid Essebsi may be trying to distance himself from Ennahda, the main Islamist party or even to push it into showing its true colours. Elections are due in 2019 and it is possible the Tunisian president is seeking to consolidate the sizeable female base that voted him into office in 2014.

    It is also possible the 91-year-old president is seeking a place in the history books as a daring reformer.

    Outside the boundaries of Tunisia, Caid Essebsi’s move could be seen as throwing a stone in an otherwise placid pond. For so long conservatism reigned supreme in the Arab- Muslim world. Stale tradition has put a damper on any momentum for religious reform and established a yawning divide between Muslims and the rest of the world.

    The lack of movement ironically worked in favour of the ultraconservatives and theoreti­cians of religious extremism who have eventually managed to exert a strong influ­ence on the marginalised fringes of their societies.

    Religious institutions across the Arab world have been busy trying to co-opt Salafists only to end up all too often copying them. These bodies should be in the business of introduc­ing serious doses of reform instead of system­atically opposing all attempts at change.

    Caid Essebsi’s suggested reforms were based on his perception of the needs of his society and its ability to absorb change. Other Arab Islamic leaders and enlightened thinkers should assess the needs of their own societies for today and tomorrow and keep their minds tuned to finding modern interpretations of the faith.

    The only threat to Islam is stagnation and fear of progressive reform. That’s when extremists control the agenda.

    Editors' Picks

    The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

    From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

    Published by Al Arab Publishing House

    Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

    Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

    Managing Editor: Iman Zayat

    Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor: Mamoon Alabbasi

    Senior Editor: John Hendel

    Chief Copy Editor: Richard Pretorius

    Copy Editor: Stephen Quillen

    Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

    East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

    Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

    Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

    Syria and Lebanon Sections Editor: Simon Speakman Cordall

    Contributing Editor: Rashmee Roshan Lall

    Senior Correspondents: Mahmud el-Shafey (London) & Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

    Regular Columnists

    Claude Salhani

    Yavuz Baydar


    Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

    Dunia El-Zobaidi (London)

    Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

    Thomas Seibert (Washington)

    Chief Designer: Marwen Hmedi


    Ibrahim Ben Bechir

    Hanen Jebali

    Published by Al Arab Publishing House

    Contact editor

    Subscription & Advertising:

    Tel 020 3667 7249

    Mohamed Al Mufti

    Marketing & Advertising Manager

    Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

    Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

    Al Arab Publishing House

    Kensington Centre

    177-179 Hammersmith Road

    London W6 8BS , UK

    Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

    Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

    Follow Us
    © The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved