The proposal of the inheritance law sparked debate among Tunisians who were divided between the secular who commend the proposed law and support women’s equal rights in accordance with the Tunisian constitution and the cleric conservatives who opposed any changes on the law that might be seen as challenging the Islamic laws.
The bill to be submitted to parliament soon aims to give women equal inheritance rights with men, as debate over the topic of inheritance arouses a controversy among the different fringes of the Tunisian society.
President Beji Caid Essebsi said he will submit the proposal “as soon as possible,” probably when Parliament resumes in October, in his address on Women’s Day in Tunisia as the streets in Tunis have witnessed over the last few days protests dividing people between supporting and opposing the equal inheritance law.
According to the Islamic Shariah law, the female is granted only half the inheritance given to the male, which is standard practice in most Muslim countries because inheritance rules is enshrined in the Quran, the Islam’s holy book.
Caid Essebsi said this initiative is meant to make testators free to choose either equal inheritance rights or Sharia law. The President reminded that Tunisia is a state with a civil character as spelled out in Article 2 of the Constitution adopted by the different political trends representing the Tunisian society in parliament.
The report of the Committee for Individual Freedoms and Equality (COLIBE) that was recommended by the president, called for the change in inheritance rights. The COLIBE report released on June 12 put forward two draft law proposals, namely an organic law on the code of individual freedoms and rights and another in relation to the fight against discrimination targeting women in inheritance.
The reform of inheritance laws is necessary for gender equality in Tunisia, a country that has become a key model in the Middle East for its democratic transition.
From independence in 1956, Tunisia’s several positive steps are unique and historical in the Islamic world towards gender equality. From banning polygamy and institutionalizing women’s rights to file for divorce, to raising the minimum age of marriage for women and their right to pass on their nationality to their children.
Besides, the Code of Personal Status (CPS), promulgated by Tunisia’s first president, Habib Bourguiba, institutionalized some progressive laws that have never been institutionalized in the Arab world.