Religious institutions in constitutional documents in Arab spring countries (Egypt- Tunisia-Morocco-Yemen)

This paper is a result of a closed round table discussion; it expresses the personal opinion of its writers and does not necessarily express the opinion of the Arab Forum for Alternatives or Global Partners Governance

The emergence of political Islam after the Arab Spring revolutions raised multiple and sometimes conflictive questions about changes in the religious field. And this was coincided with an atmosphere of Islamic-secular polarity in countries of the Arab Spring especially Egypt and Tunisia and to a certain extent Yemen and Morocco, and acquisitions of controlling religious institutions in order to strength legitimacy of the religious currents. Here, appears the importance of studying religious institutions in the Arab Spring Countries in order to have a broader understanding of its constitutional and legal situation as well as understanding the nature of the Islamic-secular conflict.

  • Official religious institutions: The constitution of Tunisia did not state explicitly anything about religious institutions or the way it is formed except for the article (78) about the president’s right to assign the Mufti, As for Egypt, Article (7) stated in details the role of the Azhar institution as an independent scientific agency and as the main reference for Islam in Egypt. As for Yemen, it does not have a certain and significant religious institution, perhaps as a reason for religious sectarianism between Sunni and Shiite.    
  • Charity: The Yemeni constitution stated in article (21) the role of the state in collecting charities and distributing it in legal aspects. And this does not exist in the other Arab spring countries.
  • Endowments: The Moroccan and Tunisian constitutions did no tackle the issue of endowments, while the Egyptian constitution stated explicitly the commitment of the state in encouraging the system of endowments in all aspects and not just religious aspect. The Yemeni constitution stated the importance of endowments yet just for its original purposes as religious.
  • Houses of Worship: The Tunisian constitution was the only one among Arab spring countries constitutional documents that stated in chapter (6) the role of the state in guaranteeing neutrality of mosques and other house of worship away from political disputes. While the Yemeni National Dialogue Document came to state as well the ban on using houses of worship for political purposes.

Conclusion:  It seems vivid that the Islamic-Secular polarity in Egypt and Tunisia was reflected in the structure of both constitutions. As for Morocco it came to prove the particularity of the Moroccan constitution and the overlap between religious and legal legitimacies. As for Yemen it is also a unique case in institutionalization of charity as it is rare among Arab countries except for kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  

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