Death threats disrupt Tunisia constitution debate

A general view of Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly

Death threats against Tunisian secular lawmakers on Sunday disrupted voting on a new constitution, underscoring tensions over the role of Islam and the transition to democracy three years after the nation’s revolution.

Tunisia’s parliament started voting last week on the new charter, which is meant to put democracy back on track after deadlock between ruling Islamists and secular parties since the 2011 fall of autocratic leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Approving the constitution is a key step before a caretaker government takes office to end the crisis between Islamists and secular opponents and prepare for new elections later this year.

Members of the national assembly have approved several articles of the new constitution, but on Sunday, Mongi Rahoui of a leftist opposition party and two other secular opposition members received anonymous death threats, officials said.

Debate in parliament was dominated on Sunday by discussion of the threats, leading to a suspension of planned debate and voting on the constitution.

Opposition party members said the threats came after Habib Ellouz, a hardliner from the ruling Islamist Ennahda party, told reporters on Saturday that Rahoui was seen as an enemy of Islam who wanted to remove references to Islam from the constitution.

Ennahda lawmakers said Ellouz, who apologized on Sunday, had only expressed his personal views, which did not reflect the party’s position.