Tunisia commission proposes sweeping liberal reforms

A Tunisian presidential commission on Wednesday unveiled a raft of proposed liberal reforms, including equal inheritance rights for women and decriminalising homosexuality, set to face fierce opposition from conservative Muslims.

The proposals from the commission - set up by President Beji Caid Essebsi to bring the legal code in line with a 2014 constitution - come as the North African country tries to make good on reforms promised by its revolution seven years ago.

The constitution was praised as a key achievement following the 2011 revolt that toppled longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.

But the latest reforms put forward are set to face heated debate ahead of legislative and presidential elections next year, with one religious leader slamming them as "intellectual terrorism".

Among the 230 pages of proposals are suggestions to rewrite the current legislation, inspired by Islamic law, that women should inherit only half of what men get.

The commission's preference is to introduce equality between male and female relatives, but leave room for individuals to divide up what they leave behind as they see fit.

The proposals also include decriminalising homosexuality and banning anal tests conducted on men suspected of being gay.

The "total abolition" of the death penalty has been put forward, as have changes to a law forcing widows to wait before remarrying.

The head of the commission Bochra Belhaj Hmida said the reforms are aimed at boosting the "well-being of every individual", insisting that "freedom is as important of bread".

But imam Sabri Abdelghani, from an association of faith groups, railed to AFP that the changes would "eradicate Tunisian identity, by leaving the people without religion" in the majority-Muslim nation.

A spokesperson for the presidency welcomed the commission's report and called for a "calm, orderly debate without anger" on the proposals.

Tunisia has long been seen as a pioneer for women's rights in the Arab world, but campaigners say much remains to be done to make good on the hopes of the revolution.

Observers say there is a window of opportunity to change the law ahead of the 2019 elections, thanks to Essebsi's hold on power.

But given the subject's sensitivity, the commission put off publishing its proposals until after municipal elections in May.

Tunisia is seen as a rare democratic success story of the Arab Spring compared with other countries that went through the uprisings, which are either still mired in chaos or have slipped back into authoritarianism.

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