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Tunisia cabinet approves equal inheritance law

The President of Tunisia Beji Caid Essebsi 12 November 2018 in Palermo, Italy. [Tullio Puglia/Getty Images]

The Tunisian cabinet moved to approve a controversial law stipulating gender equality in inheritance on Friday, it will now be sent to parliament to be further discussed and ratified before becoming effective in the country.

The bill, proposed by Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi on the occasion of International Women’s Day last year, has been rejected by the Ennahda movement which makes up the majority of the parliament, due to it contradicting the Quran which states that men should in some cases inherit the double of women’s portion.

The chairman of Ennahda’s council, Abdel Karim Al-Harouni, said earlier this year that he would defend the rights of women with regards to inheritance, but “within the bills and laws that respect the identity of the country”.

The president however, stood by his initial move, stating that Tunisians should have the freedom to choose whether to follow the Islamic code or not. He maintained that the bill was based on Tunisia’s constitution, which states that, “Tunisia is a civil country that is based on three elements: citizenship, will of the people and the supremacy of the law.”

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Yet many Tunisians have also rejected the move, arguing that the law is against the country’s identity as a civil Muslim state. A 2017 survey by the International Republican Institute showed that 63 per cent of Tunisians, including 52 per cent of women, oppose equal inheritance.

If the law is approved, Tunisia would become the first Arab country to approve equality in inheritance.

However the bill has also faced backlash from abroad. Mahmoud Mehanna, a member of the Higher Committee of Scholars of Al-Azhar in Egypt, warned Essebsi in August against approving the law of equal inheritance between men and women.

Mehanna addressed the president in a speech directly, pointing out that there are 33 cases where women inherit more than men, have an equal inheritance to men or inherit whilst men do not.

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