Tunisia’s president backed a call for women to be granted equal inheritance rights, breaking with a legal code followed in many Muslim nations that strongly favors male heirs and has been at the center of a wider debate about modernizing Islam.
The proposal, laid out by Beji Caid Essebsi in a televised address marking national women’s day, was first suggested by a committee which had deliberated on the issue for about a year. The recommendation angered Islamist groups, though, and in a nod to their influence that could undermine any eventual legislation, the president said those who wanted to abide by established Islamic inheritance doctrine should be allowed to do so.
Essebsi said he was responsible for all citizens and that any changes “must take into account the feelings of the Tunisian people.” At the same time, he stressed that changes must be made. He referred the measure to lawmakers for discussion.
The push comes at a time when Tunisia is struggling to revive its economy — an effort that has been repeatedly stymied by political bickering between Islamists and secularists, as well as frequent labor strikes and sporadic militant attacks that battered the vital tourism sector.