Islamist organization demands Tunisia legalize polygamy


The head of a Tunisian Islamist organization called this week for his country to legalize polygamy as part of a post-revolution initiative to cancel all laws that contradict Islamic principles.

Adel Elmi, head of the Tunisian Moderate Association for Awareness and Reform, formerly known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, said in a Wednesday radio statement that marriage laws ought to be modified.

“Sanctioning polygamy is a popular demand now in Tunisia,” Elmi said.

The practice was permitted in Islam and should be legalized if it deemed in the best interest of society, Elmi said, proposing Tunisia’s marriage laws be referred to courts for modification, under certain conditions.

“For example, the first wife has to approve before her husband is allowed to remarry,” he said.

Tunisia has some of the strongest women’s rights laws in the Middle East. The Personal Status Code passed in 1956 by late Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba prohibited polygamy, raised the age of marriage for girls to 17 years old, facilitated women’s ability to obtain divorce in court, and banned forced marriages for minor girls.

But since the Islamic al-Nahda Party came to power in October elections last year, Tunisian women’s rights organizations have been apprehensive about the possibility losing some of their rights.

The new Islamist government has pledged to preserve women’s rights, but talk of Tunisian Islamist figures violating the polygamy ban has stirred controversy in the country.

Lawyer and rights activist Radia al-Nasrawi alleged that a prominent member of the Islamic al-Nahda Party, whose name she refused to disclose, was already married to two women.

“He had a wife in Tunisia then married another in exile and brought her with him when he got back,” Nasrawi said.

Nasrawi added that the first wife filed a lawsuit against him with the court of Nabeul in northeastern Tunisia, but no measures have been taken against him so far.