The Tunisian government, for the first time ever, has sent a warning letter to Hizb ut-Tahrir—an extreme Islamist party banned in most Arab countries— because of its continuous call for the creation of a caliphate in Tunisia and for demanding the application of Islamic law.

Correspondents met with Ridha Belhadj, the head of the party, to discuss the party’s perception of the caliphate, the reasons for boycotting the elections and his continuous criticism of the Tunisian way of life and the Tunisian Constitution.

The Tunisian government, for the first time ever, has sent a warning letter to Hizb ut-Tahrir—an extreme Islamist party banned in most Arab countries— because of its continuous call for the creation of a caliphate in Tunisia and for demanding the application of Islamic law.

Correspondents met with Ridha Belhadj, the head of the party, to discuss the party’s perception of the caliphate, the reasons for boycotting the elections and his continuous criticism of the Tunisian way of life and the Tunisian Constitution.

Hizb ut-Tahrir, how did you react to the prime ministry’s warning?

For us, this file is closed. The 30-days warning notice has elapsed and we have submitted our response to the prime ministry about the issues raised in its warning letter.

We were very clear in explaining our thoughts and we declared that we support the creation of an Islamic State and a caliphate.  We will not abandon these ideas and we will not come up with new ones.  We have expressed all these ideas in writing when we submitted our application for obtaining a license for the party. 

Unfortunately, there are some parties who wanted to politicize this issue and implicated the government in order to create tensions.  We tell all these parties that it is difficult for them to indulge Hizb ut-Tahrir in such matters because we are working on more important issues. 

Can you explain the meaning of the caliphate you hope to create?  Is it a caliphate in the traditional sense? 

We have been living under the caliphate of presidents for decades, starting from the days of Habib Bourguiba, the first president of Tunisia after its independence from France in 1956, until Ben Ali’s days. This was a caliphate of individuals and dictators. 

But in Islam, the caliph is chosen by the nation and the people have the right to choose their rulers.  The Prophet said that those who take command of the nation should unite it and put its parts together. 

The caliphate is a full political system.  It is not democracy in its liberal sense, but a system that gives people their rights. 

The caliph takes care of the nation’s affairs.  They give him the “president” title, but we give him the “caliph” title. The title itself is not important; important are  the powers and the duties of the caliph.  The caliph cannot do whatever he wants because he is not a king or an emperor. He is governed by an Islamic constitution and he is accountable to a shura council. 

We have a full perception of the caliphate, starting from the highest authority, from the presidency down to the lowest ranks. Everything is organized by religious laws derived from the spirit of Islam. This state is built on God’s laws. 

What are the traits of the caliph?

Today, we do not have people like Abu-Bakr al-Siddiq and Omar bin Abdul Aziz. We, in Hizb ut-Tahrir, do not care much if the president of the republic cares about satellites or technology. What is important for us is to have a president who applies the laws of God.  We want an educated and a cultured president, but we also want him to base his judgment on the Shariah.

Today, we need advanced technologies. We do not want a dwarf state, a state that is closed, because technological development is very important and it leads to the development of the nation.  We do not want the nations that the colonial countries have left behind them. These countries are essentially based on consumption, they are not sovereign and they are in a very bad shape. 

Why did you refuse the new Constitution?

The Tunisian revolution evolved and challenged the country’s laws and its Constitution. It came to wipe away the past and create new realities.  Unfortunately, the constituent situation has made us lose a very important opportunity of going back to the roots, to the Islamic faith, and define rights and duties as well as the economic system in accordance with our religion.

We drafted 191 articles in accordance with Islamic law and the teachings of the Prophet, hoping to have a Constitution based on the Islamic faith.  Unfortunately, they neglected all of our demands and drafted a Constitution that has nothing to do with our Islamic religion.  Not only that, they have also separated the state from religion and passed a Constitution that has made religion the enemy!

We have seen conflicts within the National Constituent Assembly  and these conflicts were known to everyone.  We ended up with a secular Constitution based on an empty system.  Even the economic system that has been chosen is very weak. 

In our proposal, there were 43 articles on the economic system and the rights and duties of the state and the people.  All these provisions were not taken into consideration and the rights and obligations were drafted in a very flawed way.

The result was a secular Constitution that does not guarantee the dignity of the nation; iwas nothing but a deal reached between the different political parties in order to distribute roles amongst themselves.

You had previously said that there are three taboos that Hizb ut-Tahrir considers red lines. Can you elaborate?

Hizb ut-Tahrir was founded in 1953 in Jerusalem by Taqi al-Din al-Nabhani, a judge. As a global party, we have published hundreds of books and thousands of stances on various issues.  Thus, we are a well-established party and we do not support any terrorist acts. 

We reject violence and we are against accusing others of apostasy. We criminalize everything against the Islamic Shariah. Any rhetoric that calls for chaos, revenge and murder is against Islam and our party condemns all terrorist acts and any act linked to foreigners.

What do you think of Isis?

Isis is a futile organization and it is against the law of God. It is against human rights and we consider it to be against Islam as well. This organization wants to tarnish the image of our religion, which is based on discipline and not on chaos.

We are Muslims and our Islam is moderate.There are those who are overwhelmingly passionate about religion. We, in Hizb ut-Tahrir, want the application of Islam, but we do not want people to convert to Islam.  The Islamic nation is already built and we do not have to rebuild it.  We don’t need to force people to become Muslims as Isis claims. The aim of this discourse is to create confusion and chaos. 

It is true that there are some people who commit sins and there are others who do not perform their religious duties, but this is their choice and it is not our duty to impose anything on them.

How does Hizb ut-Tahrir perceive women? 

We perceive women’s role as stated in Islam.  Islam considers males and females as partners in humanity. God said that they both have the same origin and women are the sisters of men. Prophet Muhammad, PBUH, urged people to respect women and said ‘Only honorable men treat women with honor.’  In his farewell speech, the Prophet said ‘Treat women kindly.’

Islam, since the beginning, respected women, unlike in Europe where women remained inferior until the 1940’s and 1950’s.  Women were denied the right to have bank accounts and separate financial disclosure.   

According to the church, women were seen as half humans and half demons, but Muslims have lived under normal conditions since the beginning and gave women their rights. They gave them all the rights as human beings. 

We hope to overcome this exhibitionist perception of women which makes them icons of lust and uses them in politics. 

Do you support the work of women and their participation in the political life?

Yes, women can occupy managerial positions, but we have one exception: the presidency.  This is not to deprive women from their rights.  It is to pardon them.

Everybody knows that God restricted the work of women. Women should not perform the military service and they are not required to perform prayer in congregation in the context of creating a balance between the masculinity of men and the femininity of women. Thus, our perception of women is normal. We do not follow the example of the West where women may sometimes lose the meaning of motherhood.

We made the presidency an exception because if women occupy the highest state position, they should be in command of the army.  This requires their presence all the time.  We know that women may have reasons that do not allow them to be present and thus we pardoned them. 

But you support separating women and men in meetings and seminars?

Yes, we support separating them in meetings and seminars for organizational reasons. We have called for this separation because we wanted to stop violations.  This experience has proved its success. However, we are not against the presence of women along with men in public places such as markets and shops. 

We have prepared a world conference for women only. Women came from Europe and the different Arab and foreign countries.  They were happy to be in Tunisia and Islam respects and protects women as human beings. The Prophet gave women lots of respect.

Some accuse you of hostility towards foreigners.  Is this true? What are the reasons behind this hostility? 

Our criticism is not based on mere accusations.  We rely on facts that we have collected from a number of politicians.  We have spoken lengthily about this topic in our al-Tahrir party newsletter.  We want people to have their own opinion and we do not want them to follow others and yield to them.  We have seen this in oil contracts. 

The West is present in all details and even in approaches.  It would be great if politicians could deal with foreigners according to their own will and away from the will of foreigners. 

Some of them claim that they are weak and they need the support of foreigners in elections.  You have seen how politicians change their stances when they visit foreign countries. You have seen how political considerations change and sometimes in a very blatant way. We have seen gifts, worth billions, given to some personalities.  Unfortunately, we say that our country is infiltrated.

What do you think about the closure of mosques and charities that are not under the control of the state and are considered suspicious paces and institutions?  

The closures of mosques and charities is a chaotic act. Under a dictatorship situation, everything is permissable such as closures and detaining people and putting them in prisons.

Smuggling weapons inside the country under the cover of charity is unacceptable. If there are violations committed by mosques or associations, the judiciary should look into them and it should decide on the closure.  We do not want to accuse the state of authoritarianism or of acting in a way that aims at tarnishing the image of these mosques and associations. 

We believe that there are procedures to be followed and the state should respect itself because when the closure machine starts its work, it will not stop at a certain point. 

Did you take a final decision regarding elections?

We decided not to participate in the elections and we will announce our decision in a press conference in the near future.  Under the current context and the prevailing negative climate, we decided not to participate the political life in Tunisia is destroyed and there are no adequate guarantees. 

We are working on big and important issues.  We will preserve our own approach.  We believe that it is better for us to lose the state rather than losing our own approach. 

Can you tell us about the caliphate’s economic and social program?

God ordered justice and charity.  Underground oil, gold and phosphate resources in the caliphate must be distributed in a just way. Everything hidden underground, according to Islam, is public property and should be shared by the people.  This is not private property and it should not be part of the main budget of the state. 

We believe that there should be a body to administer the extraction and production of this property and distribute profits to all people as annual grants, in-kind or in-cash grants, or even by cards.  The most important thing is to justly distribute oil revenues among people.  This will solve many economic problems. 

The capitalist system, which puts our necks and our resources under the control of the West, should be changed. In a caliphate, it is impossible to adopt any kind of capitalist system. 

There are those who are calling for the adoption of the socialist system, i.e., to repeat a previous experience. We believe that in the caliphate, caring for peoples’ affairs and solving their economic problems should not be done through experimenting. It should be according to the standards of rights.  The purpose of money is its utilization and circulation.  A land, which is not utilized by its owner, should be confiscated and given to those who deserve it. 

What is your opinion regarding the educational policy in Tunisia?

The educational policy in Tunisia is based on alienation and neglect. There is a clear decline in the quality of education at all levels. In fact, there is a major crisis in the educational field as a result of a failed policy, which is based on the capitalist system and dictates of the West, which depends on the alienation of the people of the nation.

In contrast, the educational system in the caliphate is based on legal provisions that must stem from religion, regarding the subjects to be taught and the separation between male and female students.

The subjects to be taught should be selected in accordance with Islam in order to deep root the Islamic principles among the new generation. 

We are with technological and industrial development and we are not against  benefiting from the various experimental sciences and other subjects such as mathematics and technical education, but according to a policy that does not contradict the provisions of Islam.