Rayed Khedher


Tunisia has a unique set of family law codes that continue to operate from 1956 to the present day. The 1956 Code of Personal Status deals with crucial issues such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, alimony, child custody and adoption. The enactment of this code and Tunisian women’s emancipation and its uniqueness in the Arab Muslim world can be attributed to a combination of various historical, political and social factors: the country’s ‘so-called’ homogeneity, its particular colonial experience, and above all the country's modernization policy implemented by Tunisia’s first president Habib Bourguiba. This article focuses on the early years of independence and the role played by Tunisia’s first president in implementing those laws benefiting women and the society at large. It examines the Code, its prominence for the modern independent Tunisian society and the historical trajectory which led to its enactment. This article also focuses on the role played by early Tunisian intellectuals and social reformers who paved the way for the significant amendment of Islamic family laws, the enactment of the Code of Personal Status (The CPS) and the later construction of the post-colonial modern nation-state. The article investigates the radical attempt to modernize and reinterpret the Sharia jurisdiction through a re-reading of this new set of laws as they came in Majallat Al-Ahwal Al Shakhsiya (The CPS) in an attempt to better understand the context in which it was promulgated and the reasons accounting for its success. The article utilizes a few secondary sources which document and scrutinize the roots of Tunisia’s trajectory towards the advancement of women’s causes. Throughout the analysis, I re-examine the code itself to better comprehend the newly promulgated civic rights and obligations granted to women by this revolutionary legal document.

Author Biography

Rayed Khedher holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from UCLA. In addition to teaching Anthropology at UCLA, he also taught Arabic in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (NELC). His areas of interest, research, and teaching include transnational migration, human rights, North African diaspora, women’s rights, Islam, intellectual/cultural history of the MENA region, and Arabic language and literature. Rayed is currently a Board member in SWAA, a regional association of academic and applied anthropologists in the southwestern states of the US.