Tunisia Muslim women unable to marry non-Muslim partners despite law change
Despite changes in legislation now allowing Tunisian Muslim women to marry their non-Muslim partners, many are still reporting difficulties when attempting to tie the knot.
In some cases, this is because they are unable to find a local notary who will marry them unless their partner converts to Islam.
A ban on marriage between a Muslim woman and non-Muslim man, unless he converts, is common in Arab countries.
In Tunisia, however, such laws were scrapped in September last year.
"I never imagined that marrying a non-Muslim could be so complicated," 40-year-old Zeineb, who is looking to marry her Italian fiance Sergio, told AFP in her northern city of Hammamet.
The couple have so far found no success in their search for a notary to officiate their marriage, with officials declining out of "religious convictions".
They decided back in June to get married and have prepared all the paperwork - but so far to no avail.
"I've contacted many notaries and they've all refused to marry me because my partner is a non-Muslim. Some of them said that conducting such a marriage was against their principles and their conviction," Zaineb explained.
Sergio, a 68-year-old factory director, was baffled.
"The law allows me to marry a Tunisian woman without me having to convert to Islam but the people who are supposed to help with my marriage are preventing me from exercising my right," he said.
Two of the reluctant notaries in Hammamet, contacted by AFP, said they had yet to receive or read through the new regulations on such marriages.
According to the local affairs ministry, however, regional and municipal authorities across Tunisia have been sent the new text.
Rights groups have stepped in to demand an end to such obstruction by notaries.
The justice ministry should take "strong action against those who do not apply the law", the Tunisian association for the rights of minorities said in a statement.
The association has found at least two other cases this month similar to that of Zeineb and Sergio.
Yamina Thabet, the group's president, told AFP the ministry should "force all notaries to apply the law" and accused some legal professionals of "putting their religious conviction before the law".
Tunisian human rights activist and lawmaker Bochra Belhaj Hmida said such action was "irresponsible".
Tunisia has long been seen as a pioneer for women's rights in the Arab world, but campaigners say the country is still torn between conservative and progressive camps.
Hundreds of people demonstrated last Friday in Tunisia against proposed reforms opposed by conservative Muslims, which include equal inheritance rights for women and decriminalising homosexuality.