Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi, head of the Ennahda party
Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi, head of the Ennahda party Reuters

The moderate Islamist Ennahda party, the ruling party in Tunisia, will not base the new constitution on Islamic or Sharia law, despite conservative calls to embrace radical Islam.

"Ennahda has decided to retain the first clause of the previous constitution without change," senior party official Ameur Larayed told Radio Mosaique. "We want the unity of our people and we do not want divisions."

Popular protest last year led to former president Zine el-Abidine ben Ali being toppled. The overthrow of the dictator and authoritarian ruler in Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution ignited the Arab Spring across the Middle East and north Africa.

Since then, Ennahda has won a majority of seats in parliament - 40 percent - and a constituent assembly, composed of cross-party members, is hammering out a new constitution.

In recent weeks, religious conservatives have called for sharia law to be the the main source of legislation in the new constitution.

At least 8,000 Tunisians agree and staged a rally in the capital at the weekend in the latest round of protests over the country's future. "Sharia is an obligation, not a slogan, it is the solution," said one of the demonstrator's banners.

A group of ultra-conservative Salafists recently besieged Manouba University in Tunis, demanding an end to mixed-sex classes and asking female students to wear the full veil.

The constitution already identifies Islam as the state religion. Secularists remain staunchly opposed to basing the constitution on Sharia law, claiming it will pave the way for the religious right to impose radical Islamist values on the rest of the population.

Tunisia was one of the most secular Arab countries under Ben Ali's rule.

The Tunisian branch of the Anonymous collective recently defaced Ennadha's unofficial website in protest over the lack of progress that has been made since his fall.