Piqued by the recent declaration by Libya's unelected interim rulers in favour of “Sharia laws,” 76 international human rights and secularist activists have launched a campaign for a free and secular West Asia and North Africa (WANA) region.

The list of well-known activists which includes Mina Ahadi from the International Committees against Stoning and Execution, Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin and Stasw Zajovic of the Belgrade group Women in Black have jointly compiled a “Manifesto for a Free and Secular Middle East and North Africa”.

The signatories point to the promise of the Arab Spring — the blazing pro-democracy uprisings in WANA, but are wary that Islamists may now hijack people's power. Their manifesto states that they “vehemently oppose the hijacking of the protests by Islamism or U.S.-led militarism and unequivocally support the call for freedom and secularism made by citizens and particularly women in the region”.

Emphasising the necessity of protecting women's rights, these activists assert that secularism is a minimum precondition for a free WANA region, and for ensuring gender equality.

They call for complete separation of religion from the state, freedom of religion and atheism as private beliefs and prohibition of gender “apartheid' and compulsory veiling of women.