Tunisia Islamist causes outcry with "caliphate" talk

Tue Nov 15, 2011 1:41pm EST
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By Tarek Amara

Tunis (Reuters) - Tunisia's secularists said their fears about an Islamist takeover were being realized on Tuesday after a senior official in the moderate Islamist party which won last month's election invoked the revival of a caliphate, or Islamic state.

Footage posted on the Internet showed Hamadi Jbeli, the secretary-general of the Ennahda party, telling supporters that "We are in the sixth caliphate, God willing."

The caliphate was a system for governing Islamic empires based on sharia law. There were five caliphates under different dynasties until Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk abolished the last of them early last century.

The remarks by Jbeli -- his party's nominee to be the next prime minister -- complicated Ennahda's efforts to form a coalition government, leading one prospective partner to say it was partly suspending negotiations in protest.

Ennahda has reassured Tunisians it will not impose a Muslim moral code on society and will respect women's equality, but the comments by Jbeli were interpreted by secularists as evidence the party has a hidden agenda.

Khemais Ksila, a member of the executive committee of the Ettakatol party, which is in coalition talks with Ennahda, said the party was suspending its participation in two of the three committees which were working on a coalition deal.

"We do not accept this statement," he said. "We thought we were going to build a second republic with our partner, not a sixth caliphate."

Ennahda won Tunisia's first democratic election after a revolution in January which ousted autocratic leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and inspired the "Arab Spring" uprisings.   Continued...