Comments reported today by Ennahda official Hamadi Jebali, widely expected to be the next Prime Minister of Tunisia, raised expressions of serious concern that the Islamist party was a little too Islamist.
Jebali reported told supporters in the city of Sousse that Ennahda’s victory in the elections mark “a historic moment, a divine moment, a new stage of civilization, God willing, in the sixth Caliphate.”
Historically caliphates have been major Islamic empires where the leader of the government also exercises broad control as the leader of the religion. The last caliphate was abolished in the wake of the Turkish War of Independence in 1924.
The suggestion that Tunisia might become a “new caliphate” spawned serious concerns among Tunisia’s secular parties, and raised speculation that Ennahda’s effort to form a coalition government would be slowed markedly.
In practice the comments are probably an empty appeal to the religiously-minded base. Caliphates have traditionally enjoyed power over broad regions, and the prime minister of a tiny country like Tunisia is unlikely to be able to credibly claim himself a Caliph.