Of all the revolutions of the Arab Spring, the overthrow of Ben Ali in Tunisia gave western observers the most reason for optimism. Tunisia, they said, is a secular place with strong cultural ties to Europe; one can legitimately hope that a moderate democracy will take root there, now that the dictator is gone. Maybe that’s a reasonable prediction. This week, however, a  leader of the moderate Islamist party that took first place in last month’s elections for a new national assembly raised eyebrows by invoking the revival of the caliphate, the Islamic superstate that  Ataturk abolished in 1923. Hamadi Jbeli,  likely to be Tunisia’s next Prime Minister, told supporters at a rally that they were living in “a new cycle of civilization,” a “sixth caliphate, God willing.” A party spokesman says Jbeli was merely referring to an end to government corruption, but a secularist party that has been working with the Islamists to form a coalition government has suspended cooperation in protest.  “We thought we were going to build a second republic,” a representative of the secular Ettakatol party told Reuters, “not a sixth caliphate.”

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