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Moncef Marzouki to be Tunisia's interim president while new constitution written--secularists wary after Ennahda official refers to building a 6th caliphate.

--Moncef Marzouki to Be Tunisia's Interim President while New Constitution Written

--Secularists Wary after Ennahda Official Refers to Building a 6th Caliphate

A veteran human rights activist was selected as Tunisia's new interim president on Tuesday, said a party official. Moncef Marzouki, the head of the Congress for the Republic, will take on the role for the next year while a new constitution is being written, according to an official close to the party. The agreement was reached between Ennahda, the Islamist Party that won 89 of 217 seats in the new assembly in the Oct. 23 elections and the CPR, which came second with 29 seats, the official added. Marzouki, a physician who headed the Tunisian League of Human Rights, was once jailed for four months in 1994 for attempting to run for president against long-serving dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was overthrown by a popular uprising in January.

The left of center Ettakatol, the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties--which finished third, had been pushing for its leader Mustapha Ben Jaafar to become president, but negotiations had ended in deadlock. Ben Jaafar has instead been offered the job of president of the new assembly, but Ettakatol has yet to agree, according to Khalil Zaouia, a member of the party's political bureau. The assembly, which will write the fledgling democracy's new constitution and appoint an interim government, will hold its inaugural meeting on Nov. 22.

Caliphate Fears

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.

The Internet footage showed Jbeli, a political prisoner under Ben Ali, telling supporters: "My brothers, you are at a historic moment ... in a new cycle of civilization, God willing ... We are in sixth caliphate, God willing." The use of the term caliphate in Arab politics is highly sensitive because it is a concept promoted by groups at the radical end of the Islamist spectrum, such as Hizbut-Tahrir, which is banned in many countries. Moderate Islamist movements such as Ennahda or Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood generally steer clear of the term because of these associations.

"This speech is very dangerous," Said Issam Chebbi, a leading member of the secularist PDP party, told Reuters. "This is what we feared." The secularist Maghreb newspaper mocked Jbeli with a photo montage on its front page of the Ennahda official dressed as a traditional Arab emir, or leader, and the headline: "Sixth Caliph Hamadi Jbeli." An Internet user called Imen Kaouel posted a comment underneath an online video of Jbeli's speech saying: "We are starting to discover the true face of Ennahda."
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Publication:The Daily Middle East Reporter (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:6TUNI
Date:Nov 16, 2011
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