The events that hastily came to be called “The Arab Spring” have done much to reopen the question of what it means for a Muslim society to be ruled legitimately and to force Islamist parties to account for their visions of sovereignty and authority in the public sphere. This paper provides a historical and conceptual background to certain contemporary attempts to harmonize ideals of divine and popular sovereignty. I pay special attention to the pre-2011 doctrines of Tunisian Islamist leader, Rachid al-Ghannouchi, particularly his attempt to reconcile visions of divine and popular sovereignty through the doctrine of a universal covenant of vicegerency (istikhlaf). I contrast this doctrine of a “caliphate of man” with other modern attempts to institutionalize divine sovereignty (Saudi Arabia and Iran), while suggesting a set of ambiguities this doctrine raises both for the idea of rule by divine law (shariah) and for post-revolutionary expectations of democracy within a “civil state” (dawla madaniyya).



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