Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1137, 28 February - 6 March 2013
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1137, 28 February - 6 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Back to square one

The appointment of a new prime minister may not be a panacea for Tunisia’s problems, writes Lassaad Ben Ahmed in Tunis

Al-Ahram Weekly

Following the resignation of Tunisian prime minister Hamadi Al-Jibali on 19 February in the wake of his failure to form a government of technocrats, the country’s majority party, the Islamist Al-Nahda Movement, nominated Ali Laarayedh, the former minister of the interior, to become the new prime minister.

Laarayedh was officially asked to form a new cabinet by the interim president, Moncef Marzouki, after he was chosen by Al-Nahda’s executive council from among several other Islamist ministers, including Health Minister Abdel-Latif Mekki, Justice Minister Noureddin Al-Beheiri and Transport Minister Abdel-Karim Al-Harouni.

It seems that Al-Nahda believes Laarayedh is the ideal candidate to continue at the helm of the country during its transitional phase, which is due to end with the holding of new elections and the bolstering of state institutions according to the new constitution which is still being written.

Unlike Al-Jibali’s initiative to form a national-unity government of technocrats whose members would not stand in the forthcoming elections, the new prime minister’s cabinet will be composed of politicians with roots in the Tunisian Constituent Assembly. However, it could also include technocrats, as was stated by Al-Nahda leaders after discussions in parallel with Al-Jibali’s initiative.

Observers believe that the new government will be formed quickly and certainly no later than early March. Al-Nahda has recently been able to secure the support of two new parties, the Loyalty Party and the Dignity and Freedom Party, in the ruling coalition, along with that of several independent members of the Constituent Assembly, adding these to the two primary partners in the so-called troika government, the Bloc Party and the Congress Party.

This means that the troika has now formally ended and that it will be replaced by a new five-way alliance, still led by Al-Nahda. It also means that the assembly’s approval of the new government should pass with a comfortable majority.

However, a majority in the assembly does not necessarily mean political consensus across the country. While Al-Jibali’s initiative was broadly supported by other groups and parties, reactions on the political stage were mostly critical, especially with regard to provisions for the holding of the next elections.

The opposition believes that Al-Nahda’s monopoly over key ministries such as justice and the interior serves the ruling coalition’s interests.

Several parties have objected to the new arrangements, notably the Republican Party and the Popular Front, together with a broad segment of society. These parties have influence within the Assembly, but they are not part of the majority.

According to Ahmed Najib Al-Shabi of the Republican Party, Laarayedh was not a good choice for the country’s next prime minister. Maya Al-Jrebi, the party’s secretary-general, said the country needed to reach a broad consensus in order to hold the forthcoming elections.

Al-Jrebi suggested that the cabinet should be reduced in size in order to cut spending and strains on the state budget. She further proposed dissolving the Revolutionary protection groups supported by Al-Nahda, though the later denies supporting them.

Meanwhile, Mohamed Al-Hamdi from the Democratic Bloc said that Tunisia had lost an important opportunity for consensus when Al-Nahda rejected Al-Jibali’s initiative. The country was returning to square one, he said, and since consultations after the last elections more than 15 months ago had adopted the same posture it was likely that the outcome this time round would also be a failure to reach agreement.

The Popular Bloc, running on independent lists that include remnants of the dissolved former ruling Democratic Republican Rally, issued a statement criticising party quotas for the choice of government ministers and stating that priority should be given to the interests of the country and not partisan calculations.

There have also been objections to Laarayedh in person because of his role in overseeing security in the country. Many Tunisians are now concerned about the possibility of political assassinations and the discovery of secret weapons depots, including on the outskirts of the capital.

 Some have also criticised Laarayedh for his actions while minister of the interior, accusing the ministry of having used excessive force during last year’s clashes, including the shooting of protesters in Siliana, clashes outside the US embassy in September, and attacks on the headquarters of the Labour Union.

Many also say that the ministry has been complacent in dealing with the country’s jihadists.

The new prime minister has said that Al-Nahda could give up some key ministries in order to arrive at a national consensus and that the interests of the country would be placed above all others. The ruling coalition could be expanded further, he said.

Laarayedh was a prominent Islamist prisoner under the former regime of ousted Tunisian president Zein Al-Abidine bin Ali, and he was sentenced to death under the former president Habib Bourguiba. He was a founder of the Islamic Direction Movement in the 1980s and is a native of the Medenine region in southeast Tunisia, graduating from the Merchant Marine Academy as an engineer.

Observers say that the success of the new prime minister will not be measured by his government being approved by the assembly, but rather by his ability to steer the country through the upcoming elections and address urgent social problems, as well as restarting the economy.

Although he has now resigned, Al-Jibali still has a promising political career ahead of him, according to the leader of the Al-Nahda Movement, Rachid Al-Ghannouchi, perhaps as a future presidential candidate.

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