Monday, January 17, 2011

Opposition gets posts in new Tunisian government but old guard retains the power

Mohammed Ghannouchi, Prime Minister of the deposed Tunisian President Ben Ali, announced on Monday the formation of a government of national unity, including  three opposition leaders. But six ministers from the cabinet of the time of Ben Ali retain their positions. Among them are the the key positions  of Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, Interior Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Ghannouchi, speaking to reporters at the government palace, gave a list of 19 ministers of the 'unity government' in charge of running the country until the holding of presidential and legislative elections. Contrary to what had been said earlier these elections will not be held in 60 days, but in six to seven months.

Among the newcomers in the cabinet figures Ahmed Najib Chebbi, founder of the oppositional Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), as minister of regional development. Opposition leaders Ahmed Ibrahim (Attajdid, former communists) was named minister of higher education and Mustafa ben Jaafar (Forum démocratique pour le travail el les libertés, FDTL) got the health ministry. Two of these parties have no representatives in parliament.
Representatives of civil society are also included in this government. One of them is blogger Slim Amamou (twitter @Slim404) who was detained briefly during the revolt. He himself twittered the news that he becomes secretary of state for Youth and Sports. Another was the filmer Moufida Tlatli, who will be Minister of Culture. Ghannouchi also indicated that the Ministry of Information, accused of censoring the freedom of the press and expression in the country, has been abolished. Another measure is that in the future all parties will be independent from the state, a measure which - for what it is worth - aims at cutting the (many) ties between the ruling Rassemblement constitutionel démocratique (RCD) and the state.  All political prisoners will be released and all political parties that request to be registered will be admitted. 

Furthermore three commission will installed. One will investigate the corruption of the past periode, one will look into human rigjhts abuses of the era Ben Ali and one will advise about political reforms. 
Monday morning, before the announcement of the new government, a demonstration was held in Tunis of several hundred people who demanded that the ruling RCD party will be abolished altogether, as it is the party that has been as responsible for the repression and corruption of the past years as Ben Ali himself,  and that moreover is interwoven with each and every state organ or institution.
The same point was made by  Moncef Marzouki, exiled human rights activist, former presidential candidate and leader of the party he founded , the Congrès de la Republique. Marzouki dismissed the new government as a 'masquerade'. He told French media: 'Ninety dead, four weeks of real revolution, only for it to come to this? A unity government in name only because, in reality, it is made up of members of the party of dictatorship, the RCD.'
Marzouki nevertheless announced that he will be a presidential candidate in the upcoming elections. His party  is one of thee parties that was left out of the 'unity government. The others were the islamist An Nahda party and the communist PCOT of Hama Hammami.
What will happen in Tunsia in the near future is difficult to predict. At the one hand the fact that the RCD keeps so much power looks like a bad sign, at the other the fact that the opposition has been partly included in the new government and the fact that - in principle - political repression has been abolished, might be interpreted as a clever compromise whereby old and new cooperate in establishing real democracy. I, The Pessoptimist, remain sceptical. We'll just watch and see.. 

Update:  The French newspaper Le Monde reports that, according to information the French government has, ther family Ben Ali has fled the country with about 45 million euros worth of gold. The gold was taken from the Tunsian Central bank by Ben Ali's wife Leila at the end of December, according to Le Monde. The paper also confirm that the chief of staff of the Tunsian army, Ben Ammar, who refused to fire on demonstrantions and was fired by Ben Ali, was in fact the one who told the president that he had to leave the country.  

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