Ben Ali’s Ministers Take Over New Scene in Tunisia

Tunisia's PM-designate Youssef Chahed speaks during a news conference after his meeting with Tunisia's President Beji Caid Essebsi in Tunis

Tunisia- The expanded cabinet reshuffle in Tunisia included the return of senior ministers from the regime of former President Zine El Abidine ben Ali despite ongoing debate over national reconciliation.

The most prominent feature of the reshuffle was the appointment of senior security official Lotfi Brahim as interior minister, replacing former security minister Hadi Majdoub.

Brahim’s appointment received support from the ruling party, Nidaa Tounes, and the security syndicates. Lotfi is the former commander-in-chief of the Tunisian National Guard.

Former Defense Minister Abdelkarim Zbidi returned to his post that he had between 2011 and 2013.
Zbidi was known mainly as one of Ben Ali’s ministers, and he has held various portfolios during his reign, most notably Minister of Health in 2001 and Minister of Scientific Research in 2002.

For his part, leader of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party Naaman al-Ash criticized the new cabinet structure and said it included symbols of the former regime.

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed also reassigned Ridha Chalghoum, a former finance minister close to the ruling Nidaa Tounes party, to the same position.

Radhouane Ayara, a former member of the dissolved Democratic Constitutional Rally Party, became the minister of transport, and Naziha Laabidi, a former member of the National Progressive Unionist (Tagammu) Party’s central committee, became the minister of women, family and children.

Hatem Ben Salem, a former diplomat and the last minister of education in Ben Ali’s regime, was named to fill the same post, which has been vacant since the dismissal of former minister Naji Jalul last April despite reservations by syndicate and opposition parties.

Chahed said Monday that his new cabinet will be a “war government that will fight terrorism and corruption.”

“We need to expand the circle of political consensus and national unity and this is the basis for our choices in the recent reform,” Chahed added in a speech to the Tunisian parliament.

Tunisia: Cabinet Reshuffle Includes 13 Portfolios

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed addresses parliament in Tunis on July 20, 2017

Tunisia- Tunisia’s Prime Minister Youssef Chahed announced on Wednesday a major cabinet reshuffle that included filling three ministerial vacancies (finance, education, international cooperation) and structural changes in so-called sovereign ministries such as the defense and interior.

“I’ve decided on a government reshuffle,” Chahed told reporters, announcing the new line-up after talks with President Beji Caid Essebsi.

A former defense minister, Abdelkrim Zbidi, returns to the post in place of academic Farhat Horchani, while Lotfi Brahem, an ex-head of the national guard, replaces Hedi Majdoub at the interior ministry.

Ridha Chalghoum, a former economic advisor to the president, takes over the key position of finance minister.

The reshuffle maintained the dominance of Ennahdha Party and Al Nidaa Party on the political scene – the new government is expected to tackle the economic and social files and to respond to the opposition’s accusation of “failing to meet Tunisians’ anticipations.”

Jilani Hamami, leader of the opposition Popular Front, said that this amendment covered one-third of the government and instilled the division of shares among parties after four months of political consultations.

Hamami considered that Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi has formed a team that supports him and guarantees to follow up on the government.

Previously, Chahed said that marathon meetings were held with political parties, especially the signatories of Carthage Document that led to the formation of a national unity government. The prime minister has informed Essebsi of the reshuffle, although the new constitution doesn’t stipulate that the PM showcase the ministerial changes to the president.

The Tunisian president saw this ministerial amendment as the last hope to put things back on track.

Chahed is expected to address the parliament and call for a session to grant the new government members the vote of confidence after they present their program.

The PM convened on Tuesday with parties and organizations who are signatories to the Cartage Document and presented the economic and social program of the government.

Government Program to Restructure over 400 Public Institutions in Tunisia

Tunisia

Tunisia – Economic advisor to the Tunisian prime minister Tawfik al-Rajhi announced that the government is preparing a program to restructure public institutions that are facing financial difficulties.

Al-Rajhi, who is responsible for following up on major reforms in the country, said that the program is focusing on enhancing capital, developing governance, encouraging growth and interior investment, and improving the social environment in order to increase these institutions’ production.

Rajhi said that Tunisian PM Youssef Chahed will hold a government meeting this week to ratify this program, given that the folder of the public institutions is very complicated and requires time and effort to be settled.

He said that some 404 public institutions, active in 25 different economic sectors, are facing many difficulties and suffer from many deficiencies.

In this regard, economic expert Sadeq Jabnoun said public institutions suffer from a deficit exceeding four billion Tunisian dinars ($1.6 million) and therefore are not contributing to the funding of the state budget.

This demands an immediate amendment of the 2017 financial law, he noted.

Jabnoun called on the state to abandon its harsh fiscal policies and to encourage industry, agriculture, and major sectors to regain economic vitality.

In a report released in April, the World Bank expected the Tunisian economy to grow by 2.3 percent in 2017 based on primary indications that confirm the recovery of strategic sectors like agriculture, phosphate and transitional industries.

Tunisia Vows to Arrest Returning Jihadists

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi speaks during the congress of the Ennahda Movement in Tunis, Tunisia

Tunisia- Tunisia’s Prime Minister Youssef Chahed on Thursday said all jihadists returning from foreign battlefields would be immediately arrested and judged according to the country’s counter-terrorism law.

“The Tunisian state has not signed any deal on the return of terrorists and the government’s position on the matter is clear: it does not support the return from areas of tension,” said the premier, who met President Beji Caid Essebsi on Thursday afternoon.

Concern about the return of jihadists has risen since Tunisian Anis Amri, 24, was identified as the suspected attacker who mowed down 11 people with a truck at a Berlin Christmas market last week and also killed the driver.

Chahed said Tunisia “has lists of all (Tunisian) terrorists who are in areas of tension and who have been part of terrorist organisations. We know each and every one of them and have all the data on them.”

His comments came after a ministerial meeting to decide on an action plan to tackle the issue did not take place on Thursday as planned.

He stressed that Tunisian authorities take this topic seriously and have all the given regarding the terrorists existing in war zones.

But President Beji Caid Essebsi, citing the constitution, said the authorities cannot prevent a Tunisian from returning home.

In the same context, media sources reported that Tunisia is willing to fix one of the current prisons for terrorists until the new prison is constructed – yet this was denied by government sources in the ministry of justice.

The Tunisian Minister of Justice gave orders to start with the construction of the first part of a civil prison of about 25 hectares and nearly TND4.5 million (USD1.8 million) cost.

The minister added that the new prison is to substitute the old one in Béja.

Tunisia’s PM: Unity Government’s Achievements Are Yet to Meet People’s Expectations

Tunis– Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said his country would witness a major economic growth in the coming months, calling on Arab investors to resume their businesses in Tunisia.

Chahed noted that current disagreements between the government and the labor associations were due to the Cabinet’s abandonment of economic issues and its focus on strengthening constitutional institutions during the years that followed the 2011 uprising.

During an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, the Tunisian premier said unemployment was the major problem facing the country’s economy.

He stressed in this regard, the importance of the International Investment Conference, which will be held in Tunis on Nov. 29-30, in presenting to international investors major infrastructure projects that would provide promising job opportunities to the Tunisian youth.

Asked about the current economic, social and security situation in Tunisia, Chahed said that the situation was “fine”. He added that in the years that followed the uprising, the Tunisian government was able to rebuild the country’s institutions, consolidate democratic work, while the main work was focused on the political and security aspects.

Chahed noted that the government has now acknowledged the need to tackle the country’s complex economic problems, hoping that major obstacles would be resolved.

“We believe that today, Tunisia enjoys the different factors for economic and social success,” the premier said.

“I am not saying that Tunisia has achieved full stability, but it remains an important competitive destination in the African continent, thanks to its specialized labor force, its proximity to Europe and the availability of quality products and merchandise,” Chahed told Asharq Al-Awsat.

He also noted that more than 3,000 foreign investment companies are operating in Tunisia, saying the country attracts international investors thanks to its democratic system, which is free of exploitative and arbitrary working conditions.

Asked about the role of Gulf investments in advancing development in the country, Chahed said: “We have invited Gulf investors to take an active part in the International Investment Conference and we have seen that Qatar has become an important partner in organizing this international event.”

He also stressed the importance of recent visits conducted by the Tunisian foreign minister to Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar, which expressed their interests in investing in the African country.

The Tunisian premier said his government was about to launch joint projects between the private and public sectors, with high added value.

“We are confident that this international conference will be a success and will attract important investments to the country,” he said.

Tunisian Government Faces Unemployment, Financial Deficit Challenges

Tunisia-The government of Youssef Chahed, which was granted the parliament’s confidence vote late Friday, will have several complicated economic and social problems to address. On top of these are: unemployment with up to 600, 000 adults without jobs, development problems, failure to balance internal financial budgets and the rise of foreign debts.

The government is expected to discuss a short-term solution to fill the budget deficit by adopting austerity policies. Moreover, the Tunisian economy suffered in the beginning of 2016 a collapse of local currency.

Economic growth in the first half of 2016 did not surpass 1.5%, below the official target of 2.5% for the year. Unemployment rate was estimated as 15.6% during the second quarter of current year. In Tunisia, there are 629, 600 unemployed out of 4,047,000 population.

This level of unemployment requires a minimum growth rate of 6% to 7% to ensure the recruitment of the highest possible number of unemployed. Commenting on this, economist Murad al-Hattab said that Tunisia is supposed to discharge 20% of public sector employees in order to reduce wage size.

Hattab added that if this procedure is taken, public cost will decline up to 20% and this is one of the urgent demands of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in order to permit Tunisia to take loans.

Since the revolution of 2011, debts size increased from TND25 billion (around EUR11.2 billion) too TND50.3 billion (around EUR22.6 billion). This indebtedness represents up to 53% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a situation that threatens more deterioration and slowdown in the Tunisian economy.

Economist Ma’az al-Joudi said that the absence of a ministry of economy in the Chahed national unity government is a negative indicator.

Tunisian President Names Youssef Chahed as PM Designate

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi.

Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi has proposed Youssef Chahed as a new candidate to replace the north African country’s ousted prime minister Habib Essid.

“I met today with the president… who charged me with forming a national unity government,” Chahed told reporters outside the presidential palace in Carthage.

“This is a message of confidence for young people also,” Chahed said. “In this delicate time we need a lot of audacious decisions.”

Chahed, 40, now has 30 days to come up with a ministerial team.

If appointed, Youssef Chahed would become the 8th prime minister of Tunisia since the 2011 popular uprising in the country.

Parliament ousted Habib Essid in a vote of no-confidence because of his handling of economic reforms and security.

A junior minister in Essid’s government, Chahed is an agricultural sciences specialist and academic who has taught in France and Tunisia, and also a senior member in the secular Nidaa Tounes party.

“Today we are entering a new stage that requires effort, sacrifice, audacity, courage, selflessness and unorthodox solutions,” he told reporters.

He promised that women would be better represented in his cabinet than in previous governments and called for greater youth involvement.

Essebsi had been pushing for a new national unity government in an attempt to overcome political infighting in the ruling coalition and more efficiently tackle economic reforms and the threat of Islamist militants.

Chahed dismissed reports he had any family ties to Essebsi, responding to opposition charges that he was a distant relative of the president. Local media and party sources have also said he has family ties.

Nidaa Tounes and the Islamist Ennahda party, both part of the ruling coalition, control a majority of the seats in parliament, which means Chahed’s nomination is likely to be accepted by lawmakers when they vote on his approval.

Since its 2011 revolution to oust Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has grown into a democracy praised as a model for the region. But militant attacks have tested the government and political infighting has slowed economic progress needed to ease social tensions especially among ranks of young employed.