Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tunisia's Transition Issues

Bowing to protests, Tunisian Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi dropped former members of the ruling RCD party from key posts:
"Ghannouchi, also a key figure in the previous administration, said he would stay in his post as the country prepares for parliamentary and presidential elections which are expected to be held in the coming months.

"The new cabinet includes 12 new ministers and keeps nine from the previous set-up. Among those replaced with independents were the ministers of interior and defence.

"Earlier on Thursday, Kamel Morjane, the foreign minister, resigned saying he was leaving 'so that the popular revolution can bear fruit'.

"Ghannouchi said the new foreign minister will be Ahmed Ounais, a 75-year-old career diplomat who studied at the Sorbonne University in Paris and served as Tunisia's ambassador to Moscow and New Delhi.

"The new lineup had been agreed after consultations with all political parties and civil society groups, the prime minister said."

The very lack of leadership that was probably a critical factor in the success of Tunisia's protests poses a challenge now, as there is no clear power center to replace Ben Ali's regime. This means that, in practice, second-tier members of that regime with little popular support are trying to manage a delicate transition.

Earlier this week, I read Christopher Alexander's Tunisia: Stability and Reform in the Modern Maghreb, which at 124 pages is a good, quick introduction to Tunisian politics for those interested. Aside from whatever unknown level of strength the Islamist al-Nahda party has, I would expect the major political fissure in post-Ben Ali Tunisia to be between socialists and a strong business community, with the latter having been favored by the old regime's policies. According to the al-Jazeera story, the UGTT, Tunisia's major trade union, has been working with Ghannouchi on the interim government, but is currently upset by the lack of UGTT-friendly ministers in the new government. This is an issue to watch.



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