by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
Exactly two
months after Tunisia’s October 23 elections, a peaceful transfer of power took
place—a rarity in the Arab world. The outgoing prime minister, Beji Caid el Sebsi,
handed the reins to Hamadi Jebali, one of the founding leaders of al-Nahda
movement and a former political prisoner. The latter introduced his cabinet to
the constituency assembly, which voted largely along political party lines to
approve it. Forming a coalition government was understandably a struggle for a
group of novices, many of whom had spent more time in prison than in
government. But in the end, the parties put forth a respectable coalition of 30
ministers and 11 secretaries of state. Three political parties (Nahda,
Mu’tamar, and Takattul) and some independents are represented in this coalition
government. Several appointments in particular stand out.
The most
controversial appointment concerns the foreign ministry, which was entrusted to
Rafiq Abdessalam, a former politics and international relations student at the
Centre for the Study of Democracy, University of Westminster, London. The
43-year-old academic has no practical experience that would allow him to
navigate the complex world of diplomacy, except his personal connections to some
of the rulers of the Gulf States. It is believed that his appointment was meant
to reward the historical leader of al-Nahda: Rachid Ghannouchi, his
father-in-law. But this very fact did not please many Tunisians who had
suffered from the actions of Ben Ali’s in-laws. Appointing the son-in-law of
the leader of the winning party to a powerful position despite his lack of
experience is a painful reminder of the corruption, cronyism, and abuse of
power under the old regime. Nahda might suffer politically in next year’s
elections because of this insensitive and probably foolish move.
Nahda leaders
may have a saving grace in the new chief of the interior ministry. For most
Tunisians, the interior ministry is a euphemism for police brutality. Under Presidents
Bourguiba and Ben Ali, the ministry was used to eliminate political opponents,
torture political prisoners, intimidate citizens, and spread fear—it was the tyrants’
favorite tool for subjugating peoples. One of the victims of this institution
was Ali Laaridh, who was imprisoned for 15 years—13 years of them in solitary
confinement—during Ben Ali’s rule. He was sentenced to death under Bourguiba’s
regime. It is highly unlikely that a victim of torture and abuse would subject
others to the same brutality. Consequently, Laaridh might well be the right
person to rehabilitate the security forces and reform the institution.
Another
reassuring face in the new government is that of Noureddine Bhiri. The 53-year-old
lawyer is a moderate who spent years defending political prisoners. He, too,
was imprisoned for his political activities. Many Tunisians, and other human
rights activists, hope that his struggles for civil and political rights will
serve him well as he leads the critically important ministry of justice.
Governing a country that has suffered years of
mismanagement, corruption, and abuses of power is never easy. Forming a
coalition government was the right choice. The three political parties seem to
trust one another, and they all stand to lose a great deal if the coalition
fails. They have months, not years, to deliver on three critical issues:
unemployment, political reform, and economic growth. Even more importantly,
they have the responsibility of setting new standards for the rest of the Arab
world. The new standards must reflect transparency, compassion, and just use of
power that demonstrates respect for human dignity
___________
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. He is the
author of the book,
 Contesting Justice. Opinions expressed herein are the author’s,
speaking as a citizen on matters of public interest; not speaking for the
university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.
https://i1.wp.com/majalla.org/press/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/djebali.jpg?fit=200%2C168https://i1.wp.com/majalla.org/press/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/djebali.jpg?resize=150%2C150EditorsSelected ContentIdeas,Islamic World,North Africa,Souaiaia,Tunisiaby Ahmed E. Souaiaia* Exactly two months after Tunisia’s October 23 elections, a peaceful transfer of power took place—a rarity in the Arab world. The outgoing prime minister, Beji Caid el Sebsi, handed the reins to Hamadi Jebali, one of the founding leaders of al-Nahda movement and a former political prisoner. The latter introduced...