Tunisia set to appoint new prime minister

Former political prisoner Hamadi Jebali to lead first elected government to emerge from Arab Spring uprisings.

Hamadi Jebali is likely to be Tunisia’s next prime minister under a deal struck between the three main parties [AFP]

Hamadi Jebali of the Islamist Ennahdha party appeared poised to become Tunisia’s new prime minister in the first elected government to emerge from the regional uprisings now known as the Arab Spring.

In a deal struck by the three main parties on Saturday, and to be officially unveiled on Monday, Jebali will take the premier’s post while Moncef Marzouki of the Congress for the Republic Party (CPR), will become president, party sources said.

Mustapha Ben Jaafar, of the third-largest party Ettakatol, will occupy the third key post, president of the constituent assembly. All three appointments are subject to the approval of the assembly itself when it holds its first meeting on Tuesday.

News of the appointments were confirmed by key figures in the three-party negotiations, including senior CPR figure Abdelwaheb Matar and a senior Ettakatol figure who preferred to remain anonymous.

Historic vote

The deal followed Tunisia’s democratic elections nine months after the January overthrow of dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, the first ruler toppled in the so-called Arab Spring.

The October 23 poll, the first held as a result of the revolts that have shaken the region, gave Ennahdha the most seats in the 217-strong constituent assembly, with 89.

They were followed by the left-wing nationalist CPR with 29 seats, and the leftist Ettakatol party with 20.

Jebali, 63, is the moderate deputy leader of Ennahdha, whose leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, is associated with a more hardline position on Islam.

Jebali’s credibility comes, in part, from the fact that he spent 15 years in Ben Ali’s jails. He speaks fluent French and has been at pains to allay fears that his party wants to impose an intolerant brand of Islam.

Tunisian political leader Moncef Marzouki near Sidi Bouzid days after Ben Ali’s fall [Yasmine Ryan/Al Jazeera]

He stumbled in that task last Sunday, alarming some observers with a reference to “the caliphate”, a historic, pan-Islamist system of government based on sharia law.Marzouki, 66, also has a long track record of resistance to Ben Ali.

A doctor and the former president of the Tunisian human rights league, he was first jailed and then forced into exile until the fall of the dictator.

Marzouki, who founded the CPR in 2001, is a gifted speaker and respected by many as a man of integrity.

Some have also reproached what they see as his unseemly haste in announcing his decision to announce his run for the presidency just three days after Ben Ali had fled.

Cutting wit

Ben Jaafar, 71, heads the leftist Ettakatol party. One colleague has described him as “a hand of steel inside a velvet glove”.

While his gift for dialogue and affable manner helped keep him out of Ben Ali’s jails, when it came to his principles, he never gave an inch, the colleague said.

He uses a polite manner and cutting wit to cut his adversaries down to size, one veteran of the Tunis diplomatic scene said. “We saw him do it under Ali,” the diplomat added.

The task of the new constituent assembly is to draw up a new constitution and appoint a caretaker government until the country calls a general election.

A senior Ettakatol official, who also confirmed the deal, added that the three parties were still in talks to determine which ministerial posts would be awarded to whom in the new interim government.

Algeria outreach

Ennahdha leader Ghannouchi, currently on a three-visit to Algeria, already appeared to be enjoying treatment that reflected his new-found status, according to diplomatic sources and media reports.

Ghannouchi was accompanied by the president of the Algerian senate, Abdelkader Bensaleh, Le Soir d’Algerie reported, a treatment normally reserved for a head of state.

Bensaleb is the head of the National Liberation Front (FLN), a party which has strongly opposed the emergence of any Islamist movement in Algeria. Ennahdha’s rise to power in Tunisia has been the source of considerable trepidation for the FLN.

Ghannouchi was an advisor to Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in the early 1990s, when the party was poised to win what would have been Algeria’s first democratic election. Algeria’s military staged a coup d’état to pre-empt the FIS’s victory, and, in the savage decade-long civil war that ensued, the FLN managed to retain power.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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