Kaouther Larbi, AFP
Last updated: 22 December, 2011

Tunisia Prime Minister unveils cabinet, vows to act on job creation

Tunisia’s prime minister unveiled his new cabinet Thursday, two months after the country’s first free elections, and vowed to make job creation and reparations to victims of the ousted regime among his key priorities.

Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali has handed out key ministerial posts to members of his moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which won the first polls held since the popular uprising that toppled dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January.

The constituent assembly which emerged from the October vote is to meet Friday to approve the premier’s 41-member cabinet, which was the subject of weeks of negotiations between Ennahda and its two left-leaning allies.

Jebali presented his his cabinet to the assembly along with his government’s priorities in a 16-point programme that included a focus on job creation and compensation for victims of Ben Ali’s 23-year rule.

The north African nation is in the midst of a major economic crisis, with unemployment running at 20 percent while economic growth is expected to be a sluggish 0.5 percent for 2011.

“Together, we are going to lead the battle for job creation with all the means and resources available through the promotion of national and foreign investment, and by encouraging initiatives and good ideas,” Jebali said.

Among the leading cabinet appointees, Ali Larayedh, a former political prisoner and senior Ennahda official, was tapped as interior minister and Rafik Ben Abdessalem, son-in-law of Ennahda leader Rached Ghannouchi, was named foreign minister.

Nourredine Bhiri, currently party spokesman, was appointed justice minister while independent Abdelkarim Zbidi was kept on at the defence ministry, the only one to stay in his old job.

The creation of a new government is a major milestone in Tunisia following the popular revolt against Ben Ali that began in December 2010, and triggered what became known as the Arab spring — a series of uprisings across the Arab world that led to the overthrow of several veteran dictators.

Ben Ali ultimately fled to Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia has charged him in absentia with many crimes including murder.

Ennahda emerged as the largest party in the October 23 vote, winning 89 of the 217 seats in the consituent assembly, which elected Moncef Marzouki of the Congress for the Republic (CPR) as Tunisia’s president.

Its main task now is to write a new consitution.

The government is facing pressure to tackle its economic woes and get a government up and running as quickly as possible, and some investors have already quit the north African country.

Japanese group Yazaki, a major maker of automobile electrical cables, on Tuesday shut one of its Tunisia factories following a strike.

Issam Chebbi, a leader of the Progressive Democratic Party, said the programme unveiled by Jebali lacked substance.

“He doesn’t say with which investments and growth rates he intends to reduce unemployment,” Chebbi said.

The new government, however, may now be able to persuade companies the business environment is improving.

“The Ennahda Islamists are theoretically in a good place to convince investors and operators, both foreign and Tunisian,” French-language daily newspaper La Presse said in an editorial on Thursday.