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memri
March 19, 2013 No.
949

The New Tunisian Government – 'A Reproduction' Of The Previous Government That Circumvented The Revolution

Introduction

On February 19, 2013, Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali stepped down; his resignation followed the February 6 assassination of Tunisian secular leftist opposition leader Chokri Belaid, gunned down in front of his home in the capital Tunis. Three days later, on February 22, President Moncef Marzouki asked Prime Minister Ali Larayedh, who had been formally nominated two weeks previously by El-Nahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi, to form a government.

Prior to his appointment as prime minister, Larayedh had served as interior minister in Jebali's government; previously, he had spent 15 years in prison under the regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

After winning parliament's approval for his new government, Larayedh formally took on March 14 – on the same day that the funeral was held of a young street vendor who had burned himself to death in Tunis to protest against unemployment, recalling the January 2011 self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi that sparked Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution.


Following a street vendor's self-immolation, on a main street in Tunis.
[1]

Larayedh's prime ministerial appointment was not welcomed by the secular and liberal opposition. In a communiqué, the Popular Front, a leftist coalition of opposition groups of which Belaid had been a member, stated that Larayedh was one of the political figures bearing political responsibility for Belaid's assassination. The liberal opposition accuses the Islamist El-Nahda party, which won a relative majority in the 2011 Tunisian elections, of moral and political responsibility for the assassination (see also MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 923, The Assassination of Tunisian Political Leader Chokri Belaid; Tunisian Media: Government Bears Political Responsibility For Assassination).

However, on February 8, the Tunisian media outlet Kapitalis published a lengthy editorial by Tunisian journalist Rachid Barnat, stating that political responsibility for the assassination rests not only with El-Nahda, but also with the ruling troika government comprising El-Nahda, the Congress for the Republic Party (CPR), and Ettakatol.[2] Barnat accuses the troika of having done nothing to stop the rise of Islamism in the country, and states further that if the League for the Protection of the Revolution (LPR) is considered the militia of El-Nahda, then CPR leader and Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki can be considered to have flirted with the LPR –which the opposition also holds responsible for Belaid's assassination.


"Who killed him [Chokri Belaid]?"
[3]

Belaid's was not the country's first political assassination since the Jasmine Revolution. On October 18, 2012, Lotfi Nagued, coordinator of the secular party Nidaa Tounes, was killed after being beaten by members of the LPR; he was attacked in his office in Tataouine. Nidaa Tounes leader Beji Caid Essebsi called Nagued's death a "political assassination." At a February 1, 2013 El-Nahda Shoura Council meeting, El-Nahda members suggested that Nagued's killers and LPR members should be released from prison. A few days later, and the day before he was killed, Belaid said on the North African channel Nessma TV that with this suggestion, El-Nahda had given a green light for political killings in the country.

"Who Killed Chokri Belaid?"

On February 21, on his website Debatunisie.com, Tunisian cartoonist "_Z_" posted a series of cartoons making the point that the government is politically responsible for the killing of Chokri Belaid – and that Tunisian PM Ali Larayedh is among those who should be held accountable by the judicial authority for the assassination.


"Who will be our next prime minister?" "Who killed Chokri Belaid?"


"Who killed Chokri Belaid?" "Who will be our next prime minister?"

In Communiqué, Popular Front Opposes Larayedh's Appointment As Prime Minister

Following Larayedh's appointment as the new prime minister, the Popular Front released a communiqué stating that he was one of the symbols of the previous government's failure, and directly responsible for the country's current security situation.[4]

The communiqué stated: "Ali Larayedh's appointment to the post of head of the government is nothing but a reproduction of the [previous] government, that circumvented the revolution: New faces appear, but the same choices that led the previous government to failure are maintained. Governance is by the logic of party quotas and of how to divide the pie amongst them – to the detriment of the interests of the people and of the country.

"The country's situation is catastrophic; aggravating the situation is the suffering that touches all levels of society. Security is absent, weapons are everywhere, the cost of living is high, militias are given a free hand, the administration is paralyzed, the reputation of the country is tarnished at the international level, there is hesitation about revealing [the names] of those who ordered, planned, carried out or contributed to the crime of the assassination of comrade Chokri Belaid – a martyr of the motherland, the secretary-general of the Party Of the United Patriots and the leader of the Popular Front.


Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki (right) with PM Ali Larayedh
[5]

"Concerning the various declarations of the El-Nadha movement officials regarding the creation of a large coalition, and [their] insistence on continuing the same politics that led this country to this catastrophic situation, the Popular Front intends to make the following declarations:

· "We categorically reject these positions, which do not serve the interests of the country, during this critical transitional period, when there is a need for a large consensus that transcends partisan and personal interests. For this reason, the Front rejects the prime ministerial appointment of Ali Larayedh. He is in fact one of the symbols of the previous government's bitter failure, and is directly responsible for the current security situation in the country [including] the wide-scale proliferation in weapons, the escalation of organized political violence, the attacks against [opposition] militants. Moreover, Larayedh bears political responsibility in the assassination of the country's martyr Chokri Belaid.

· "We accuse the interim president of the Republic [Moncef Marzouki] of having failed to seek a serious solution to the crisis [...].

· "We consider the creation of a coalition government that includes the leaders to be a reproduction of the crisis that has been ongoing for the past seven months – during which the interests of the country have been neglected and the suffering of the citizens has worsened, in particular that of workers and the marginalized.


Left: Ali Larayedh with "Go Away!" written on him. Right:"The biography of the prime ministerial candidate: ... [Larayedh is behind] unknown militias that beat opposition members, the attacks on the Tunisian General Labour Union offices, the attacks on the opposition's meetings, Salafi groups acting as like police... the assassination of Lotfi Nagued and Chokri Belaid, the reinstatement of the wire tapping of citizens, [and] the desecration of the Tunisian flag in Manouba."[6]

· "We reiterate our proposal to convene a national salvation conference, tasked with completing, in a conventional manner, what remains to be done in the transitional period. This conference should appoint the governmental staff, of reduced size, comprising experts with no partisan affiliation, and should cancel the administrative appointments made on the basis of partisan loyalty. This is necessary in order to manage the remaining transitional phase on the basis of a conventional program, with the aim of:

o "Guaranteeing clear political, electoral and constitutional agendas;

o "Creating institutions for the regulation of the judiciary, of medias and of elections;

o "Creating the proper climate for holding free and democratic elections, in particular, dissolving the League for the Protection of the Revolution [LPR] and all violent and organized militias;

o "Taking urgent economic and social measures allowing in particular to offset the suffering of the population."


"Strange, this isn't at all what I planted on January 14, 2011 [the date of the ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali]"
[7]

· "We launch a call to the masses of our people to continue the struggle by all possible peaceful means. We equally launch a call to all democratic forces to join forces against the maneuvers of those who have [already] failed and who will only worsen the crisis and aggravate the suffering of Tunisians. This [should be done] in order to save the country from incumbent dangers, to impose serious solutions for the people's suffering, to create security, to divulge the names of criminals, to put an end to violence, and to draw a clear political and constitutional agenda for the remaining transitional period.

· "We demand the immediate release of the names of those who ordered and carried out the assassination of the martyr and comrade Chokri Belaid."

LPR – El-Nahda's Armed Wing, Or A Guarantor Of The Revolution?

Chokri Belaid, who lived in fear of assassination, had been threatened by the League for the Protection of the Revolution (LPR),[8] which the Tunisian opposition considers to be El-Nahda's paramilitary armed wing.[9] It is thought by the opposition that the LPR is behind Belaid's assassination.[10]

The following are excerpts from an article published on the website of Ettounsiya TV prior to Belaid's assassination that accuses Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki himself of legitimizing this paramilitary movement. [11]

"Intimidation attempts, incitation to hatred and use of violence... these are the means adopted in Tunisia by the controversial revolutionary movement that goes under the name of League for the Protection of the Revolution. It is a group of people that does not restrain itself from using extreme [violence] in order to impose its law and spread a climate of tension.


The LPR emblem[12]

"The question that everybody is asking is: Is the Tunisian revolution so fragile and unsteady that action must be taken to preserve it and protect it? This is certainly the view of the LPR, which deems it necessary to defend it [the revolution] against any attempt at a counterrevolutionary resurgence.

"Although its objective might appear noble, the means of implementation are less noble – since what we are seeing is the application of the Machiavellian principle of 'the end justifies the means.'

"In the [LPR's] first public appearance, a major incident [happened] in [the town of] Tataouine on October 12, 2012, when the LPR, with the support of two parties of the ruling troika, the Congress for the Republic (CPR) and El-Nahdha, carried out 'the march for clean-up,' meant to 'eliminate and get rid of the enemies of the people and of the revolution.' Directed mainly against the Nidaa Tounes party, this march is connected with the aggression against and subsequent death of the local coordinator [of Nidaa Tounes], Lofti Nagued.


Lotfi Nagued[13]

"On December 4, 2012, the trade unionists of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) were also violently attacked by LPR militants, who were demanding that this trade union be purged. These incidents paralyzed the country and almost provoked a general strike.

"The LPR, which pretends to represent the voice of the people, proclaimed itself the 'soul of the revolution' and fostered very grave political violence directed mainly against the civil society. Among other things, [the LPR] threatened the Association Tunisienne de Soutien des Minorities [Tunisian Association for the Support of Minorities], for having held a December 29, 2012 remembrance day for the deportation of Tunisian Jews during World War II. The LPR also intimidated the journalists writing for the Nawaat[14] site, when [this site] revealed that two [LPR] members were implicated in an obscure affair of arms trafficking and in the project of killing eminent political figures.

"The LPR has vehemently protested against the media, claiming that it is incompetent and corrupted. Lastly, it prepared a blacklist of the people who [in the LPR's view] are considered the leaders of the counterrevolution – among them Jewish community head Roger Bismuth, Nidaa Tounes leader Beji Caid Essebsi, and lobbyist Kamel El-Taief."

The LPR Evolved Into A Militia Which Intervenes In A Violent Manner Against El-Nahda Opponents

"The LPR claims that it intends to defend and watch over the protection of the revolution's goals, but its methods are dubious and odd, such as the many intimidations, the incitement to hatred, and the use of violence – things that cast doubt about its ideals. Samir Rabhi, spokesman for the Higher Court for the Implementation of the Objectives of the Revolution, explains: 'After January 14, 2011, [the Tunisian dictatorship fell; as former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia after 23 years in power,] the LPR was a movement made up of citizens whose goal was to enforce security in neighborhoods, villages, and cities. But today, these objectives are no longer valid. [The LPR] evolved into a militia that intervenes violently to prevent the parties that are opposed to El-Nahda from meeting." He adds that many LPR members boast of their affiliation with the Islamist party.

"As of June 2012, the League defines itself as an association. However, its regional representations and its local offices seem to contradict this definition, [indicating that it should defined] as a powerful organization. It is financed mainly by contributions from its members and by donations. Since its strongholds are in coastal cities, it is not very developed in the cities of the interior, where its revolutionary ideology does not appear to be very popular.

"Hamadi Maamer, head of the LPR's section in Sfax, claims that the LPR's primary mission is to safeguard the gains of the revolution, to commit to and protect the revolutionary awakening, and to defend the Arab-Muslim identity. [According to Maamer,] the LPR also intends to prosecute the corruption and abuses of the old regime, and also to promote the rule of law in a state, based on the international principles of human rights."

On The LPR's List of Enemies, We Find All Those Who Criticize The Government

"In consideration of what happened, [we can affirm] that the LPR is engaged in a genuine witch hunt. On its list of enemies of the revolution, we can find: Nidaa Tounes, the 'pseudo RCD'[15] of the old regime; certain corrupt businessmen; the secular elites; the media; and all those who cast doubt about the legitimacy of the government.

"Making use of the classical issue of government instability, the LPR has denounced a number of conspiracies in order to 'fight those who are ready to spread troubles in the country,' claiming that they think the same way as the Ben Ali regime. So, all those who are not with them are thus against them.

"'[The LPR militants] are only trying to use the revolution in order to reestablish a regime based on the same principles as the [Ben Ali] dictatorship,' says a supporter of the Popular Front in Medenine.

"The LPR considers itself to be neither terrorist nor really militant. But it is unquestionable that it has the power to do harm. Many accuse it of being devoid of any real intellectual reflection, and of using the populist register when it pretends to be the guardian of the revolution. According to Islamic scholar Abdelmajid Charfi, 'the LPR people have narrow ties with the revolution. Organizations of this kind are characteristic of totalitarian regimes, and they bypass the institutions of the state – their main goal is to change society.'"

The LPR Receives Support From The CPR

"It goes without saying that the LPR receives the support of the Congress for the Republic (CPR) [party], which uses [the League] for political purposes with the aim of obtaining popular support based on the principle of political exclusion – [a principle] that it intends to apply to the supporters of the old regime. CPR secretary-general Mohammed Abou declared that 'the LPR personifies the official voice of the revolution, and constitutes a tool for pressuring the government for fighting against the return of dictatorship.'


Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki receives LPR's members in his presidential residence in Carthage.
[16]

"However, there are numerous accusations against it, particularly those from the UGTT, which are aimed at demonstrating that the LPR uses violence and incites to hatred, and that its behavior is not in line with that of an association. In any case, dissolving it will not be easy, since the League pretends to be the voice of the people.

"According to experts, the LPR is taking advantage of the state's weakness, bypassing constitutional law. Constitutional scholar Kais Saied considers that 'the League cannot, in any case, substitute itself for the state. It must observe a certain distance from the various political factions and must refrain from acting as the right arm of one party.' Nejib Chebbi, lawyer and president of the political commission of the Republican [i.e. Al-Jumhouri] Party disagrees with this view, claiming that 'the League constitutes the militia of a party, and this is in line with the Law and its regulations.'"

Tunisian Opposition: "The New Governmental Team Is Just A Copy Cut From The Previous One"

The Tunisian opposition sees the newly formed government as a continuation of the political crisis in the country. According to the spokesman of the opposition Al-Joumhouri party Issam Chebbi, the "new governmental team is just a copy cut from the previous one – because the 'troika' was unable to broaden the spectrum of the government coalition."[17] Al-Joumhouri, whose members have also been targeted by the LPR,[18] is calling on the new government to act to dissolve the LPR.

"Issam Chebbi deems the approach that was finally adopted as being one of partisan quotas, meaning a redistribution of ministerial posts among the three parties of the "troika" – El-Nahdha, The Congress for the Republic (CPR), and Ettakol.

"In order to emerge from the unclear situation that characterized the second phase of the political transition, they should have created a national unity government – the only government that would have put the democratic process back on track, Issam Chebbi explained. He added that the new team proposed by Ali Larayedh would have a rough time reassuring Tunisians and ending the transitional stage.

"Issam Chebbi also insisted that neither the proposed head of government, Ali Larayedh, nor any of his team, have expressed an intention to devote themselves entirely to government activities and not to announce their candidacy in the next elections.

"The Republican party [i.e. Al-Joumhouri] official [Chebbi] also stressed that there was no indication of clear determination to fight political violence, particularly through the dissolution of the League for the Protection of the Revolution (LPR), or through a national dialogue for the development of a national unity agenda during this crucial period.

"Besides, Al-Joumhouri spokesman [Chebbi] said that the appointment of independent figures to head the fundamental ministries [Justice, Interior, Defense, Foreign Affairs], to be 'positive step,' and added that his party would monitor the performance of the new ministers […]"

Tunisian Media: "The Most Discredited Ministers Of Mr. Hamadi Jebali's Government Have All Been Reconfirmed"

According to the media outlet Kapitalis,[19] the list of the ministers of the new government shows that "the most discredited ministers of Mr. Hamadi Jebali's government have all been reconfirmed, in some cases to the same posts."

"For instance, this is the case with Sihem Badi (Women's and Family Affairs), one of Tunisia's most incompetent and arrogant ministers since its independence in 1956. Wasn't it possible to find a more deserving Tunisian woman to defend the cause of women and family? The confirmation of this provocative woman – which coincided with International Women's Day – can be interpreted as an insult to Tunisian women.

"Sihem Badi's strict loyalty to her original party, El-Nahda – even though she is now claiming to belong to the Congress for Republic (CPR) [party], is undoubtedly one of the main reasons for her political 'longevity' – considering that her competence is completely invisible!

"This is also the case with Abdelwaheb Maatar, another El-Nahda member... whose record at the head of the ministry for Employment and Training was, according to all observers, insignificant, and who has now been appointed by Ali Larayedh to the post of minister of commerce and craftsmanship. [Maatar] once said, 'The role of the Employment Ministry is not to create jobs.' What is he going to say about his new mission? Damage can be expected!

"We could say the same thing about Slim Ben Hmidene, who remained at the helm of the Ministry of Public Estate and Land Tenure Affairs, and whose performance was far from stellar. Nezhiha Rejiba, aka Om Zied, who resigned from CPR in 2011, used to call him 'Ouzir El Ghalba' ['minister for lack of anything better']. "We can also see that the most discredited ministers from Ennahdha – such as Moncef Ben Salem (Higher Education), Noureddine Bhiri (Justice), Abdellatif Mekki (Health), Abdelkerim Harouni (Transportation), and Noureddine Khademi (Religious Affairs), or others such as Mohamed Ben Salem (Agriculture), have all been reconfirmed – as if the Islamist party intended to tell its opponents... 'You're criticizing them? Then you will have them for another round!'"

APPENDIX – Ministers In New Tunisian Cabinet

Ali Larayedh: Prime Minister

Lotfi Ben Jeddou: Minister of the Interior

Nadhir Ben Ammou: Minister of Justice

Rachid Sabbagh: Minister of Defense

Othman Jarandi: Minister of Foreign Affairs

Abdelwaheb Matar: Minister of Trade

Naoufel Jamali: Minister of Training and Employment

Slim Ben Hamidene: Minister of State Properties

Jamel Gamra: Minister of Tourism

Salem Abyadh: Minister of Education

Mehdi Jomaa: Minister of Industry

Sihem Badi: Minister of Women's Affairs

Nourredine Khadmi: Minister of Religious Affairs

Khalil Zaouia: Minister of Social Affairs

Moncef Ben Salem: Minister of Higher Education

Abdelkarim Harouni: Minister of Transportation

Mohamed Selmane: Minister of Housing

Elyes Fakhfakh: Minister of Finance

Abdellatif Mekki: Minister of Health

Mohamed Ben Salem: Minister of Agriculture

Samir Dilou: Minister of Human Rights and Transitional Justice

Jamel Eddine Gharbi: Minister of Development

Tarek Dhiab: Minister of Youth and Sport

Mongi Marzoug: Minister of Communication Technologies

Amin Doghri: Minister of Development and International Cooperation

Deputy Ministers in Prime Minister's Office:

Noureddine Bhiri: Deputy Minister of Political Affairs

Ridha Saidi: Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs

Abderrahman Ladgham: Deputy Minister of Transparency and Fighting Corruption

Deputy Ministries at Individual Ministries:

Leila Bahria: Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs

Said Mchichi: Deputy Minister of Local and Regional Affairs

Nidhal Ouerfeli: Deputy Minister of Energy

Houcine Jaziri: Deputy Minister of Social Affairs in the immigration section

Chahida Ben Fraj Bouraoui: Deputy Minister of Housing

Sadok Amri: Deputy Minister of Environment

Chedly El Abed: Deputy Minister of Finance

Habib Jemli: Deputy Minister of Agriculture

Fathi Touzri: Deputy Minister of Youth and Sport

Nourredine Kaabi: Deputy Minister of Regional Development[20]

* Anna Mahjar-Barducci is a research fellow at MEMRI.

Endnotes:

[1] Reuters, March 12, 2013.

[3] Image source: Nawaat (Tunisia), February 26, 2013

[5] Image source: Gulf News, March 10, 2013

[6] Image source: Facebook pages of the Tunisian opposition.

[7]Image source: Facebook page "Contre Nahdha et sa Dictature Religieuse" Facebook page (facebook.com/contrenahdha).

[8] France 2 (France), February 7, 2013

[9] Le Nouvel Observateur (France), February 6, 2013

[10] Le Nouvel Observateur (France), February 6, 2013

[11] Ettounsiyatv.com (Tunisia), January 28, 2013

[12] LPR’s Facebook page

[13] Image source: Tunisia Times (Tunisia), November 16, 2012

[14] http://nawaat.org/portail/

[15] RCD, the Constitutional Democratic Rally, was the ruling party in Tunisia from its formation in 1988 until it was overthrown with the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution.

[16] Tunis Tribune (Tunisia), January 12, 2013

[17] Kapitalis (Tunisia), March 10, 2013

[18] Youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=oxZ2EpIv8Q4.

[19] Kapitalis (Tunisia), March 8, 2013

[20] Tunisia Live (Tunisia), March 11, 2013