Ennahda to be included in new Tunisian government, says PM

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Nidaa Tounes, seen as 'anti-Islamist', has been divided over negotiations with Ennahda

Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid arrives to present a new coalition government (AFP)
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Friday 13 February 2015 10:45 UTC
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Tunisia presented the line-up for its new coalition government on Monday after the leading Nidaa Tounes party agreed to include members of the Ennahda party in the government.

"We have made changes... to widen the composition of the government with the participation of other political parties," announced Prime Minister Habib Essid, adding that the new composition will be put before the parliament for approval on Wednesday.

"We have no more time to lose, we are in a race against the clock," he said.

The new cabinet will feature a minister and three state secretaries from the Islamist Ennahda movement, with the rest composed of a variety of independents and members of the Free Patriotic Union (UPL), and Afek Tounes, two secular liberal and conservative parties.

Slim Chaker, of Nidaa Tounes, was named finance minister, and Taib Baccouche, also from Nidaa Tounes, will be foreign minister.

Ennahda had initially threatened to vote against any proposed cabinet if it did not include any of its own members. The concession made by the Nidaa Tounes government, who were seen to have run in the parliamentary elections on an “anti-Islamist” platform, has been seen as a possible sign of national reconciliation.

"We are going to vote for this government. It's a representative one," said Ennahda member Walid Bannani, speaking to AFP.

"Its not about how many posts one has, its about how diverse the government is to represent all Tunisians."

Nidaa Tounes won 81 seats in October’s general election, the largest number but not a majority. Ennahda won 69 seats, making it the second largest.

Not all members of Nidaa Tounes have been supportive of the move, however.

"It is normal that the primary party is in power and the second in opposition," Nidaa Tounes general secretary Taieb Baccouche wrote in La Presse newspaper pointing out that keeping Ennahda out of power had been ”a promise to voters" made by the party.

“The Nidaa Tounes parliamentary group are not all of one mind, of one philosophical direction,” said Seifeddine Ferjani, a researcher at the Round Table Studies.

“Nidaa Tounes wants to provide everybody with the idea that it’s a cohesive entity, but it isn’t. And that’s what’s being proven right now. So we’re basically maybe seeing the beginning of the implosion of Nidaa Tounes.”

He also suggested that Nidaa Tounes had been damaged by the repeated U-turns on including Ennahda in the cabinet, noting that there had been an agreement several weeks ago during negotiations on including Ennahda in the government.

“I think it’s basically a course correction, going back to the original deal,” he said. “But this time Nidaa Tounes has been damaged by showing how weak it is, it can’t really do much without consensus.”

Most of the key ministries – including defence and the interior ministry – have been handed to independents.

Ferjani told Middle East Eye that there would be a balancing act going on within the various departments in order to arrive at some level of “neutrality”.

“Does the ministry of the interior work as a plus or a minus to creating internal cohesion and stability, or not? Is it going to take on a polarising attitude towards the Salafists? There’s a lot of questions that are going to be negotiated as time goes on,” he said.

“If they’re not neutral and they act as kind of political gambit trying to eradicate one political force or another, then we’re going to see instability in the government.”

The left-wing Popular Front coalition, who hold 15 seats in the parliament and are not represented in the government, have announced they will not vote in favour of the new government due the presence of Ennahda.

Tunisia ‘free’

A new report by Freedom House has ranked Tunisia as “free” for the first time, making it the only country in the Middle East and North Africa – other than Israel – to be ranked as such.

“The improvements that pushed it into the Free category included a progressive constitution adopted in January 2014 and well-regarded elections for parliament and president later in the year,” it said.

“As the only full-fledged Arab democracy, Tunisia can set a strong positive example for the region and for all countries that still struggle under authoritarian rule.”

The report noted that the success of Tunisia took place against a regression into authoritarianism in other countries of the region. Syria and Saudi Arabia were both ranked “worst of the worst” with regards to freedom. Morocco, Turkey, Lebanon and Kuwait were all labelled “partly free.”

It also noted that Tunisia had until only five years ago been ranked as one of the most authoritarian countries in the region.

In spite of Tunisia’s new liberal identity, it has faced internal and external problems with radical militants.

Tunisia has been the source of the most recruit for the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and Iraq, with thousands of young men travelling to join the group.

Militant groups have also been responsible for violence within the country.

Left-wing politicians Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi were assassinated by suspected militants in 2013, leading to the dissolution of the then government.

Tunisia also suffers from high unemployment, particularly emong the young. A low turnout in 2014’s elections has been attributed to disappointment and disillusionment after the 2011 revolution which ousted long-standing autocrat Zine El Abedine Ben Ali from power.