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Tunisian PM reshuffles cabinet to boost troubled economy

Youssef Chahed names Jewish businessman Rene Trabelsi as new minister of tourism, among nearly a dozen other appointments
Chahed says the reshuffle aims to end a 'political and economic crisis' in Tunisia (Reuters/File photo)

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has named 10 new ministers in a cabinet reshuffle that he hopes will bring new blood to his government, which has been widely criticised for failing to fix an economic crisis plaguing the North African country.

On Monday, Chahed named Jewish businessman Rene Trabelsi as the new minister of tourism.

With his appointment, Trabelsi would be only the third member of Tunisia's 2,000-person Jewish community to take on a cabinet post since the country's independence in 1956.

"This reshuffle is to make the work of government more effective and to put an end to the political and economic crisis," Chahed said in a statement.

Since the toppling of autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011, Tunisia’s economy has struggled and nine cabinets have failed to resolve a set of persistent economic problems, including high inflation and unemployment.

Impatience has been rising among lenders, such as the International Monetary Fund, which has kept the country afloat with billions of dollars in loans.

Also on Monday, Chahed named a former foreign minister under Ben Ali, Kamel Morjan, as the new minister in charge of the public sector, the country's main employer.

Key portfolios, including finance, foreign affairs and the interior ministry, were kept unchanged, however.

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The cabinet appointments come as Chahed faces increasing political pressure, including from within his own former party, the ruling Nidaa Tounes.

In a sign of the distrust inside the party, President Beji Caid Essebsi rejected the cabinet reshuffle, saying he had been informed too late about it without prior consultation, according to his spokeswoman, Saida Garrach.

Essebsi cannot stop the reshuffle, however. To be finalised, the changes must be approved by parliament, where Chahed is backed by a majority of the members.

The president's son and the ruling party's leader, Hafedh Caid Essebsi, also recently called for Chahed's dismissal because his government has failed to revive the economy.

Tunisia has been hailed for its democratic transition since 2011, but the North African country has been hit by an economic crisis and militant attacks since then.