Published March 08, 2013
TUNIS, Tunisia – Tunisia's ruling party nominated several respected figures not aligned with political parties for key Cabinet posts Friday, concessions to the opposition it hopes will defuse the country's political crisis.
While the North African nation has suffered instability since the overthrow of a decades-long dictatorship two years ago, the killing of an opposition leader last month dramatically escalated its troubles, setting off riots around the country and eventually leading to the resignation of the prime minister.
After decades of secular rule, Tunisia's revolution allowed for a resurgence of religious activity, and a moderate Islamist party won post-dictatorship elections. But some have criticized that party, Ennahda, for not doing enough to rein in religious extremist violence, and some also have accused the party of complicity in the assassination.
Ennahda denies it was involved in the Feb. 6 assassination of Chokri Belaid, an opposition politician from the Popular Front coalition, but the accusations and massive protests have made it increasingly hard to govern.
The new government hands the Interior, Foreign, Defense and Justice ministries over to people outside of politics — a concession to the opposition. They include two judges, a law professor and a career diplomat. Members of Ennahda and its two coalition partners also received posts.
But Ali Larayedh, who was accused of failing to stem violence by ultraconservative Muslims when he was interior minister in the previous government, will be the prime minister. He has said the new Cabinet will stay in place until elections later this year, probably in October or November.
The new leadership must be approved by lawmakers in parliament, a vote expected to be a formality. But it's unclear whether the concessions will be sufficient to calm tensions with the opposition.
Taieb Baccouche, secretary-general of the right-of-center Tunisia's Call party, one of the main opposition parties, called the effort a sham. "They're borrowing the same strategy that failed with the previous government and will end with the same result," he said.
Tunisia's transition to democracy — and how it balances a rise of Islamism with secular values — is being closely watched on the global stage since its revolution sparked the Arab Spring uprisings elsewhere.
The recent political crisis has also revealed a split within Ennahda between its hardline and more moderate wings. Larayedh, considered a hardliner, took over after former Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali resigned because the party rejected his proposal to form an apolitical government of technocrats in response to the protests.