Can The New ‘Academic’ Ministers Deal With The Tunisian Crisis?

Published October 12th, 2021 - 10:30 GMT
Welcome women ministers

ALBAWABA – At last a government in Tunisia has been formed after 11 weeks. Now it might just start cracking.

It remains however, controversial because it is not chosen from parliament which remains frozen subject to the orders of President Kais Saied who took over rule back in July, but nevertheless, the country can now look to a semblance of political stability.

The government is interesting in a number of ways. First of all, Saied had chosen a woman as prime minister by the name of Najla Bouden Romadhane in late September. She is a geology professor who has some experience in public life. Working with the president who took over the executive authority under Article 80 of the Tunisian Constitution which he is going to amend, he has just witnessed the swearing of the ministers that are now in effect the government. 

It’s a period of excitement as the new administration has eight new women ministers, a “State Secretary” as well as herself, given them a grand total of 10 women out of a 24-member government that is set to tackle the crisis the country is facing. Their number has doubled from the five women minister in the last Hichem Mechichi government which had been sacked by Saied on 26 July because of its lack of ability to put things right or as said by the president.

As imagined and expected the new government is all over the social media with different point of views including the congratulations and apprehensions, the optimism and the fears of what may lay ahead. One posts points out “Yes there is a new government but there is no roadmap back to democracy.” 

But the trepidation continues today with the social and economic challenges confronting Tunisia and by implications, the new government for Romadane who is still to outline her economic agenda. Tunisia needs around $4 billion so as not stand the risk of defaulting on its foreign loans. And this is something that the new woman prime minister will have to negotiate with outside donors such as the world Bank and IMF. This is not to mention the soaring unemployment and the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In this respect also the new women ministers hold important ministerial portfolios in the new government including Siham Boughdiri, Finance Minister, Fadhila Rebhi Ben Hamedah, Commerce Minister, Leila Chikhaoui, Environment Minister, Sarra Zaafrani Zanzri, Minister of Equipment, Hayet Ketata Guermazi, Minister of Culture, Amel Bel Hadi, Minister of Women, Leila Jafaal, Justice Minister and Ayda Hamdi, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs. 

It’s an impressive lineup. There are however two snags to this. The new government has to be approved by parliament which has to give its vote of confidence. At the end of the day surely Saeid will reach a concord since many parliamentarians are calling his take-over as a power-grab and a coup. Nobody for the time being is sure when the legislative body will be recalled.

The other thing is the new cabinet is being labelled as academic with many of its ministers coming from teaching posts at universities. This very much reflects the same background as the president himself. Saeid who is a constitutional expert, taught for many years at university and in 2019 decided he wanted to become a president.

Thus the Minister of Culture has a Phd in History and Anthropology, the Environment Minister is a former professor of Public Law and has been teaching since 2013, Minister of Telecommunications Nizar Ben Naji has a Phd in Information Technology, Minister of Youth Dr Kamal Dakeesh is a professor and a lawyer and so is Defense Minister Imad Dmeish who is also a law professor. As well as, three of the appointed professors were colleagues of the president in the university. Overall, Saied is amongst friends.

So which is it? Some are calling the new government as a "technocratic one". But can that be the case. Many of the professors have an academic background with limited experience in the day-to-day running of what can been termed the "hard knuckles" of public life. 

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