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Nepotism charges shadow new Tunisian PM appointment

Fethi Belaid, AFP
3 min

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi on Wednesday named Youssef Chahed, the 40-year-old minister for local affairs who has ties to the president’s family, as the country’s new prime minister, overriding charges of nepotism by critics.


"I met today with the president... who charged me with forming a national unity government," Chahed told reporters outside the presidential palace in Carthage.

Chahed now has 30 days to come up with a ministerial team.

Chahed’s appointment came days after parliament ousted Habib Essid as prime minister in a no-confidence vote over Essid’s handling of economic reforms and security.

A junior minister in Essid's government, Chahed is an agricultural sciences specialist and academic who has taught in France and Tunisia.

He is also part of the Nidaa Tounes secular party and has ties to Essebsi's family, which has led to some criticism from opposition leaders.

Nidaa Tounes and the Islamist Ennahda party, both part of the ruling coalition, control a majority of seats in parliament, which means Chahed's nomination is likely to be accepted by lawmakers when they vote on his approval.

‘Keep your relatives at home’

Although Chahed’s nomination was widely expected, the latest political development marked yet another sign of the instability that has gripped this North African country since it kicked off a wave of uprisings across the Arab world in 2011.

In the lead-up to the nomination, critics took to social media sites to voice their opposition under the hashtag "keep your relatives at home" in Arabic. Chahed is the nephew of Essebsi's son-in-law, according to Tunisian media.

"Essebsi got rid of Essid so he could put in place someone close to him and have them follow orders," said Jilani Hammami, with the opposition Popular Front party. "This is a step back to when one family ran everything."

Tunisian lawmakers voted on Saturday to dismiss Essid in a no-confidence ballot, clearing the way for a new government of unity to push through delayed economic reforms.

Essebsi is already facing widespread criticism over what some see as his attempt at a hereditary transfer of power to his son Hafed, the new leader of Nidaa Tounes. That caused a split within the party.

Allegations dismissed

Allies of the president dismiss claims they are looking to place his son into a position of influence.

Since its 2011 revolution to oust strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia has emerged as a democracy praised as a model for the region. But militant attacks have tested the government and political infighting has slowed economic progress.

Essebsi has said the country needs a more dynamic government ready to take strong decisions to bring about the liberalisation and cost-cutting required for an overhaul of the North African state's economy.

Three Islamist militant attacks last year – including gun attacks on foreign visitors at a museum and a beach resort – have badly damaged the tourism industry, which makes up around eight percent of the economy and is a major source of jobs.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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