Tunisia announces new government

A moderate Islamist party will run most of Tunisia’s government ministries in a new coalition Cabinet presented today, the first since the country’s first post-uprising elections.

A moderate Islamist party will run most of Tunisia’s government ministries in a new coalition Cabinet presented today, the first since the country’s first post-uprising elections.

Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, of the long-banned Islamist party Ennahda, said the 41-member government will focus on boosting the economy and fighting corruption.

Joblessness and corruption helped drive popular anger during protests a year ago which forced out hard-line President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, ending half a century of dictatorship. That uprising led to revolts around the Arab world.

After weeks of negotiations with the parties who won seats on a new constituent assembly in October elections, Mr Jebali announced the new government today. The government faces a confidence vote in the assembly tomorrow morning.

The government includes three women and a human rights minister, in an apparent bid by the Islamist prime minister to soothe fears that his party will roll back freedoms.

The Islamist party has control of most ministries, except for defence. Defence Minister Abdelkrim Zbidi is the only member of the former interim government to continue in his post.

A son-in-law of Mr Ennahda’s chief, Rafik Abdessalem, was named foreign minister. The party insisted his international experience – he has a degree from London’s Westminster University and was a senior figure at Arab news network Al-Jazeera – and not his family ties were behind the appointment.

Other ministries went to the parties that came second and third in the October elections, or to independents such as former soccer star Tarek Dhiab, now minister for youth and sports.

The government takes power as Tunisia’s economic worries are mounting. Unemployment has grown from about 14% to 18% over the past year, and the central bank is forecasting zero growth for 2011 – in a country that was growing at a speedy clip in recent years thanks to prosperous tourism and phosphate mining industries.

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