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Thursday, 14th November 2019
4:08:26pm

North Africa

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Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahda party may choose a candidate from outside its ranks to head government, two sources said on Friday, as it seeks consensus with other parties for a coalition.

Following victory in last month’s parliamentary election, Ennahda will be the biggest party but with only 52 of 217 seats, forcing it to compromise to form a cabinet.

It had previously decided one of its leaders should be prime minister because of the electoral mandate.

But that was not accepted by potential partners: Attayar with 22 seats, Achaab’s Movement with 16 seats and current Prime Minister Youssef Chahed’s Tahya Tounes party with 14.

Only the Conservative Karama coalition, with 21 seats, agreed. 

“There is possibility that a figure from outside the party will be nominated to head the next government,” a senior Ennahda official told Reuters.

“Ennahda is likely to accept the presidency of parliament and approve an independent figure that can win the confidence of all parties involved in the coalition.”

The party was due to discuss the issue on Saturday and Sunday, the official added.

Another political source said there is no shortlist, but added that former parliament speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar and two former finance ministers Elyes Fakhfakh and Fadel Abdel Kefi were among potential candidates.

Ennahda has excluded two parties from talks: Heart of Tunisia, which holds 38 seats and is led by the media magnate Nabil Karoui, and the Free Constitutional Party led by Abir Moussa, with 17 seats, which opposes the Islamists. Ennahda is expected to reveal its choice for prime minister by the next week. If it cannot form a government within two months, the president can ask another group to try. If that fails and the deadlock persists, there will be another election.

The North African country has been hailed as the Arab Spring’s only democratic success because protests toppled autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 without triggering the kind of violent upheavals seen in Syria and Libya.

But multiple cabinets since then have failed to resolve economic problems, including high inflation and unemployment.

-Reuters    

More than 100,000 Algerians, double the number attending recent weekly protests, marched on Friday to demand a purge of the ruling hierarchy and an end to military involvement in politics.

The surge in numbers came after opposition calls on social media for a big demonstration to mark the anniversary of the 1954 uprising against French rule, the start of a struggle for independence whose cadres still dominate Algerian politics.

Algeria, the largest country in Africa, is a major exporter of oil and gas.

Friday’s protest comes as the leaderless opposition movement readies for a test of strength with the authorities after rejecting a presidential election that has been called for December and is seen by the army as the best way to end the impasse. 

The mass protests erupted in February after veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika said he would stand for president again in a July election and continued weekly even after he stood down in April.

Since the spring, the number of protesters attending weekly demonstrations has fallen, though tens of thousands have continued to march every Friday through the summer and autumn, saying all members of the old guard should quit power.

Some of Bouteflika’s closest allies and other once-powerful people in the hierarchy have been detained or jailed on corruption charges, but protesters say they want remaining figures associated with the former president to quit too.

It has left the army as the most powerful player in Algerian politics under its chief of staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah, who publicly pushed the interim president to call December’s election.

On Friday, protesters chanted: “Gaed Salah go home!” and “There will be no election this year!”.

They also demanded the removal of interim president Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Nouredine Bedoui. Some 20 candidates have applied to run in the December election.

-Reuters

The U.N. human rights office called on Egypt on Friday to free a prominent blogger, lawyer and journalist allegedly mistreated in custody who are among nearly 2,000 people detained since street protests began a month ago.

Officials at the interior ministry were not immediately available for comment. The state prosecutor’s office said in late September that it had questioned a number not exceeding 1,000 suspects who took part in the demonstrations.

“Unfortunately such arrests are continuing, and have included a number of well-known and respected civil society figures,” U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a news briefing in Geneva. 

Protests against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo and other cities have followed online calls for demonstrations against alleged government corruption.

Sisi, who came to power after, while army chief, leading the 2013 overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi, has overseen a broad crackdown on dissent that has extended to liberal and Islamist groups, and which rights groups say is the most severe in recent memory.

Journalist and activist Esraa Abdelfattah was arrested by plainclothes security officers in Cairo on Oct. 12 and was reportedly beaten after she refused to unlock her mobile phone, Shamdasani said. Abdelfattah is on a hunger strike, she added.

Alaa Abdel Fattah, a blogger and software engineer, was released in March after serving a five-year sentence for protesting without permission, but was re-arrested on Sept 29, Shamdasani said. The same day, his lawyer Mohamed al-Baqer, was arrested while attending the interrogation, she added.

Abdel Fattah was struck by guards on his back and neck while being forced to walk down a corridor in his underwear, while al-Baqer has been subjected to physical and verbal abuse, and denied water and medical aid, she said.

-Reuters 

Tunisia President Kais Saied made his first major decision as head of state on Tuesday, approving the replacement of the foreign and defence ministers as the new parliament prepares for coalition talks.

Saied was elected president in a landslide on Oct. 13, and was invested last Wednesday as head of state, a role that in Tunisia’s political system gives him direct control over foreign and defence policy.

However, while the president is the most senior directly elected official, most power is held by a governing coalition that requires a parliamentary majority. 

The moderate Islamist Ennahda, which won more seats than any other party in the Oct. 6 parliamentary election, is preparing for formal negotiations with other parties to appoint a prime minister and a new government.

With the parliament deeply fractured and Ennahda holding only 52 of the 217 seats, however, any new governing coalition will require complex and potentially lengthy negotiations.

If Ennahda’s candidate for prime minister is not able to form a government within two months, Saied can name another candidate who would also have two months to try to build a coalition before new elections would be required.

Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, who will keep his job until a new government is agreed, dismissed Khemaies Jhinaoui as foreign minister and Abdelkarim Zbidi as defence minister after consulting with Saied, Tuesday’s presidency statement said.

Karim Jamoussi, the justice minister, replaces Jhinaoui as acting foreign minister, while Sabri Bachtobji replaces Zbidi as acting defence minister, the statement added.

Under Tunisia’s constitution, the appointment or dismissal of government ministers must be approved by the president.

-Reuters 

Morocco announced a cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday, reducing the number of jobs to 23 but keeping the foreign, finance and interior ministers in their posts.

King Mohammed VI approved the list of new ministers submitted by Prime Minister Saad Dine El Otmani, state news agency MAP reported, after having asked him in the summer to arrange a reshuffle.

The tourism, housing, youth and culture, employment, justice and health ministers were changed, but the interior, religious affairs, agriculture, energy, trade and industry and education ministers stayed in place.

El Otmani’s moderate Islamist PJD party has seven cabinet posts in the newly configured government, while the liberal RNI led by business tycoon Aziz Akhannouch has four, including his own appointment to agriculture.

The socialist PPS party withdrew last week from the coalition over what it described as political disagreements.

Many of the new ministers are technocrats without clear party affiliation, a development that some analysts say shows the influence of the palace in appointing strategic portfolios, while political parties are marginalised.

“In the constitution, Morocco is a constitutional monarchy, but in reality it is close to an executive monarchy,” said Mohamed Masbah of the Independent Moroccan Institute for Policy Analysis (MIPA).

Morocco is seeking a new development model to fight poverty and curb regional and social disparities.

The north African country has largely been insulated from the turmoil that hit North Africa and the Middle East since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, although it regularly sees protests over economic and social problems.

-Reuters

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