Tunisian President Kais Saied on Monday swore in a new Cabinet selected by Prime Minister Najla Bouden Romdhane in a ceremony at Carthage Palace after more than two months without a government.
“Today we are witnessing historic moments … and we will all succeed in getting Tunisia out of the deteriorated situation it had reached,” Mr Saeid said in a speech following the ceremony.
“We will save the Tunisian state” from its enemies outside and inside, he added.
Nine women are among the 24 ministers, and will head up ministries including Justice, Finance, Commerce and Industry. Ms Bouden, who was appointed two weeks ago, is the country’s first female prime minister, and the first in the Arab world.
“We need to ensure that citizens regain their confidence in the state,” she said, in a short address before the swearing-in ceremony. “This will only happen once they feel that they are a citizen with full rights. This will only happen through the application of law without any delay or discrimination.”
The new government — composed largely of technocrats drawn from academia and interim appointees Mr Saied installed shortly after he dismissed the previous government on July 25 — will take office at a time of profound crisis for the country.
Economic strain deepened by the Covid-19 pandemic, mismanagement of the health crisis, a dysfunctional parliament and deadlock between the executive and legislative branches of government spurred Mr Saied to invoke emergency measures, which he said would enable him to steer the country back on track. The move enjoyed widespread popular support in its early days.
More than two months later, he has further consolidated power, including issuing a presidential order that essentially sacked the suspended parliament, weakened the role of the prime minister and enabled him to rule by decree. He will now serve as the head of the Cabinet, while Ms Bouden’s role and ability to check the executive has yet to be defined.
In his speech following the ceremony, Mr Saied affirmed “we will not stay under the extraordinary measures,” and hinted at a forthcoming national dialogue, which the French Foreign Ministry recently reported was discussed in a phone call between Mr Saied and French President Emmanuel Macron.
He also vowed to fight corruption and urged prosecutors to take the necessary steps to investigate all corruption accusations.
“We will chase the corrupt and the money of the people will be restored to the people and not to those who are acting against the state,” Mr Saeid said.
Ms Bouden echoed his words. “One of the most important goals is countering corruption, which keeps expanding day after day and which leads to the loss of confidence in any attempt to make radical and true reforms.”
Ms Bouden notably reinstated Taoufik Charfeddine as Minister of the Interior, who headed Mr Saied’s campaign in the coastal city of Sousse.
His dismissal in January of this year by then prime minister Hichem Mechichi instigated the dispute row with the Presidency that ultimately led to Mr Saied’s July 25 decision.
Other notable appointments include Sihem Boughdiri Nemsia as finance minister. Ms Boughdiri Nemsia, a tax specialist with a 28-year history at the ministry, had been installed by Mr Saied as a caretaker in early August.
She will face a mounting fiscal crisis as Tunisia runs short of foreign currency reserves and scrambles to repay several billion dollars of debt payments due in coming weeks.
Minister of Justice Leila Jafal, a former judge who led the Ministry of State Property in the Mechichi government, will also face new challenges as Mr Saied pursues his agenda to fight corruption, particularly in the judiciary and among former lawmakers.
Mr Saied has faced mounting pressure from foreign allies to reinstate Parliament and return to Tunisia's previous system of governance, but the leader has stated his desire to reshape the political system into one with a strong presidency and dispersed, local governance.