Kais Saied's mini cabinet reshuffle sends message to striking unions

The decision comes only three weeks after Mr Saied sacked minister of commerce

Tunisia's President Kais Saied at the government's swearing-in ceremony outside the capital Tunis. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

Tunisian President Kais Saied dismissed his education and agriculture ministers in a cabinet reshuffle on Monday, a move which could be read as a fresh provocation of the country's powerful unions.

Mr Saied appointed a former Tunisian labour union UGTT executive bureau member, Mohamed Ali Boughdiri, to succeed Fathi Selaouti as Education Minister and a national Tunisian military brigadier general, Abdelmonem Balati, as Minister of Agriculture, succeeding Mahmoud Ilyes Hamza.

The new Education Minister, Mr Boughdiri, born in 1975, is a former leader of the powerful Tunisian labour union UGTT, who previously held the position of assistant secretary general in charge of the private sector.

The new Minister of Agriculture, Brig Gen Belati, was born in 1960, and has been a brigadier general since 2017.

A graduate of the Tunisian High Military School, Brig Gen Belati specialises in fighter aircraft and has previously served as acting Air Force Units commander in military bases throughout Tunisia for several years.

He also served as naval and air military force attache at the Tunisian Embassy in Madrid between 2015 and 2017.

The partial government reshuffle comes only three weeks after the dismissal of the commerce minister, Fadhila Rabhi, in early January.

Meanwhile, reactions to the sudden changes to both ministries of education and agriculture varied, with many wondering about the motivation behind Mr Saied's reshuffle.

Some speculated that he had adopted a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” approach.

The incoming Education Minister is a known nemesis of current UGTT secretary general Noureddine Taboubi, due to his opposition to Mr Taboubi running for another mandate at the head of the powerful labour union

“He [Mr Taboubi] has the same mentality as former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who amended constitution to stretch his time in power,” said Mr Boughdiri during an interview on private Tunisian radio station IFM in February 2020.

His arrival at the Ministry of Education could also mean a way out of the current crisis between the UGTT’s secondary education federation and the ministry, due to his publicly known closeness and friendship with the federation’s current president, Lasaad Yaakoubi.

Teachers in Tunisia have been refusing to unveil pupils’ exams marks, in an attempt to pressure the Ministry of Education to sit down with them and give concessions on a list of demands.

Mr Yaakoubi, however, said on his personal Facebook account on Monday night that “names change, but demands and entitlements remain,” in response to Mr Boughdiri's appointment.

“The distance between the successor and the predecessor will be measured by the extent to which these entitlements and demands are achieved,” he added.

Meanwhile, the decision to appoint a member of the Tunisian military at the head of the Ministry of Agriculture, instead of someone with prior expertise in the field, has raised questions.

Mr Saied is yet to provide a statement regarding the government reshuffle, but many observers expect more changes to take place.

Tunisia continues to struggle with its worst economic crisis to date, contributing to widening criticism and dissatisfaction from Tunisians towards the performance of the government.

The Tunisian President announced the formation of his current government in October 2021, 11 weeks after his dismissal of Hichem Mechichi administration in July of the same year.

The current government is the thirteenth that Tunisia has had since its revolution in 2011.

Updated: January 31, 2023, 2:17 PM