Tunisia's President Saied dismisses Prime Minister Najla Bouden

The departing minister was the first woman to lead a government in the North African country

Tunisian President Kais Saied, left, shakes the hand of new Prime Minister Ahmed Hachani at the presidential palace on Tuesday. EPA
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Tunisian President Kais Saied has dismissed Prime Minister Najla Bouden, the first woman to lead a government in the North African country, according to a video from the presidency on Tuesday evening.

Mr Saied immediately appointed in her place Ahmed Hachani, who until now worked at the Tunisian central bank and studied law at the University of Tunis where Mr Saied taught, according to Mr Hachani's Facebook profile.

Little else is known about Mr Hachani, who had not been in the public eye.

In recent weeks, the President has repeatedly blamed officials and the government for failing to address problems and poor public services, including frequent water and electricity cuts.

Shortages of subsidised bread in several regions have also prompted intra-government talks in recent days.

During those talks, Mr Saied said bread was a “red line” for Tunisians. Similar shortages fuelled the famous bread riots that left 150 dead in 1984 under Habib Bourguiba, the father of Tunisian independence.

“There are great challenges that we must raise … to preserve our homeland, our state and civil peace,” Mr Saied told Mr Hachani after he took the constitutional oath.

“We will work to achieve the will of our people and the desired justice … and to achieve national dignity.”

Mr Saied appointed Ms Bouden as prime minister in October 2021, after he sacked Hichem Mechichi and took control of almost all powers in July of that year, dissolving Parliament in a move the opposition described as a coup.

A new parliament was voted in this spring following legislative elections at the end of last year, which were boycotted by opposition parties and shunned by voters with a turnout rate of around 10 per cent.

Economic woes and the IMF

“The Tunisian citizen has been under tremendous pressure since 2011 with high inflation, low employment rates and political discord. Repeated failures on the part of the presidency, parliament and the legislature have hindered the country's ability to achieve the political stability, without which there cannot be successful economic reform,” says Dr Ali Al Idreesy, a regional economic analyst.

Political instability has also hindered the North African country's ability to deal with global crises and receive bailouts from international financial institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, Mr Al Idreesy explains.

Tunisia's ongoing political crisis is compounded by deep economic challenges, with high levels of poverty and unemployment.

The poorest have been hard-hit by widespread shortages of basic necessities, subsidised by the government since the 1970s, including flour, sugar, coffee and cooking oil.

Economists say recent shortages are linked to the government's inability to pay suppliers in advance as it is dealing with a debt of around 80 per cent of its GDP, according to figures released by the IMF in April.

Cereal-based products have disappeared from the shelves as a result of the war in Ukraine, the main wheat exporter to Tunis.

In May, Mr Saied accused “known parties” of provoking a bread shortage – which he described as “completely unacceptable” and a bid to monopolise other goods.

A critical medicine shortage is also affecting a large proportion of Tunisians.

In October, the IMF and the Tunisian government reached a tentative agreement on a bailout, conditional upon “comprehensive reforms” by Tunis, which Mr Saied has refused to adopt.

“The Tunisian government has either been unable or unwilling to restructure its internal economy as per the IMF's requests so it has been unable to reach a deal with the fund for aid,” Mr Al Idreesy adds. “But, perhaps more importantly, it has also failed at dealing with its economic woes internally.”

Talks with the IMF have stalled as a result, with Mr Saied labelling the reforms – parts of which were initially proposed by his own government – as “foreign diktats” that will push more Tunisians below the poverty line.

Tunisia is suffering from similar economic woes to other North African countries like Egypt, Mr Al Idreesy explains.

“North African countries, unlike Gulf countries, which benefited from rising global energy prices because they are the world's biggest suppliers, are now suffering from record high debts, high unemployment and currency devaluations.

“But Tunisia is unique in that it has not yet been able to stabilise itself enough to deal with crises like the Russia-Ukraine war which we are now being told is going to continue for years to come.”

Saudi Arabia offered $500 million in assistance in July, a month after Tunisia's credit rating was further downgraded.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Updated: August 03, 2023, 6:04 AM