US embassy cable - 01TUNIS325

GOVERNMENT SHAKE-UP: OBSERVERS SEE INCREASINGLY TECHNOCRATIC CABINET AS SIGN OF BEN ALI'S TIGHT GRIP ON DECISION-MAKING.

Identifier: 01TUNIS325
Wikileaks: View 01TUNIS325 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Tunis
Created: 2001-02-09 08:57:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PREL ELAB KDEM PHUM TS
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
P 090857Z FEB 01
FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5754
INFO AMEMBASSY ALGIERS 
AMEMBASSY AMMAN 
AMEMBASSY CAIRO 
AMEMBASSY RABAT 
AMEMBASSY PARIS 
AMCONSUL CASABLANCA 
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TUNIS 000325 
 
FOR NEA/ENA 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/29/2005 
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, ELAB, KDEM, PHUM, TS 
SUBJECT: GOVERNMENT SHAKE-UP:  OBSERVERS SEE INCREASINGLY 
TECHNOCRATIC CABINET AS SIGN OF BEN ALI'S TIGHT GRIP ON 
DECISION-MAKING. 
 
REF: TUNIS 191 
 
(U) CLASSIFIED BY AMBASSADOR FOR REASONS 1.5 (B) AND (D). 
 
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SUMMARY 
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1.  (C)  IN NUMEROUS CONVERSATIONS SINCE THE JANUARY 23 
GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLING (REFTEL), TUNISIAN AND DIPLOMATIC 
OBSERVERS HAVE ALMOST INVARIABLY DESCRIBED THE SHAKE-UP AS 
SOMETHING OF A GAME OF MUSICAL CHAIRS AND A SIGN OF PRESIDENT 
BEN ALI'S FIRM PERSONAL CONTROL OVER THE POLITICAL SITUATION 
IN THE COUNTRY.  SEVERAL HAVE DESCRIBED THE SHIFTS AS 
INDICATING THAT THE CABINET IS BECOMING INCREASINGLY 
TECHNOCRATIC, BUT ARE OF TWO MINDS ABOUT THE IMPLICATION OF 
THIS.  ON ONE HAND, MINISTERS AND, ESPECIALLY, SECRETARIES OF 
STATE (JUNIOR MINISTERS) ARE INCREASINGLY INDIVIDUALS WHO 
HAVE COME UP THROUGH THE BUREAUCRACY AND ARE SEEN AS 
COMPETENT IN THEIR FIELD, A PLUS FOR EFFECTIVE IMPLEMENTATION 
OF PROGRAMS.  ON THE OTHER HAND, THAT MEANS, ACCORDING TO 
SOME OBSERVERS, THAT THEY ARE ONLY IMPLEMENTERS OF POLICY 
DECISIONS MADE BY THE PRESIDENT, NOT DECISION-MAKERS OR 
POLITICAL FIGURES THEMSELVES, MEANING A GREATER CONSOLIDATION 
OF POLITICAL DECISIONS IN BEN ALI'S HANDS.  WE SHARE THE 
ASSESSMENT OF MANY THAT THE MOST INFLUENTIAL FIGURES IN THE 
TUNISIAN LEADERSHIP ARE OUTSIDE THE CABINET.  END SUMMARY. 
 
---------------------------- 
INCREASINGLY TECHNOCRATIC 
CABINET--FOR BETTER OR WORSE 
---------------------------- 
 
2.  (C)  THERE HAS BEEN CONSIDERABLE SPECULATION ABOUT 
PRESIDENT BEN ALI'S JANUARY 23 GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLING, IN 
WHICH THREE SENIOR MINISTERS LEFT GOVERNMENT, NINE MOVED 
LATERALLY TO OTHER POSITIONS, AND 11 NEW JUNIOR MINISTER 
POSITIONS WERE CREATED (FOR A TOTAL OF 30 FULL MINISTERS AND 
24 JUNIOR MINISTERS).  SOME OBSERVERS, BOTH TUNISIAN AND 
FOREIGN DIPLOMATS, DESCRIBED THE CHANGES AS LITTLE MORE THAN 
MUSICAL CHAIRS, BUT MANY SAW A PURPOSE BEHIND THE JUGGLING. 
AN EGYPTIAN EMBASSY OFFICER AND FRENCH EMBASSY POLITICAL 
COUNSELOR EACH OPINED THAT BEN ALI ENGAGED IN SUCH JUGGLING 
BOTH IN ORDER TO DEMONSTRATE THAT HE REMAINS FULLY IN CHARGE 
AND, ON A MORE POSITIVE NOTE, TO GIVE BROADER EXPERIENCE IN 
GOVERNMENT TO SEASONED MINISTERS.  WHILE BOTH COLLEAGUES 
PRAISED THE COMPETENCE AND EXPERTISE OF THE INCREASINGLY 
TECHNOCRATIC CABINET, THEY SAW IT AS A CLEAR SIGN THAT ALL 
POLICY DECISIONS ARE MADE BY THE PRESIDENT IN CONSULTATION 
WITH A CLOSE CIRCLE OF ADVISERS, MANY OF WHOM ARE NOT 
MINISTERS.  THE MINISTERS ARE THERE TO IMPLEMENT DECISIONS 
MADE ELSEWHERE. 
 
3.  (C)  ALONG THE SAME LINES, TAIEB ZAHAR, PUBLISHER OF THE 
WEEKLY INDEPENDENT MAGAZINE, "REALITES," TOLD LABATT THAT HE 
SEES THE LATEST RESHUFFLING AS THE CONSOLIDATION OF BEN ALI'S 
GRADUAL MOVE TO FILL THE CABINET WITH TECHNOCRATS WHO ARE 
GOOD AT IMPLEMENTING DECISIONS BUT PLAY NO REAL POLITICAL 
ROLE.  HE SAID THAT WITH THE DEPARTURE FROM THE CABINET OF 
MINISTER OF SOCIAL AFFAIRS, CHADLI NEFFATI, THERE WAS 
VIRTUALLY NO ONE LEFT (EXCEPT MINISTER OF DEFENSE DALY JAZI 
AND MINISTER OF EDUCATION,  MONDER ROUISSI) WHO CAME INTO THE 
CABINET FROM OUTSIDE THE BUREAUCRACY.  THERE IS NO ONE, HE 
ARGUED, WHO ROSE THROUGH A PRIVATE ASSOCIATION (COMMENT:  THE 
TWO WOMEN MINISTERS ARE AN EXCEPTION, AS THEY ROSE THROUGH 
THE RCD-AFFILIATED NATIONAL UNION OF TUNISIAN WOMEN.  END 
COMMENT), THE LABOR UNION MOVEMENT, OR EVEN BUSINESS.   ZAHAR 
ARGUED THAT, EVEN IN OTHER NON-DEMOCRATIC COUNTRIES, ONE CAN 
SEE WITHIN A CABINET EVIDENCE OF POLITICAL TENDENCIES OR 
"FIEFDOMS," WHETHER REGIONAL OR PERSONAL, BUT THAT BEN ALI 
HAS VIRTUALLY ELIMINATED ANYONE'S ABILITY TO BUILD ANY 
INDEPENDENT POLITICAL OR EVEN REGIONAL LOYALTIES.  ZAHAR 
ARGUED THAT TECHNOCRATS ARE IMPORTANT TO IMPLEMENT THE 
POLICY, BUT THAT POLITICAL AND SOCIAL CONSIDERATIONS SHOULD 
BE IN THE MINISTERIAL MIX AS WELL. 
 
---------------- 
OUT IS NEVER OUT 
---------------- 
 
4. (C) WHILE MANY FOREIGN PRESS REPORTS ON THE SHAKE-UP 
FOCUSED ON THE DEPARTURE OF FORMER MINISTER OF INTERIOR 
ABDULLAH KALLEL OR THE MOVEMENT OF DALY JAZI FROM 
PRESIDENTIAL COUNSELOR TO THE MINISTRY OF DEFENSE (NOT 
CONSIDERED BY SOME A KEY PORTFOLIO BECAUSE, IN THIS VIEW, 
PROFESSIONAL, APOLITICAL MILITARY OFFICERS IN SENIOR 
POSITIONS ACTUALLY RUN THE MINISTRY), TUNISIAN OBSERVERS 
GENERALLY DISMISS EFFORTS TO INTERPRET THESE MOVES AS 
INDICATIVE OF AN INDIVIDUAL'S RISE OR FALL IN FAVOR.  MANY 
CURRENT AND FORMER GOVERNMENT MINISTERS HAVE MOVED IN AND OUT 
OF THE CABINET OVER THE YEARS.  OBSERVERS HAVE NOTED THAT 
THIS FOLLOWS BEN ALI'S DESIRE TO KEEP PEOPLE MOVING.  ZAHAR 
AND MONDER KALAI, A PRESS OFFICER AT THE MINISTRY OF 
EDUCATION, IN A SEPARATE CONVERSATION, EACH SAID HE BELIEVED 
THAT BEN ALI WAS IN FACT MOVING SOME OF HIS CLOSEST 
COUNSELORS OUT OF MINISTERIAL POSITIONS SO THAT THEY COULD 
FOCUS ON ADVISING HIM WITHOUT BEING BURDENED BY THE 
DAY-TO-DAY OPERATIONS OF A MINISTRY.  ZAHAR CITED KALLEL AS 
AN EXAMPLE:  HE REMAINS A CLOSE SECURITY ADVISER TO BEN ALI, 
BUT AS MINISTER OF INTERIOR WAS ALSO RESPONSIBLE FOR THE 
ADMINISTRATION OF THE COUNTRY THROUGH THE GOVERNORS AND 
DISTRICT COMMISSIONERS, ALL OF WHOM REPORT UP TO THE 
MINISTER.  KALAI WENT FURTHER, REFERRING TO BEN ALI'S 
ADVISORS AS HIS "SHADOW CABINET," AND NAMED KALLEL, JAZY, 
PRESIDENTIAL MINISTER/COUNSELOR ABDELAZIZ BEN DHIA, AND 
PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN ABDELWAHAB ABDULLAH AS AMONG THOSE WHO 
PLAY KEY ROLES IN ASSISTING BEN ALI IN ARRIVING AT DECISIONS. 
  THIS WOULD TRACK WITH THE NOVEMBER 1999 DECISION TO MOVE 
FORMER PRIME MINISTER HAMED KAROUI TO THE NON-SUBSTANTIVE 
(BUT VERY SENIOR) POSITION OF VICE PRESIDENT OF THE RCD, 
APPOINTING ECONOMIC TECHNOCRAT MOHAMED GHANNOUCHI (WHO ONLY 
RECENTLY JOINED THE POLITBURO OF THE RCD) TO RUN THE 
GOVERNMENT AS PRIME MINISTER. 
 
----------------- 
SPECULATION ABOUT 
PLANNING FOR 2004 
----------------- 
 
5.  (C) ZAHAR CITED ANOTHER FACTOR IN THE GOVERNMENT 
RESHUFFLING AND THE SHAKE-UP IN LEADERSHIP AT THE RULING 
PARTY THAT OCCURRED THE SAME WEEK:  PLANNING FOR THE 2004 
PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS.  IN THE LAST MONTH OR TWO SEVERAL 
OPPOSITION LEADERS, RANGING FROM ISMAIL BOULAHIA OF THE 
SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC MOVEMENT (MDS) AND MOHAMED BOUCHIHA OF THE 
POPULAR UNITY PARTY (BOTH SEEN AS CLOSE TO THE GOVERNMENT) TO 
RACHID KHACHANA OF THE PROGRESSIVE SOCIALIST RALLY (RSP) HAVE 
TOLD LABATT THAT THEY BELIEVE BEN ALI IS PREPARING THE GROUND 
WORK FOR A POPULAR REFERENDUM EXEMPTING HIM FROM THE 
CONSTITUTIONAL THREE-TERM LIMIT AND "DEMANDING" THAT HE RUN 
FOR A FOURTH (ELECTED) TERM IN 2004.  UNDER THIS ANALYSIS, 
ACCORDING TO BOTH ZAHAR AND KELAI (AND THE OPPOSITION 
LEADERS) BEN ALI IS GATHERING AROUND HIMSELF THE PEOPLE WHO 
WOULD ORGANIZE THIS MOVE POLITICALLY AND JURIDICALLY.  ZAHAR 
CITED BEN DHIA (WHOSE RESPONSIBILITIES AS CHIEF OF STAFF WERE 
SPLIT OFF TO AHMED IYADH OEDERNI) AS THE "LAWYER" WHO WOULD 
MAKE SURE ALL WAS DONE IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE LAW, WHILE 
KALLEL PLAYS HIS TRADITIONAL ROLE OF "ENFORCER" (ASSISTED BY 
SECRETARY OF STATE GHANZOUI, WHO REMAINS NUMBER TWO AT THE 
MINISTRY) TO PREVENT DISSENT WITHIN THE PARTY OR OTHER RANKS. 
 
------------------------ 
RUMORS ABOUT PERSONAL/ 
REGIONAL TIES TO BEN ALI 
------------------------ 
 
6.  (C) AS WITH ALL DEVELOPMENTS IN TUNISIA, THERE HAS BEEN A 
WEALTH OF SPECULATION AND RUMOR ABOUT ALLEGED TIES CERTAIN 
INDIVIDUALS HAVE TO THE PRESIDENT, HIS WIFE, OR HIS HOME 
REGION OF SOUSSE.  CONTACTS RANGING FROM EMBASSY FSN'S TO 
EUROPEAN AMBASSADORS HAVE ATTRIBUTED ABDERAHIM ZOUARI'S 
STICKING POWER (JUST NAMED AS MINISTER OF YOUTH AND SPORTS, 
HE HAS BEEN SHIFTED FROM MINISTRY TO MINISTRY AND WAS 
SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE RCD UNTIL DECEMBER 2000), DESPITE 
LESS THAN STELLAR PERFORMANCES, TO THE FACT THAT HE SERVED AS 
AMBASSADOR TO MOROCCO WHEN BEN ALI WAS MILITARY ATTACHE THERE 
IN THE 1970'S.  THE GENERAL ASSUMPTION (USUALLY STATED AS 
"FACT") IS THAT ZOUARI MUST HAVE INFORMATION ABOUT BEN ALI'S 
PERSONAL LIFE.  TUNISIAN AND DIPLOMATIC OBSERVERS HAVE 
REFERRED ALSO TO A POSSIBLE FAMILY RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN BEN 
ALI AND THE NEW GOVERNOR OF THE CENTRAL BANK, AND BETWEEN 
MRS. BEN ALI AND THE NEW DIRECTOR OF TUNISIE TELECOM. 
SEVERAL INTERLOCUTORS SAID THAT THE NEW MINISTER OF INTERIOR 
ROSE RAPIDLY THROUGH THE SERVICE BECAUSE OF TIME SPENT IN BEN 
ALI'S HOME TOWN OF HAMMAM SOUSSE, ON THE CENTRAL COAST, 
DURING WHICH HE WAS REPORTEDLY ATTENTIVE TO BEN ALI'S MOTHER. 
 
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COMMENT 
------- 
 
7.  (C) APART FROM THE SPECULATION ABOUT PERSONAL TIES AND 
RELATIONSHIPS, WHICH WE CANNOT VERIFY, MUCH OF THE ANALYSIS 
MAKES SENSE.  THERE IS A POSITIVE SIDE TO THE INCREASINGLY 
TECHNOCRATIC ADMINISTRATION--TUNISIA HAS A GREAT DEAL OF WORK 
TO DO IF IT IS TO MODERNIZE ITS GOVERNMENT, ECONOMY, AND 
EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM AND COMPETE IN THE GLOBAL ECONOMY.  ON THE 
POLITICAL SIDE, IT IS CLEAR THAT SOME OF BEN ALI'S CLOSEST 
ADVISORS DO NOT HAVE CABINET POSITIONS.  SPOKESMAN ABDULLAH 
IS WIDELY SEEN AS THE HARD-LINER ON FREEDOM OF PRESS ISSUES; 
FORMER PRIME MINISTER KAROUI, WHO CURRENTLY HOLDS NO 
GOVERNMENT POSITION, HAS FREQUENTLY REPRESENTED BEN ALI AT 
INTERNATIONAL FUNCTIONS; PRESIDENTIAL COUNSELOR BEN DHIA, WHO 
RAN BEN ALI'S 1999 CAMPAIGN, AND WAS SEEN AS FADING, IS STILL 
ACTIVE IN THE POLITICAL DOMAIN.  WE BELIEVE IT IS TOO EARLY 
TO PREDICT WHAT BEN ALI WILL DO IN 2004, BUT HE IS FIRMLY IN 
CONTROL OF HIS GOVERNMENT AND HIS POLITICAL PARTY, AND THERE 
IS NO SIGN THAT HE IS EITHER GROOMING A SUCCESSOR OR 
PREPARING THE PUBLIC FOR HIS DEPARTURE IN 2004.  END COMMENT. 
 
DEMING 

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