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Surge Desk

Mohamed Ghannouchi: What WikiLeaks Tells Us About Ben Ali's Successor in Tunisia

Jan 14, 2011 – 8:03 PM
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David Knowles

David Knowles Writer

Change has come to Tunisia. But is it enough change?

After days of rioting and violent clashes with police, the country's strong-arm leader, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, has reportedly fled from the North African nation to Saudi Arabia. Citing the country's constitution, Mohamed Ghannouchi, Tunisia's former prime minister, announced today that he was assuming formal control of the government.

In classified U.S. State Department cables made public by WikiLeaks, Ghannouchi emerges as a much more palatable alternative to Ali, at least from the American perspective. Courtesy of The Guardian, here's a portion of a passage on Ghannouchi:
A technocrat and economist, Ghannouchi has served as prime minister since 1999. Is rumored to have told many he wishes to leave the government but has not had the opportunity. Length of his service as PM also suggests Ben Ali does not view him as a threat and he is unlikely to be viewed as a qualified successor. However, average Tunisians generally view him with respect and he is well-liked in comparison to other GOT and RCD officials.
But begs to differ with the WikiLeaks portrait of Ghannouchi being seen as all that much better than his predecessor:
Ghannouchi is not necessarily any more popular than Ben Ali, though he's not nearly as tainted by the lurid tales of corruption and excess that so damaged the ruling family. But Tunisians certainly don't respect the prime minister; they call him "Mr. Oui Oui" because he's always saying yes to Ben Ali.
The 69-year-old Ghannouchi became prime minister of Tunisia in 1999, the New York Times reported. "Since the president of the republic is unable to exercise his functions for the time being, I have assumed, starting now, the powers of the president," he said today.

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Filed under: Nation, World, Politics, Surge Desk, Arab World Unrest