Tunisia's Ennahda names Habib Jemli as choice for PM

Habib Jemli, 60, a former junior agriculture minister in a previous Ennahda-led government, will now have two months to try to form a governing coalition. (File/AFP)
Updated 15 November 2019

Tunisia's Ennahda names Habib Jemli as choice for PM

  • Jemli, 60, an agricultural engineer, served as a junior minister in the first post-revolutionary government formed in late 2011, which was also led by Ennahda
  • Jemli has two months to build a governing coalition from a fractured parliament

TUNIS: Tunisia's moderate Islamist Ennahda, which came first in last month's parliamentary elections, has named Habib Jemli, a former junior agriculture minister, as its choice to become prime minister, party spokesman Imed Khemiri said on Friday.
President Kais Saied is expected to officially ask him to form a new government later on Friday.
Jemli has two months to build a governing coalition from a fractured parliament in which Ennahda, the largest party, holds only a quarter of the seats.
On Wednesday, its election foe Heart of Tunisia supported Ennahda's veteran leader Rached Ghannouchi as parliament speaker, a sign the two might put aside their earlier hostility and join together in coalition.
Any new government that Jemli is able to muster would need the support of at least one other party to command even the slender parliamentary majority of 109 seats needed to pass legislation.
Jemli, 60, an agricultural engineer, served as a junior minister in the first post-revolutionary government formed in late 2011, which was also led by Ennahda.
Analysts say the new government will need clear political will and strong backing in parliament to push through economic reforms started by the outgoing prime minister, Youssef Chahed, who is acting as caretaker during coalition talks.
His cabinet has focused on spending cuts backed by the International Monetary Fund to bring Tunisia's hefty deficit and public debt under control while raising spending on security to woo back tourists.
Economic woes - unemployment of 15% nationally and 30% in some cities, inflation of nearly 7% and a weak dinar - have plagued Tunisia since its 2011 revolution ended autocratic rule, introduced democracy and sparked the "Arab Spring".
Those problems, alongside deteriorating public services and a public perception of widespread government corruption, drove voters to reject the political establishment in this autumn's elections.
That public anger may make it harder for a new prime minister to continue to cut spending, and he will be buffeted by the same competing demands to control the deficit while improving services.
President Saied, an independent retired law professor, has already pushed anti-corruption proposals since his inauguration, a programme that diplomats have said could win enough public support to buy time for new economic reforms.
Heart of Tunisia, which came second in the parliamentary election, is headed by media mogul Nabil Karoui who was detained for much of the election period on corruption charges, which he denies.
Ennahda, whose own candidate lost to Saied and Karoui in the first round of a separate presidential election, had sworn not to enter into coalition with his Heart of Tunisia party, painting it as part of a corrupt elite.


Unemployment high on list of Arab youth’s major concerns

Updated 09 December 2019

Unemployment high on list of Arab youth’s major concerns

  • Corruption cited as top problem by 55 percent of youth under 30 in poll
  • High rates of unemployment in MENA region linked to corruption, say experts

DUBAI: The quality of youth is said to determine the kind of future a nation will have. Experience shows that high levels of youth participation in a country’s workforce and political discourse can have a positive impact on societal development. Sadly, only a few Arab countries offer their youth these opportunities.

In the Arab world, 65 percent of the population are under the age of 30. According to an Arab News — Arab Strategy Forum research study conducted by YouGov, 55 percent of this demographic group believe corruption is the main problem in their country, followed by unemployment (46 percent) and lack of trust in government (30 percent).

The study interviewed 3,079 Arabic speakers aged 18 years and above across 18 countries in the Middle East to better understand their concerns, and to gauge their opinions on the intersections of Islam and politics in Arab life.

The Arab world’s second-biggest concern, according to both men and women, is the ability to earn a living wage.

The issue proved more pressing among people aged 18-25 (47 percent) than among those aged over 40 (37 percent).

The rate of unemployment can be directly linked, experts say, to the level of systemic corruption in a country, given the known connection between lack of transparency and decline in investment and economic activity.

Abeer Alnajjar, associate professor at the American University of Sharjah and researcher in Middle East politics, says faulty policy design has lowered trust in Arab economies and hindered job creation.

Unsustainable strategies, and lack of investment in industrial, agricultural and other development projects, have left many Arab countries saddled with heavy economic burdens.

Among the study’s many findings is that in the Arab Gulf states, 41 percent worry about finding a job. The number rises to 45 percent in North Africa and drops to 36 percent in the Levant.

Unemployment was cited as the top problem by respondents in Morocco (68 percent) and Oman (56 percent), surpassing corruption as the leading problem.

Aside from political and administrative obstacles, one of the main causes of unemployment in the Arab world is believed to be the mismatch between higher education curricula and the skill sets demanded by the job market.

Alnajjar told Arab News that there is a need for “a paradigm shift” in the region’s education systems.

“Major subjects and areas of specialization need to be redesigned in light of new technologies and proper use of available educational resources,” she said.

Earlier this year, figures released by the International Labor Organization (ILO) showed that one in five people under the age of 25 in the Arab world were “jobless and have no skills.”

Marghoob Butt, executive director of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission, described youth in a recent opinion piece in Arab News as “the future in every society.”

Currently, a significant part of the young population is inactive, according to Butt. Those actively seeking jobs tend to face serious challenges and stress due to “limited opportunities for social mobility and restriction on participation in social, cultural, economic and political life,” he said.

With regard to popular political views among Arab youth, the YouGov poll showed that those aged 18-24 are the least likely to support the statement: “Extremist views have no place in Islam.”

Alnajjar said that is not entirely surprising given that a good understanding of issues relating to governance, religion and economic policies comes from “access to information, freedom of the press and good journalism” — three factors that are “greatly limited” in Arab countries.

While this demographic group may have more access to resources than any other generation in history, much of it is “lost in the abundance of information” found on the internet, she added.

“Unfortunately, Arab youth are more exposed to extremist representations of Islam due to how the ‘attention economy’ is structured to prioritize content” of inferior quality and maximum appeal, she said.

Many Arab youth are deeply engaged in public life, and are making an effort to stay informed.

But publicly available information is often “controlled and manipulated” by individuals whose goal is to “divert the attention of young men and women toward ideological battles that have little relevance to their day-to-day life and their future,” Alnajjar said.

The majority of young Arabs are fundamentally connected to Islam, with religion being one of the most important pillars of their identity, she added.

“But they face the world from a disadvantage because of certain groups and countries that have been using Islam as an instrument to achieve their geopolitical objectives,” she said.

For this, the blame partly lies with Arab intellectuals and leaders who have failed to discuss “sensitive topics” that can broaden the conversation with today’s youth, Alnajjar added.

In the Middle East’s current politically charged environment, young men and women are being used as an “accessory” in political and educational conflicts, and viewed as “fuel” for ideological battles, she said.

The hopes and ambitions of the Arab world’s youth will remain unfulfilled until they get a well-rounded education, Alnajjar added.

Curricula need to be redesigned, and media literacy and critical thinking must be introduced as elements of lifelong learning programs and processes for Arab citizens, she said.