Tunisia names new gov’t, disbands security service

Jordanian journalists rally for more freedom; Kuwaitis plan to launch protests of their own.

Tunisian Protest 311 Reuters (photo credit: REUTERS)
Tunisian Protest 311 Reuters
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Tunisia’s interim authorities on Monday named a new government and disbanded the feared state security apparatus notorious for human rights abuses under the country’s ousted leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Seeking to assert their authority and gain legitimacy in the eyes of protesters who forced Ben Ali to flee the country on January 14, the caretaker authorities are attacking the remaining vestiges of his 23-year rule one by one.
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Prime Minister Beji Caid Sebsi unveiled a new cabinet of technocrats, rather than career politicians, tasked with seeing through a delicate transition in which Tunisians will elect a constituent assembly on July 24 to rewrite the constitution.
Shortly after the government line-up was announced, an Interior Ministry spokesman said Ben Ali’s political police and state security apparatus had been dissolved – a core demand behind the popular uprising.
“I can confirm that it was decided to terminate them. We will take other decisions that will please the people,” he said.
A branch of the Interior Ministry under Ben Ali, both internal state security organs functioned as a domestic spy agency and had wide powers to act against people deemed disloyal by the regime. Its officers monitored opposition politicians and journalists, could arrest people randomly and were accused by rights groups of torturing detainees.
“It is a dream come true for everyone,” said Ali Larayedh, a member of Ennahda, a movement that describes itself as moderately Islamist and which has just been allowed back on the political stage after a two-decade ban.
Egypt has ordered the arrest of 47 state security officers accused of burning documents, in a bid to placate protesters who say information is being destroyed to cover up state abuses and violations.
The Prosecutor-General’s Office will hold the officers and security personnel for 15 days pending an investigation, it said in a statement on Monday.
In the last three days, protesters have broken into 11 offices belonging to the state security apparatus in Egypt, seizing documents that they feared would be destroyed by officers to cover up abuses.
Several state security buildings on the outskirts of Cairo were set alight on Saturday and some witnesses said they had seen police burning documents in the building. Police said the property was set alight by citizens.
In Jordan, hundreds of journalists working in muzzled and mainly state-controlled media demanded an end to government curbs on media freedom, saying they were an obstacle to democratic transformation.
Emboldened by a wave of Arab uprisings, journalists from mainstream dailies, news websites, state television and radio joined forces in a rare show of unity against interference by officials and intelligence services.
Scores of journalists and writers rallied in a square close to several newspaper offices, chanting, “The press needs cleansing,” and, “We want an end to government tutelage and we want to fight corruption.” A large placard held by demonstrators read, “No to government and security hegemony over the press.”
Successive governments justified press curbs on security grounds, and the new government appointed last month, led by a former army general tied to the security establishment, has dashed liberal hopes of moving faster on promised democratic reforms.
Also Monday, Yemen’s opposition coalition vowed to escalate protests that have swept the country demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, after he rejected a plan that would have him step down in 2011. In the capital Sanaa’s main prison, detainees rioted and confronted security forces who shot into the air in an attempt to regain control, a security official said.
“It was an attempt at a mass escape, and prisoners then turned to acts of sabotage,” the official told Reuters, adding that riot police had surrounded the compound.
Tens of thousands of protesters are camped out in major Yemeni cities, staying awake through the night to hear speeches and sing national songs, as their tone against Saleh hardens.
Saleh, a US ally against al- Qaida’s Yemen-based wing, rejected a plan proposed by an opposition coalition last week, which would have implemented political and electoral reforms while paving the way for his resignation within the year.
“Recent events have proven that the regime is incapable of answering the demands of the people, and for that reason it needs to go,” the coalition’s spokesman said.
The wave of unrest that has swept the Arab world appears set to reach yet another country, as Kuwaiti youth groups will take to the streets Tuesday to demand the removal of the prime minister and call for more political freedom.
The protest organizers want Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Muhammad al- Sabah replaced, and some are demanding the appointment of a politician from outside the Sabah family, which has ruled Kuwait for some 250 years.
Kuwait, the world’s fourth-largest oil exporter, is home to the Gulf region’s most outspoken parliament but does not allow political parties. Parliament is made up of individuals who form loose blocs.
Shafiq Ghabra, a political science professor at Kuwait University, said he expected the protests on Tuesday to be calmer than those that erupted in other Gulf states.
“We’re talking about reforms in political rights, governance, cabinet, education. In each country, every movement has a different nature,” Ghabra said. “In Kuwait the movement is not to end the regime, but to reform the politics.”