Africa

Key figures in new Tunisia government

The Tunisian government has named an interim government of national unity following the sudden departure of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali amid widespread unrest.

The government includes figures from both the ruling establishment and the opposition. Here are brief biographies of some of the key figures.

Prime minister: Mohammed ben Hassouna Ghannouchi

Image caption Mohammed ben Hassouna Ghannouchi

A long-time ally of ousted President Ben Ali, Mohammed Ghannouchi has been prime minister since 1999.

He has been in every government since Mr Ben Ali came to power in 1987, and is a member of the ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party that has, in various guises, controlled Tunisia since independence in 1956.

The prime minister announced that he was assuming power on 14 January, soon after Mr Ben Ali fled the country for Saudi Arabia in response to the growing unrest. However, only a day later, it was announced that in line with the constitution, the speaker of parliament, Foued Mebazaa, should be sworn in as president instead.

Mr Ghannouchi is a trained economist who has held a variety of economic and financial portfolios. He has a reputation as a competent technocrat who was seen as the driving force behind the economic reform programme started under President Ben Ali.

Born in 1941 in the coastal town of Sousse, Mr Ghannouchi holds a degree in economics from the Tunis University of Law, Political Sciences and Economics.

Interior minister: Ahmed Friaa

Image caption Ahmed Friaa

Ahmed Friaa became interior minister on 12 January 2011 after his predecessor, Rafik Belhaj Kacem, was sacked in response to the growing anti-government riots. He was reappointed to the post in the new national unity government.

First appointed to the Tunisian government in 1989, Mr Friaa was minister of communications from 1997, previously serving as housing minister, education minister and ambassador to Italy. Born in 1949, Mr Friaa holds a degree in numerical analysis and a doctorate from the Sorbonne in Paris.

Defence minister: Ridha Grira

Image caption Ridha Grira

Another hold-over from the previous government, Ridha Grira has been defence minister since January 2010. Before that, he was minister of state properties and property affairs for 11 years. He is a member of the central committee of the ruling RCD.

Like Prime Minister Ghannouchi, Mr Grira is a native of Sousse. He studied law, economics and management at the Sorbonne in Paris, before going on to France's top graduate college for aspiring civil servants, the Ecole Nationale d'Administration.

Foreign minister: Kamal Morjane

Image caption Kamel Morjane

Kamel Morjane was first appointed foreign minister in January 2010, and keeps the post in the new government. A career diplomat, Mr Morjane was Tunisia's permanent representative to the UN in 1996-99, going on to serve as defence minister from 2005-10.

Hours before President Ben Ali's rule collapsed, Mr Morjane made a widely-reported statement saying that a national unity government involving Tunisia's hitherto marginalised opposition parties might be possible.

Mr Morjane was born in 1948 - also in Sousse - and studied at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, the University of Wisconsin and the Hague Academy of International Law.

Minister of regional and local development: Najib Chebbi

Image caption Najib Chebbi

One of the opposition figures appointed to the new government, Najib Chebbi is a founding member of the Progressive Democratic Party, and was its leader until 2006, when he stepped aside. The party is currently not represented in parliament.

Mr Chebbi has been one of the most outspoken critics of the government and is one of few opposition leaders not to have gone into exile. Relatively unknown outside a small circle of opposition activists as a result of government media controls, he has frequently been harassed by the security forces.

He announced his intention to stand in the 2009 presidential elections, but was thwarted by a recently introduced law barring non-party leaders from standing.

Minister of health: Mustafa Ben Jaafar

Image caption Mustafa Ben Jaafar

Mr Ben Jaafar is leader of the opposition Union of Freedom and Labour, which he helped to found in 1994 and which became a legally recognised political party in 2002.

Born in Tunis in 1940, he studied medicine in France and became active in student politics. On his return to Tunisia from France, he taught medicine at the University of Tunis and at the same time became involved in opposition and human rights activities.

Mr Ben Jaafar submitted his candidacy for the 2009 Tunisian presidential election, but his candidacy was rejected by the Tunisian Constitutional Council "for failing to meet legal and constitutional requirements".

He is one of the most respected long-standing opposition figures and is regarded as a moderate.

Minister of higher education: Ahmed Ibrahim

Ahmed Ibrahim is secretary general of the former communist Ettajdid (Renewal) party and was the main challenger in the October 2009 presidential polls, in which President Ben Ali gained a fifth term in office.

Image caption Ahmed Ibrahim

Before the polls Mr Ibrahim said supporters were prevented from holding rallies, handing out leaflets or displaying posters because his message was deemed to be hostile to the state and the ruling party.

His party holds three seats in parliament.

He has been a critic of the previous government's human rights record and has called for political reform.

He was born in 1946.

The Ettajdid party is a member of the Alliance for Citizenship and Equality, a grouping of left-wing and independent parties which has been calling for reform. It also includes the Democratic Forum for Labour and Liberties.

Secretary of state for sport and youth: Slim Amamou

Pro-democracy blogger Slim Amamou announced his appointment in a tweet on 17 January.

A freedom of speech activist and member of the Tunisian Pirate Party, he had been arrested only a few days previously - just before former President Ben Ali fled the country - on charges of hacking government websites. He was one of the most prominent figures in the "online" revolt against the government.

Mr Amamou runs a team of software developers and has described himself on Twitter as "against censorship, against the intellectual property rights, for net neutrality".