While wearing his prison clothes and awaiting his execution in 1987, the man now charged with forming a new government in Tunisia could never have dreamt that his political career would take such a turn. Minister of the Interior Ali Al-Areed was pardoned by the then President Bourguiba only to be rearrested in 1990 and sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1992; he served 10 of those years in solitary confinement. Did he ever think that he would one day being the minister in charge of those who imprisoned and tortured him?
When I met Sheikh Rashid Al-Ghannushi, the leader of the Al-Nahda Party after the formation of the government headed by Hamadi Al-Jebali, he told me that he insisted on Al-Areed being Interior Minister because, of all the men in the movement, he had suffered the most humiliation and persecution at the hands of the self-same ministry.
Ali Al-Areed was born in 1955; his father Latif was a member of the resistance against French colonialism. Al-Areed graduated from the Faculty of Merchant Marine Engineering in Sousse, and then worked in the transport field. He joined Al-Nahda early on in the movement's history, moving up to become Secretary-General last week, when President Moncef Marzouki asked him to form a new government. Having been tested with the rigours of prison, Al-Areeb is now tested with the responsibilities of power, a greater challenge than prison ever was.
Obviously, we do not know how he will cope in his new position, but in his speech last week he told the people of Tunisia, "I have officially been charged by the President to form a new government… we will begin negotiations to form a government that will be for all Tunisians." He called on all of his fellow citizens to support his government in order to achieve the goals of the revolution and to establish democracy in the country.
Many Islamists succeeded in withstanding the hardships of imprisonment but failed when they were given positions of authority. Some people get bewitched by power. Suddenly, overnight, they have the responsibilities of running a country on their shoulders; their words are law and their orders are carried out. They no longer view the world from the people's perspective, but from the perspective of the lofty heights of high office. Everyone is waiting to see what the man who escaped execution and the hardships of prison will do now that he is in that position. It's a tough test indeed.
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