Who are Tunisia's main opposition figures?

TUNIS Tue Jan 18, 2011 11:09am GMT

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TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisian opposition politicians will be given posts in a new unity government for the first time, after President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was deposed in an popular revolt last week.

Below is some information on the main opposition figures who are entering government and on some who remain outside it.

NAJIB CHEBBI Founder of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), Najib Chebbi has been one of the most outspoken critics of the Tunisian government who stayed in the country.

While many other opposition figures went into exile, Chebbi was harassed by security forces for years, lambasted in the pro-government media and frustrated in his attempts to win elected office.

He founded the PDP in the 1980s and was its leader until 2006, when he stepped aside, saying he wanted to provide an example of a democratic handover.

He applied to run in the 2009 presidential election but was ruled ineligible because he was not the head of a party.

Because of media controls imposed by Ben Ali many years ago, Chebbi is not well known outside a small circle of intellectuals and opposition activists.

Chebbi was named minister of regional development in the new government.

AHMED IBRAHIM Ahmed Ibrahim is head of the opposition Ettajdid or Renewal movement, which evolved out of the Tunisian Communist Party.

Ettajdid campaigns on a centre-left platform but won only three seats in the last parliamentary elections. It says the authorities prevented its presidential candidate, Mohamed Ali Halouani, from campaigning effectively in the 2004 elections won by Ben Ali.

Ettajdid's members have faced harassment and the party has struggled to win support among young Tunisians.

Ibrahim was named minister of higher education in the new cabinet.

MUSTAFA BEN JAAFAR

Mustafa Ben Jaafar is a founding member of the Democratic Forum for Freedom and Labour (FDTL), a left-leaning gathering of intellectuals, professionals and human rights activists that has been calling for democracy since its establishment in 1994.

The FDTL has long called for free elections, the release of political prisoners and a constitutional amendment to separate the ruling party from the state and enshrine the liberties of the Tunisian people.

The party was legalised in 2002 but failed to win any seats in the 2004 parliamentary elections. Ben Jaafar is respected in intellectual circles but it is not clear how much grass roots support he enjoys.

Ben Jaafar was named health minister in the new cabinet.

RACHED GHANNOUCHI

Rached Ghannouchi is a respected Muslim scholar and exiled leader of the banned Tunisian Islamist movement Ennahda, or Renaissance. Ghannouchi left Tunisia 23 years ago but said after Ben Ali's overthrow that he was planning to return from exile in London.

Tunisia, which has presented itself as a bulwark against Islamic extremists, banned Ennahda in the early 1990s after accusing it of involvement in a threat to overthrow secular rule. Hundreds of its supporters were put on trial in the 1990s and many others fled abroad.

Tunisia has had a strong secular tradition since independence from France in 1956 and Islamist politicians have a much lower profile than those in nearby countries like Egypt or Algeria. There is some backing for moderate Islamists but it is not clear to what extent ordinary Tunisians have hidden their Islamist sympathies to avoid arrest.

Unlike some hardline Islamists, Ghannouchi argues that Islam is compatible with multi-party democracy and supports some dialogue with the West.

It is not clear how he will be welcomed by secularists or how his movement could take part in parliamentary politics when Tunisian law bans parties based on religion.

MONCEF MARZOUKI

Moncef Marzouki is a long-time human and political rights campaigner and the exiled leader of the centre-left Congress for the Republic, banned in Tunisia in 2002.

Marzouki, who runs the Congress from Paris, has said he plans to return to Tunisia to run for the presidency and has said opposition parties that won seats in parliament under Ben Ali's rule were tainted and offered little change.

Marzouki has been linked with some Islamist parties in the past, though the Congress considers itself a secular organisation. The Congress campaigns for human rights, an independent judiciary and free and fair elections.

(Reporting by Lin Noueihed, Tunis newsroom, editing by Tim Pearce)

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