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06TUNIS1402 2006-06-08 11:23:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tunis
Cable title:  

SENIOR MOI OFFICIAL REMOVED: SIGN TO HUMAN RIGHTS

Tags:   PGOV PHUM KDEM ASEC TS 
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1. (C) SUMMARY: On June 5, President Ben Ali unexpectedly
announced the dismissal of a senior Ministry of Interior
(MOI) official who some believe to be responsible for an
uptick in the GOT's harsh repression of Tunisian civil
society. As Secretary of State for National Security,
Mohamed Ali Ganzoui was widely considered part of Ben Ali's
inner circle. His dismissal may be meant as a signal to
domestic and international audiences who have increasingly
criticized the heavy-handed GOT response to local activists.
END SUMMARY.



2. (U) On June 6, Tunisian media reported that, during a June
5 meeting with Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi and
Minister of Interior Rafik Bel Haj Kacem, President Ben Ali
removed MOI Secretary of State for National Security Mohamed
Ali Ganzoui. The position was downgraded to Director General
for National Security and former Director General of the
National Guard, Abdessatar Bennour, was named to fill it.
The former Governor of the state of Sousse, Abdelrahman
Limam, will replace Bennour at the National Guard. Press
reports stated that Ganzoui will assume "other duties" not
yet specified or announced.



3. (C) Ganzoui served as Secretary of State for National
Security for almost eight years during two different terms.
Beginning his career as a police officer, Ganzoui climbed the
Ministry of Interior ranks for almost twenty years before
being named Secretary of State in 1995. Ganzoui held this
position until April 2002, when he was sacked, along with the
Minister of Interior, following the al-Qaeda bombing of a
Jewish synagogue on the southern Tunisian island of Djerba.
After serving as Tunisian Ambassador to Syria from 2002-2003,
Ganzoui returned to Tunisia as manager of a state-owned
company. In November 2005, Ben Ali reappointed him as
Secretary of State, apparently in response to GOT frustration

SIPDIS
over civil society activism and international criticism
following a U.N. summit in Tunisia (Ref G).



4. (C) Ganzoui's tenure was marked by increased GOT
repression of civil society activism. While an October
hunger strike (Ref H) was allowed to proceed peacefully,
almost all subsequent independent civil society events (Refs
B-D and F) have been disrupted - sometimes violently - since
Ganzoui returned to the MOI. GOT efforts to prevent the May
27 Congress of the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH, Ref A)
were the most violent in recent memory, and for the first
time, the GOT actively tried to prevent international
observers from witnessing the event. These months of
repression only increased Tunisian civil society activism
(including a lawyers' sit in, several attempted
demonstrations, labor strikes, etc.). International
criticism of GOT tactics grew in frequency and volume,
including an April 3 Department statement on civil society
harassment and a May 29 statement on the LTDH by the French
Foreign Ministry.



5. (C) Local observers believe it was the increased criticism
of the regime's response to civil society activism that led
to Ganzoui's ousting. One human rights activist told Poloff
that the U.S. statement in particular appears to have forced
Ben Ali to take action. The activist theorized that, having
brought back Ganzoui to control domestic opposition, Ben Ali
has now decided that the security response has exceeded its
usefulness domestically and internationally. Ben Ali will
thus be able to point to Ganzoui's removal as evidence of his
personal commitment to human rights.



6. (C) COMMENT: While it is possible that this is a direct
response to criticism of GOT policies, it is unclear what
political jockeying took place behind the scenes. Ganzoui
may have begun to outshine Interior Minister Kacem or even
appeared to threaten Ben Ali himself, who, while concurrently

serving as Prime Minister and Interior Minister, organized
the coup that installed him as President in 1987. (NOTE:
Many Tunisians have remarked to emboffs over the past few
months that Ganzoui's power had clearly eclipsed his
minister's, some even calling him the "real" Minister of
Interior. END NOTE.) This may simply be part of Ben Ali's
continuing his efforts to solidify his power by removing
challengers and empowering allies, as he did with a recent
expansion of the ruling party political bureau (Ref E).
Ganzoui was also rumored to be supported by the President's
wife, Leila Ben Ali, perhaps more than by the President
himself. The real purpose will become clearer once Ganzoui's
new duties are announced; only another senior government
position would suggest that he is still among the President's
inner circle. END COMMENT.
HUDSON