This past Saturday, July 28 2019, millions of Tunisians bid farewell to their first democratically elected president Mohamed Béji Caïd Essebsi at a state funeral attended by numerous foreign leaders including French President Emanuel Macron, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Felipe VI of Spain. Essebsi passed away this past Thursday, July 25 at 92 years old. His was a great life of public service, and determination to serve the Tunisian people to the best of his ability.
Essebsi was a seasoned politician whose career spanned over six decades. His first involvement in politics started in 1941, when he joined the Neo Destour youth organization in Hammam-Lif. He was known for his integrity, exceptional public service, and served under Tunisia’s first president Habib Bourguiba, at different positions, including chief of the regional administration, general director of the Sûreté nationale, Interior Minister, Minister-Delegate to the Prime Minister, Defense Minister, and then Ambassador to Paris. The coincidence of him dying on the anniversary of the republic reminded people of the role he played in nation-building since independence.
In recent years, Essebsi rose to prominence after the overthrow of veteran autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, which was followed by “Arab Spring” revolts against authoritarian leaders across the Middle East and North Africa, including in Libya and Egypt. He was seen as a unifying figure. He founded the Nidaa Tounes political party, which won a plurality in the 2014 parliamentary election. In December 2014, he won the first regular presidential election following the Tunisian Revolution, becoming Tunisia’s first freely elected president.
Hours after Essebsi’s death, parliament speaker Mohamed Ennaceur was sworn in as interim president in line with the constitution in a smooth transition of power. The presidential election is scheduled for Sept. 15, as stated in the constitution which gives 90-days after the death of the president for new elections to take place; this comes two months earlier than scheduled.
The interim President stated, “[Mohamed Beji Caid Essebsi] spent his life in the service of Tunisia, preserving its gains and defending its values.” “He was a man of consensus, dialogue and national unity.” Don’t we all need dialogue and national unity?
Please take some time to read the good article The Arab Weekly wrote on the life of this great man who always put the interest of the Tunisian people first.