Kais Saied aka ‘The Robot’: The Political Outsider Who Won the Tunisian Presidential Election

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Kais Saied, new president of Tunisia getting sworn in (Source: Al Jazeera)

Last week marked another big step towards democracy for Tunisia. Kais Saied, a political outsider and retired law professor, won the presidential election with a landslide victory. The Robot, as he is affectionately called, was sworn in as Tunisian president on Wednesday, 23rd of October. His win delivered a heavy blow to a governing elite accused of failing to improve living standards or end corruption since the 2011 revolution that introduced democracy after years of authoritarian rule. Below are excerpts of an article from Al Jazeera.  Enjoy!

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Kais Saied has been sworn in as Tunisia‘s new president. 

The 61-year-old law professor has no prior political experience, never held office and barely ran a campaign.

Saied sealed a resounding victory in a runoff election on October 13, largely buoyed by a groundswell of support from young voters. He won just over 72 percent of the votes, with about 27 percent of ballots cast for his media-mogul opponent Nabil Karoui.

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Beji Essebsi, Former president of Tunisia (Source: Wikipedia)

He succeeds former President Beji Caïd Essebsi, Tunisia’s First Democratically Elected Presidentwho died in office in July. 

A perhaps unlikely aspiring leader in the Arab world, the austere and scholarly Saied stood apart from the other 25 candidates in the first round of Tunisia’s presidential election.

After winning that round, he announced he would not campaign ahead of the run-off election against then-imprisoned Karoui, saying it would give him an “unfair advantage”.

Observers say it’s that openness and obsession with equity that has connected with Tunisia’s youth, who, above all, see Saied as an honest leader offering them the keys to the nation’s future

During his meteoric rise, Saied vowed to fight corruption and promote social justice, while saying access to healthcare and water is part of national security and that education would “immunise” youth against extremism

[…] Selim Kharrat, president of Tunisian NGO Al Bawsala, said Saied’s popularity was in part fuelled by disenfranchisement with a political system that has failed to address core economic needs.

Tunisia_Flag
Flag of Tunisia

“The current atmosphere where many politicians are caught up in corruption scandals has helped this seemingly simple man,” Kharrat told Al Jazeera after the first round of elections.

Saied’s unadorned profile has stood in stark contrast to that of Karoui, who was arrested in late August on money-laundering and tax evasion charges, Kharrat said.

“He’s received no funding from any of the big parties or abroad, notably the better-off Arab Gulf countries, and this has shielded him from any suspicion,” he added.

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Farewell to Beji Caïd Essebsi, Tunisia’s First Democratically Elected President

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Mohamed Beji Caid Essebsi (Wikipedia)

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 MacronQatari 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.

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Flag of Tunisia

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.

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Essebsi in 2011 (Wikipedia)

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.

Who/What did we Celebrate in Africa in 2014?

Beji Caid Essebsi, new President of Tunisia
Beji Caid Essebsi, new President of Tunisia

Like every year, I have to tell you about the good things that happen in Africa, and all the things we celebrated. Here are 10 of them.

1. I have to say it again: Blaise Compaore’s demotion. Blaise Compaoré was booted out of office in 2014. Thomas Sankara‘s murderer taught that he will be eternal in power, and on October 30th 2014, the people of Burkina Faso said ENOUGH!

2. Presidential Elections finally took place in Tunisia, 3 years after Ben Ali‘s toppling at the beginning of the ‘Arab Spring’, and the election of the people’s choice as president: Beji Caid Essebsi. We are glad the people of Tunisia’s choice was respected.

Some members of the South African Team - MTN Qhubeka(Source: bicycling.co.za)
Some members of the South African Team – MTN Qhubeka(Source: bicycling.co.za)

3. Mrs Catherine Samba-Panza was sworn in as interim president of the Central African Republic on 23 January 2014. She was chosen as a neutral person to lead the country of the conflict that rages in the area; she is the first woman appointed in such a position in the history of the country.

4. For the first time in the history of Cycling, there was an African team competing in a great race. 6 Africans (two Erithreans and 4 South Africans) ran in Spain for the South African team, MTN-Qhubeka.

5. Two African teams advancing into the last round of 16 at the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup for the first time in the history of the FIFA World Cup: namely, Nigeria and Algeria. Even though both teams were eliminated in the last round of 16, Algeria particularly put up a good fight against Germany (who went on to win the World Cup) and made us proud.

6. The African version of Robocop designed by two female engineers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of them being Thérèse Inza.  This is a traffic cop who regulates the traffic, and even gives tickets to the cab drivers, and those who do not want to follow the code of the road.

Lupita Nyong'o
Lupita Nyong’o

7. There were 3 Africans nominated at the Oscars in main categories this year: Chiwetel Ejiofor(Nigeria) in the ‘Best Actor’ category, Barkhad Abdi (Somalia) in the ‘Best Actor in a Supporting role’ category and Lupita Nyong’o (Kenya) in the ‘Best Actress in a Supporting role’ category. Lupita made us proud by winning the Academy Award for ‘Best Actress in a Supporting role’ for her role in 12 Years a Slave. She was also named the ‘Most beautiful Woman’ by People magazine (I never really understood that People Magazine award: as if they had searched through the 3.5Billion women in the world before giving this award!) and ‘Woman of the Year’ in Glamour, and was announced as the ‘New Face’ of Lancôme, a first for a Black woman.

8. Nigeria became Africa’s # 1 economy after rebasing its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from 1990 to 2010 constant prices. Nigeria just surpassed South Africa as Africa’s top economy, and the world’s 26th largest economy.

9. U.S President Barack Obama hosts 50 African Heads of State and government officials at the historic US-Africa Leaders Summit.

George Weah
George Weah

10. George Weah, the only African to have won a FIFA World Player of the Year (in 1995) and won Ballon d’Or, won a senate seat in Liberia yesterday Dec. 29th. The 2005 presidential contender (he had won the first round of the elections then) of Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf won the senate elections against Robert Sirleaf (President Johnson-Sirleaf’s son). This was a landslide victory; it is a step forward, and progress is always to be acclaimed!