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The Tunisian president on Wednesday appointed geologist Najla Bouden as the country’s first-ever female prime minister-designate, to form a government with limited executive power after the president assumed broad powers two months ago.
The university professor of the city of Kairouan, a political unknown, will take office after Kais Saied sacked the government of Hichem Mechichi on July 25, suspended parliament, lifted the immunity of deputies and resumed judicial power.
Its decisions followed months of political stalemate in the face of a pressing economic crisis and rising coronavirus deaths.
While some Tunisians backed his decisions against a vilified political class, he faced repeated calls to appoint a government.
Last week he extended the suspension of parliament and decided to rule by decree, suspending parts of the country’s post-revolutionary constitution.
Saied’s office released a video on Wednesday of him meeting Bouden in his office and accusing him of presenting a cabinet “in the hours or days to come.”
He repeatedly underlined the “historic” nature of the appointment of a woman, qualifying her “as an honor for Tunisia and a tribute to Tunisian women”.
Saied, who was the only person speaking in the video, said Bouden’s main mission would be to “put an end to the corruption and chaos that has spread to many state institutions.”
Political scientist Slaheddine Jourchi welcomed the appointment of a female prime minister but warned that Tunisia faces significant economic and political challenges.
“When you look at the CV of this lady, who is a geologist with no other specializations or experience in sensitive roles, I don’t know how well she will be able to tackle these huge and complex problems,” he told AFP.
Saied “has avoided appointing a politician or anyone with a minimum of political experience. He does not want a rival or a person with political opinions to be able to discuss with him important decisions to come,” he said. he adds.
– Disillusion –
Bouden will be the tenth Tunisian prime minister since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, triggering the Arab Spring uprisings.
The country has won international praise for its democratic transition, but many Tunisians have seen little improvement in their lives and have become disillusioned with a political process they deem dysfunctional and corrupt.
Saied’s decisions have placed vast executive powers in the hands of the president, who will head the cabinet himself.
His decisions of September 22 also extended the suspension of Parliament.
Bouden, the same age as Saied at 63, is a former director of PromESsE, a higher education reform project, and has held managerial positions in the Tunisian Ministry of Higher Education.
The French-trained geologist and holder of a doctorate in geological engineering is a lecturer at the national engineering school of Tunisia.
Tunisia has been regarded for decades as a regional pioneer in women’s rights, banning polygamy in 1956.
Saied is however considered socially conservative. During his 2019 presidential race, he was criticized for his opposition to an inheritance law enshrining equality between men and women.
Also an academic and a political outsider, Saied came to power in a wave of anger against the political class that has governed Tunisia since 2011, but failed to resolve pressing economic and social issues.
While many Tunisians hailed his initial takeover, more than 2,000 people demonstrated in central Tunis on Sunday to demand a return to the constitution and the resignation of Saied, accusing him of “stealing” the revolution from 2011.
© 2021 AFP