New Tunisian president talks up relations with Egypt, need for joint counterterrorism

Nourhan Fahmy
4 Min Read
Béji Caïd Essebsi (Photo Public Domain)
Béji Caïd Essebsi, the winner of the Tunisian run-off presidential election (Photo Public Domain)
Béji Caïd Essebsi, the winner of the Tunisian run-off presidential election
(Photo Public Domain)

Béji Caïd Essebsi, the winner of the Tunisian run-off presidential election on Sunday has called for the need to adopt a regional strategy to address the Libya situation.

Essebsi said that the strategy, which would include Egypt, Libya and Algeria, amongst other countries, would reduce tensions and combat terrorism.

The 88-year-old statesman added that “relations between Egypt and Tunisia will always be characterised by cooperation and strength”, in a Sunday night phone interview with Egyptian satellite network ONtv.

Preliminary unofficial results indicated that Essebsi obtained 55.5% of the vote in the presidential election runoff against Moncef Marzouki, leader of the centre-left secular party Congress for the Republic.

The two candidates traded heated accusations in the run-up to the poll. Marzouki said Essebsi represented “an old regime that is known for torture and corruption”, while Essebsi labelled Marzouki’s supporters “Islamists” and “Salafi jihadists”.

Essebsi was born in 1926 in Sidi Bou Said, a quaint seaside town on the outskirts of Tunis, that is known for its typical whitewashed houses with blue doors. A lawyer by training, Essebsi held several ministerial and ambassadorial positions under the rule of Habib Bourguiba, who ruled Tunisia from its independence in 1957 until 1987. Essebsi still keeps a bust of Bourguiba in his office and refers to the late autocrat as the type of leader Tunisia needs.

Bourguiba was removed from power in 1987 by his then-prime minister, Zine Abdine Ben Ali, on the grounds that his health conditions no longer allowed him to carry out his functions. Essebsi, who at the time was Tunisia’s ambassador to Germany, continued to serve under Ben Ali. Between 1990 and 1991, he was the president of the Chamber of Deputies, the lower chamber of the Tunisian parliament. His last term as a member of parliament ended in 1994, after which he left political life for nearly two decades.

Essebsi returned to the political scene after the 2011 revolution. He was interim Prime Minster until the October 2011 elections, and later founded Nidaa Tounes (Call for Tunisia), a secular pro-business party.

Nidaa Tounes won a plurality of the seats in the October 2014 parliamentary election. The party is set to appoint a prime minister to form a new government, though it still has to form a ruling coalition – something Essebsi said would happen after the presidential election.

The Islamist party Ennahda came in second in the parliamentary elections, and there has been speculation in the Tunisian media that it could form a coalition with Nidaa Tounes.

Rachid Gannouchi, leader of Ennahda, congratulated both candidates and asked them to accept the results of the election. “These elections signal the birth of a new Tunisia,” he said in an interview on Tunisian television. “We congratulate the army, the police and all civil society organisations that participated in this journey to realise democracy.”

Essebsi will serve a five year term as president of Tunisia. Sunday’s poll, which was the first democratic presidential election in the history of Tunisia, officially ends the transitional phase that began after the uprising that toppled Ben Ali four years ago.

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