Promotion photograph at Sadiki College featuring Caid Essebsi (second row, circled on the right)
Born in 1926, in Sidi Bou Said
to an elite family
originally from Sardinia
), he was the great-grandson of Ismail Caïd Essebsi, a Sardinian
kidnapped by Barbary corsairs
in Ottoman Tunisia along the coasts of the island at the beginning of the nineteenth century, who then became a mamluk leader
raised with the ruling family after converting to Islam
and was later recognized as a free man when he became an important member of the government.
Essebsi, a protégé of Bourguiba, held various posts under Bourguiba
from 1957 to 1971, including chief of the regional administration,
general director of the Sûreté nationale
Interior Minister in 1965,
Minister-Delegate to the Prime Minister, Defense Minister in 1969,
and then Ambassador to Paris.
Beji Caid Essebsi as Minister of Defense in Tunis, 1969
From October 1971 to January 1972, he advocated greater democracy in Tunisia and resigned his function, then returned to Tunis.
Interim Prime Minister in 2011
Essebsi in 2011
On 27 February 2011, in the aftermath of the Tunisian Revolution
, Tunisian Prime MinisterMohamed Ghannouchi
resigned following a day of clashes in Tunis
with five protesters being killed. On the same day, acting President Fouad Mebazaa
appointed Caïd Essebsi as the new Prime Minister, describing him as "a person with an impeccable political and private life, known for his profound patriotism, his loyalty and his self-sacrifice in serving his country." The mostly young protesters however continued taking their discontent to the streets, criticizing the unilateral appointment of Caïd Essebsi without further consultation.
On 5 May accusations of the former Interior Minister Farhat Rajhi
that a coup d'etat
was being prepared against the possibility of the Islamist Ennahda Party
winning the Constituent Assembly election
in October. This, again, led to several days of fierce anti-Government protests and clashes on the streets.
In the interview disseminated on Facebook
, Rajhi called Caïd Essebsi a "liar", whose government had been manipulated by the old Ben Ali circles.
Caïd Essebsi strongly rejected Rajhi's accusations as "dangerous and irresponsible lies, [aimed at spreading] chaos in the country" and also dismissed him from his post as director of the High Commission for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which he had retained after being dismissed from the office as Interior Minister already on 8 March. Nevertheless, Ennahda's president Rached Ghannouchi
further fueled the suspicions, stating that "Tunisians doubt the credibility of the Transitional Government."
After the elections in October, Caïd Essebsi left office on 24 December 2011 when the new Interim President Moncef Marzouki
appointed Hamadi Jebali
of the Islamist Ennahda, which had become the largest parliamentary group.
Following his departure from office, Caïd Essebsi founded the secular Nidaa Tounes
party, which won a plurality of the seats in the October 2014 parliamentary election
He was also the party's candidate in the country's first free presidential elections, in November 2014.
On 22 December 2014, official election results showed that Essebsi had defeated incumbent President Moncef Marzouki
in the second round of voting, receiving 55.68% of the vote.
After the polls closed the previous day, Essebsi said on local television that he dedicated his victory to "the martyrs of Tunisia".
President of Tunisia
Essebsi with U.S Secretary of State John Kerry
(19 September 2016 in New York City)
Essebsi was sworn in as President on 31 December 2014 at the age of 88, he was the first freely elected president of modern Tunisia. He played a vital role in helping ensure that, more than any other Arab state, the north African country preserved many of the essential gains of the Arab spring
He vowed on that occasion to "be president of all Tunisian men and women without exclusion" and stressed the importance of "consensus among all parties and social movements".
In 2017 he called for legal amendments to the inheritance law to ensure equal rights for men and women, and he called for Tunisian women to be able to marry non-Muslims, which he believed is not in direct conflict with Sharia
or the Tunisian constitution.
In 2018 he proposed a revision of Tunisian electoral law, which he felt contained many shortcomings going against the principles of the revolution.
On 13 August 2018, he promised also to submit a bill to parliament soon which would aim to give women equal inheritance rights with men, as debate over the topic of inheritance reverberated throughout the Muslim world.
Concerning the economic crisis of Tunisia, he declared that the year 2018 would be difficult but that the hope of economic revival was still possible.
Illness and death
Funeral of Beji Caid Essebsi on 27 July 2019.
On 27 June 2019, Essebsi was hospitalized at a military hospital in Tunis due to a serious illness.
The following day his condition stabilized.
He was re-admitted to hospital on 24 July 2019, and died the following day, 25 July 2019 (which coincided with the 62nd anniversary of the abolition of the Tunisian monarchy), five months before his term was due to end.
In addition to Tunisia, which declared mourning 7 days, eight other countries announced mourning 3 days after the death of Essebsi, namely Libya
. Likewise, the United Nations
stood for a minute of silence, and flew flags for a day, after Essebsi’s death.
The electoral commission
subsequently announced that Essebsi's successor would be elected sooner than the original date of 17 November,
due to the constitutional provision that in the event of the president's death, a permanent successor must be in office within 90 days.
The president of the Assembly of Representatives of the People, Mohamed Ennaceur
, served as acting president in the meantime.
Ultimately, the election was pushed up to 15 September.
His state funeral took place on 27 July in Carthage
in the presence of dignitaries such as :
(King of Jordan
) also came to Tunisia on 29 July to offer condolences to the President of Tunisia Mohamed Ennaceur and to the family of President Beji Caid Essebsi.
Essebsi married Chadlia Saïda Farhat
on 8 February 1958.
The couple had four children: two daughters, Amel and Salwa, and two sons, Mohamed Hafedh and Khélil.
His wife died on 15 September 2019, aged 83, nearly two months after her husband.
Honours and awards
Beji Caid Essebsi on the cover of the magazine Tunivisions
, January 2012
Tunisian national medals
- Bourguiba : le bon grain et l'ivraie, éd. Sud Éditions, Tunis, 2009, ISBN 978- 9973844996
- La Tunisie : la démocratie en terre d'islam (with Arlette Chabot), éd. Plon, Paris, 2016
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Last edited on 23 April 2021, at 09:38
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