Grief-stricken Tunisians were joined by a number of world leaders on Saturday 27 July for the funeral of the country’s first democratically elected and President – Beji Caid Essebsi – who died on Thursday at the age of 92.
The secularist and political reform-inclined, Beji Caid Essebsi was seen as a unifying figure in the post “Arab Spring” revolution. And this was evident during his funeral.
“Long live Tunisia”, read one placard. “Despite our tears, we Love you Bajbouj (as Essebsi was fondly called)” said another, as mourners lined the 20-kilometer funeral route from the presidential palace in the capital Tunis, to their leader’s final resting place at the the Jellaz cemetery.
The death of Beji Caid Essebsi comes just months before the country was to go to the polls in November. Parliamentary Speaker, 85-year Mohamed Ennaceur – has succeed him in the interim, and as per the country’s constitution, can only hold office for 90 days. Hence the presidential elections have now been brought forward to the 15th September in respect of the law. Parliamentary polls will follow on 6 October.
Essebsi will be remembered as a political old hand in Tunisian politics.
He started his political career in 1956 as an advisor to Tunisia’s independence leader Habib Bourguiba. He subsequently served as interior, Defence and Foreign Minister. He was appointed Interim Prime Minister following the overthrow of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011.
After standing down, he brought together various secular and former regime figures to form the Nidaa Tounes party, which eventually won Tunisia’s parliamentary elections and on whose ticket he won the country’s first free presidential elections in December 2014.
In recent months, Essebsi passed some popular new laws, including those pertaining to, and giving women more rights through modernisation of the country’s ‘code de la femme’
Just last week, he refused to sign a new law that would have banned a number of leading personalities from presenting themselves as candidates in the upcoming general elections. Many Tunisia are hopeful that the work he started and the peace he embedded will live on and be part of his legacy.
However, other media reports including AL-Monitor, conclude that Essebsi has left a conflicted legacy and Tunisia’s future is now unclear.
“… Essebsi will be remembered for safeguarding the country’s democratic institutions through economic difficulties and several terror attacks as well as being a tireless champion of women’s rights. Aspects that stand to be remembered less fondly, however, include his repeated and ultimately successful attempts to pass legislation providing de facto amnesty to former regime figures and his deliberate sidelining of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee.” the journal contends.