Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi turns 90 today, distinguishing him as the world’s third oldest living head of state, behind Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.
A lawyer by trade, Essebsi boasts a unique political career that stretches back decades. In the earliest years of Tunisia’s independence, Essebsi established himself as a close confidant and friend to former Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba, landing a number of high-level government posts during his time in office, including Minister of Defense, Ambassador to Paris, and Minister of Foreign Affairs. He later served as Ambassador to Germany and President of the Chamber of Deputies under Ben Ali, before briefly taking the helm as Tunisia’s interim prime minister in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution.
In 2014, Essebsi defeated incumbent president Moncef Marzouki to become Tunisia’s fifth president in an election that was widely perceived as an indictment of Tunisia’s post-revolutionary trajectory. To many, Essebsi represented the safer, experienced course of leadership, necessary to stabilize the country after years of political and economic discord. Invoking memories of perceived Bourguiba-era flourishing, Essebsi promised to restore “the prestige of the state,” and dedicated his victory to the “martyrs of the revolution.”
Yet in a term that has been embroiled by internal party disputes, lingering economic woes, and deadly terror attacks, Essebsi’s legacy as one of Tunisia’s most engaged political figures is still to be determined.
It has been reported that Essebsi will not seek re-election at the end of his term in 2019, instead opting to pursue a new political project with activist Ahmed Nejib Chebbi to counter the Islamist Ennahda party.