Tunisia’s first freely elected President, Beji Caid Essebsi, has died aged 92, the country’s presidency says. Beji Caid Essebsi won Tunisia’s first free elections in 2014 following Arab uprisings across the region.He was the world’s oldest sitting president.
He was admitted to hospital on Wednesday but officials did not say why he was receiving treatment. He had previously been admitted to hospital last month after suffering what officials said was a severe health crisis.
They gave no further details at the time. But Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, who visited him in hospital, urged people to stop spreading “fake news” about his condition.
Essebsi was a former lawyer who studied and trained in the French capital Paris. During his long political career, he also served as interior minister and speaker of parliament.
Drafted in as prime minister in 2011 after longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled, Essebsi was elected president three years later, becoming the country’s first directly elected head of state after its Arab Spring uprising.
As prime minister, he helped draft a new democratic constitution guaranteeing fundamental rights such as freedom of speech, and preparing Tunisia for free elections.
He also brokered an historic power-sharing deal between his Nidaa Tounes movement and Islamist party Ennahda that helped to steady the country, as other parts of the region such as Syria, Yemen or Libya struggled with upheaval and violence.
Under his rule Tunisia has been spared much of the violence seen elsewhere in the Middle East since 2011, although it has been the target of fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) over the years. But his economic legacy is much more debatable as unemployment in Tunisia stands at about 15 percent, up from 12 percent in 2010, due to weak growth and low investment.
Seven days of national mourning have been declared following his death. The speaker of parliament, Mohamed Ennaceur, is to take over as interim president.