Tunisia profile - Leaders

  • 31 December 2014
  • From the section Africa

President: Mohamed Beji Caid Essebsi

Tunisian presidential candidate Beji Caid Essebsi speaks during a meeting to present his presidential programme in Tunis on 15 December 2014.
Mr Essebsi's rise has some fearing the return of the pre-revolution "old guard"

Beji Caid Essebsi came to office in December 2014 after winning the first free presidential election since the uprising that toppled autocratic leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

Mr Essebsi, who was a long-serving speaker of parliament under Mr Ben Ali's rule, defeated the incumbent, veteran dissident Moncef Marzouki, in the run-off of a vote polarised between Islamists and their opponents.

His secular Nidaa Tounes party also replaced the Islamist Ennahda party as the largest party in parliament.

Mr Marzouki had been elected by an interim constitutional assembly in 2011, after Mr Ben Ali was ousted in the first "Arab Spring" uprising.

Some accused Mr Marzouki of failing to restrain Ennahda's authoritarian tendencies while in office.

In his victory speech, Mr Essebsi stressed the need for reconciliation after a heated campaign, promising to be a "president of all Tunisian men and women".

Critics believe his rise to power marks the return of the Ben Ali-era political establishment.

Born in 1926, Mr Essebsi trained as a lawyer and entered politics as a supporter of Tunisia's independence leader, Habib Bourguiba.

After independence from France in 1956, he served Mr Bourguiba and his successor, Mr Ben Ali, in various security, defence and foreign affairs-related posts before becoming speaker of the Chamber of Deputies in 1990. In the wake of the 2011 revolution, he was briefly interim prime minister.

Interim Prime Minister: Mehdi Jomaa

Mr Jomaa's interim government of technocrats took over in January 2014 as part of a deal between the Islamist Ennahda party's governing coalition and opposition parties, to oversee preparations for fresh parliamentary and presidential elections.

This ended the political deadlock that followed the assassination of leftwing politician Mohamed Brahimi in July 2013, for which the opposition held Ennahda responsible.

Elections held in December 2014 saw the secular Nidaa Tounes party of President Essebsi overtake Ennahda as the largest bloc in parliament, but still requiring coalition partners to form a government.