Tunisia President hospitalised as attack hits the country
The Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi was rushed to a military hospital last Thursday when suffering from a serious illness, with fears for his life. This crisis occurred on the same day Tunis was struck by twin suicide attacks claimed by the Islamic state, with one targeting a police vehicle near the French Embassy and another striking near the headquarters of an anti-terrorism unit. The attacks left one policeman dead and eight others wounded, Sofian Al-Zaaq, the Interior Ministry’s spokesman, said by phone.
Essebsi, the 92-year-old founder of the secular Nidaa Tounes party, is now said to be in a “stable” condition, the state-run TAP news agency reported Thursday afternoon, denying reports swirling on social media that he had died.
Tunisians and politicians took to social media yesterday to call for transparency over the President’s health. Tunisians have voiced concerns that the cradle of Arab uprisings could descent into political instability, if there is a prolonged vacancy of the presidency.
The attacks drove home the precarious nature of the gains Tunisia has made since the 2011 uprising that ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The North African nation that gave rise to the Arab Spring movements has prided itself on settling up a vibrant democratic system, but has seen little progress on the economic front.
Essebsi, who in 2014 became the country’s first freely elected president in decades, won on a pledge to unite what had become a nation caught in the struggle between Islamists and secularists. A veteran diplomat, he came out of retirement in 2011 to become prime minister after Ben Ali’s ouster, and later founded the party that’s a main power-broker and counterweight to the Islamist Ennahda party.
His hospitalization and reports of his death only served to add to the insecurity in Tunisia, where lawmakers recently passed a law aimed at sidelining from running for office individuals who “distribute aid” or resort to political advertising, from running for office.
Many in the country saw it as a clear attempt to thwart the political ambitions of some front-runners in legislative and presidential elections slated for later this year.