Tunisia’s new president: 88-year-old veteran politician from a 1960’s government

Beji Caid Sebsi

On the face of things, it is surprising that Tunisia’s first president chosen in an open, democratic election is an 88-year-old former minister, Beji Caid Sebsi.

Four years ago stone-throwing youths took to the streets, instigating an uprising that overthrew Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the autocrat who had reigned for the previous 23 years.

After his fall the first elections were easily won by Islamists who had previously been banned. Now, by contrast, Tunisia will be presided over by a veteran who served as interior minister in Habib Bourguiba’s government in the 1960s. In a run-off on December 21st he got 56% of the votes cast, comfortably defeating Moncef Marzouki, a former human-rights campaigner who had spent years in exile.

Mr Caid Sebsi portrayed himself as an admirer of Bourguiba, who ruled the country for 30 years after independence from France in 1956. But he played down his role as interior minister at a time of repression, instead stressing his record as a conciliatory interim prime minister for ten months immediately after the revolution of 2011…