Tunisia’s president has named the country’s first female prime minister two months after he dismissed the premier and suspended parliament.
Kais Saied named scholar and engineering professor Nejla Bouden Romdhane as prime minister and tasked her with forming a new government.
Ms Romdhane, a geology specialist in her early sixties, has served as a senior ministry of higher education official.
She becomes Tunisia’s first female prime minister-designate, a rare woman to ascend to a senior post in the Arab world.
It remains unclear how Ms Romdhane will formally convene a Cabinet. Under Tunisia’s constitution, ministerial posts must be approved by parliamentarians, who have been physically prevented from convening.
Rachid Ghannouchi, head of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party and speaker of the suspended parliament, has insisted he will only relinquish his post by a vote of parliament.
Mr Saied, a former professor of economics elected two years ago as an independent political outsider, has been under pressure from opposition parties and civil society groups including the country’s powerful labour syndicate to put Tunisia’s back on the path toward democracy. Thousands have taken to the streets to protest his moves, which have included expanding his powers to allow himself to rule by decree.
On Monday, a coalition of Tunisian and international human rights organisations called on Mr Saeid to stick to the country’s 2014 constitution and refrain from increasing his own powers.
“Tunisia, which has so far been the only country in the region that inspired hope for real change, seems to have turned its back on the emerging democracy,” said the statement. “Time and again in history, we have seen the serious consequences for human rights when either the executive or the presidential authority seized power.”
Mr Saied’s decisions are popular among large segments of Tunisians frustrated by a political deadlock that has prevented the country from tackling economic malaise, with unemployment hovering at just below 18 per cent.
But none of his manoeuvres has yet to address the country’s difficulties and may have exacerbated them by spooking foreign investors and delaying loan talks with the International Monetary Fund. The country must find $5 billion just to pay off immediate debts and budget shortfalls.
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