Tunisia has become the first country in the Arab world to appoint a female prime minister, with President Kais Saied publicly declaring Najla Bouden Romdhane would take the role.
“This is the first time in the history of Tunisia that a woman has led a government,” Saied said at the meeting with Romdhan which was captured in a video from the president’s office.
“It is an honour to Tunisia and Tunisian women.”
Saied said the appointment honoured Tunisian women and asked the 63-year old to create a cabinet in the coming hours or days “because we have lost a lot of time”.
He added that the new government should work on confronting corruption and respond to the demands and dignity of Tunisians in health, transport and education.
Romdhane served in the ministry of higher education a decade ago and has been called a “geologist with little government experience,” by Reuters.
Arab countries rarely see females appointed to senior political roles. Saied’s current chief of staff is a woman, Nadia Akacha, who in January, received a package from an “unknown sender”, which caused her to be hospitalised.
But the appointment comes amidst a national crisis within the country of roughly twelve million. Saied was elected in 2019 in a landslide victory.
Since July, he has been pressured to name a government after he dismissed the prime minister, suspended parliament — which was led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party — and assumed executive authority.
These actions have suspended talks with the International Monetary Fund for the moment, meaning the new government, which Saied has brought on Romdhane to build, will be forced to come up with financial solutions for budget and debt repayments.
Last week, he suspended most of the constitution, declaring he could rule by decree over “this exceptional” period with no definite end-date.
Public finances are crippling in the country after years of economic stagnation, further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and domestic political infighting.
Tunisians are taking to the streets to protest the president’s vigorous power-grab. Last weekend, demonstrators took to the streets of the capital, Tunis, to demand the president’s resignation.
A few days later, Saied addressed Romdhane in the meeting in which her prime ministership was announced, saying “We will work on ending corruption and chaos that has taken over the country’s institutions … we have wasted a lot of time.”