THE ARAB world has recorded its first female prime minister.
Najla Bouden Romdhan was appointed as prime minister of Tunisia by the country’s President Kais Saied, the first woman to hold the position in any Arab country, CNN reported on September 29.
Saied made the historic appointment two months after he sacked the previous government and seized wide-ranging executive powers.
A video released from the Tunisian president’s office on September 29 showed Saied unveiling the prime minister after a meeting.
“This is the first time in the history of Tunisia that a woman has led a government,” the president said in the video, adding that Romdhan’s emergence as prime minister was ‘an honour to Tunisia and Tunisian women.’
Romdhan, 63, served in the Ministry of Higher Education in 2011, according to Tunisia’s privately owned Mosaique FM.
CNN observed that Romdhan was taking office at a moment of crisis in Tunisia.
Democratic gains from the 2011 revolution in the North African country are being eroded by political instability and as a result, public finances have come under threat.
However, the extent of the new prime minister’s powers is not yet clear.
It is expected that the role of the prime minister will be less important than in previous administrations after Saied’s announcement last week that the government would be responsible to the president and that he could select or sack cabinet ministers.
In July, Saied ousted the government headed by Prime Minister Hichem Mechichia and froze the activities of the parliament led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, a move that was seen as a coup.
The ICIR had reported that Ennahda had been under fire from secular opposition parties which claimed that Tunisia’s Arab Spring was derailed because the Islamists, in their view, were bent on setting up a theocracy.
Saied consolidated power by suspending many provisions of the constitution and declared that he could rule by decree and control the government himself.
He announced he would rule the country during an emergency period.
But, so far, the emergency period has no defined endpoint.
According to CNN, Tunisia faces a rapidly looming crisis in public finances after years of economic stagnation were aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic and political infighting.
Government bonds are under pressure and the cost of insuring against their default has hit a record high.
The new government will have to move very quickly to seek financial support for the budget and debt repayments after Saied’s power grab in July put talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on hold.
Tunisia has faced a spike in COVID-19 cases and growing anger over chronic political dysfunction and economic malaise.
Hundreds of Tunisians took to the streets of the capital Tunis last weekend to protest Saied’s power grab.
But, during his meeting with Romdhan on September 29, the president assured Tunisians that his administration would move fast to tackle the country’s pressing challenges.
“We will work on ending corruption and chaos that has taken over the country’s institutions. We have wasted a lot of time,” Saied said.
Additional reporting from Reuters.