Tunisia’s President Kais Saied, faced with growing criticism of his power grab, made an astonishing move by appointing a little-known geologist as the country’s first woman Prime Minister, On September 29. Mr. Saied had already dismissed the Prime Minister and suspended Parliament in July. Ever since he consolidated power in his hands and announced that he would rule by decree, moves his opponents call a coup. through the appointment of Najla Bouden Romdhane, the 63-year-old professor at the Tunis National School of Engineering with technically negligible political experience, Mr. Saied is seeking to put his rule by decree in an administrative frameworks. In a video message that was released on September 29 introducing Ms. Bouden to Tunisians, the President said: “This is a historic moment, an honour for Tunisia and a tribute to Tunisian women.” Ms. Bouden did not speak in the video.
While some wonder if Bouden could become the symbol of women’s progress and empowerment in Tunisia and the Middle East, others suspect fearfully that President Kais Saied might exploit her limited political experience to his advantage.
Director of the Middle East and North Africa programme at the London-based think tank Chatham House, Lina Khatib, considers that choosing a woman was a strategic move by Saied.
When Mr. Saied moved to suspend much of the 2014 Constitution, and awarded himself near total powers, resistance began to build up. Tunisia was seen as the only country among those hit by Arab street protests in 2010-11 that successfully transitioned into a multi-party democracy from dictatorship. Mr. Saied’s moves also raised questions and worries about Tunisia’s transition story.
Born in the central Kairouan province in 1958, Bouden holds a doctorate in geology. The Paris-educated academic has held various senior positions in Tunisia’s education sector. In 2011, she was also appointed Director General in charge of Quality at the Ministry of Higher Education, according to the official TAP news agency. She led the ‘management by objectives unit’ for the implementation of the higher education reform project in 2016. Presently, she is serving as the World Bank’s Programme Implementation Officer at the Ministry of Higher Education. According to Turkey’s Anadolu news agency, Ms. Bouden doesn’t have any known political affiliations.
Domestically, the opposition is trying to mobilise support for a lasting showdown with Mr. Saied and his cherry-picked PM. All these suggest that the North African Arab country’s first woman PM could get the going tough.