Najla Bouden Romdhane: Tunisia’s first female head

The Arab world is undergoing some notable changes, prominently in terms of women’s empowerment. Tunisia has become the first Arab country to appoint a female prime minister, with President Kais Saied declaring Najla Bouden Romdhane as the next prime minister. “This is the first time a woman has led a cabinet in Tunisia’s history,” Saied said during the meeting with Romdhane, which was captured on a video from the President’s office. It is a moment of great honour and pride for Tunisia and Tunisian women.

Najla Bouden Romdhane was the former director of an education project. She also held a senior position at Tunisia’s higher education ministry.

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According to reports, the country’s President, Kais Saied, asked her to form a government as soon as possible. He dismissed the previous minister, suspended the Parliament and assumed wide administrative powers in July, and has been under growing domestic and global pressure to form a new government.

Saied said the new cabinet’s main mission would be to “put an end to the corruption and entropy that have spread throughout many states and institutions”.

The new Government should acknowledge the demands and dignity of Tunisians in all domains, including health, transportation and education, he added. Romdhane will be Tunisia’s tenth prime minister since the 2011 rebellion overthrew longtime dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, sparking the Arab Spring revolts.

The country faces a rapidly rising public finance crisis after years of economic stillness, and it got intensified by the coronavirus pandemic and political turmoil.

Tunisia won international praise for its democratic transition, but many Tunisians have seen little advancement in their lives and have become disillusioned with a dysfunctional and corrupt political process.

The new Government will need to make quick moves to seek financial support for their budget and debt payments after Saied’s power clutch in July put talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on hold.

Saied’s moves set vast executive powers in the hands of the president, who now will himself head the cabinet. Romdhane will be under significant pressure as she has been “thrust right into the heart of the limelight”.

President Saied names first-ever woman prime minister in Tunisia | | AW

“Ordinarily under Tunisia’s constitutional system, the President appoints a prime minister, who then appoints members of her cabinet and this all has to be approved by Parliament, but the President has suspended Parliament – so he’s appointed Najla Bouden Romdhane as prime minister, but there’ll be no parliamentary approval of this,” according to some reports.

Former parliamentary officer Chérif El Kadhi said Romdhane may form a cabinet that will be “formally recognised” by an oath-taking ceremony in front of the President. Despite many political parties protesting his latest moves, Saied is largely counting on the “huge popular support that he has till today,” he added. The President is moving forth with “amending the constitution, the political system, and his theory of bottom-up democracy,” El Kadhi said.

Tanisha Kushwaha
Masters in Political Science IGNOU

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