Tunisia got its first female prime minister on on Wednesday (Sept. 29) after President Kais Saied appointed Najla Bouden Romdhane to the role.
A political unknown, Bouden was born in Kairouan in 1958 and had worked with the World Bank. She holds a PhD in geology and a Master’s degree in petroleum exploration from the Paris Higher School of Mining and is a lecturer at Tunisia’s national engineering school.
Saied said her appointment honoured Tunisian women and asked her to propose a cabinet in the coming hours or days “because we have lost a lot of time”.
The Tunisian Association for Democratic Women (ATFD) welcomed Saied’s pick for prime minister, saying it had suggested Bouden for the role.
The move comes amid a deep political crisis in the small North African nation.
In July 25, Saied sacked the government of former premier Hichem Mechichi, suspended parliament, lifted MPs’ immunity and took over the judiciary.
Last week, Saied extended the suspension of parliament and moved to rule by decree during an “exceptional” period with no set ending, suspending parts of the country’s constitution, a move that sparked major protests at the weekend.
He has faced repeated calls to name a government. His opponents accuse him of orchestrating a coup, but many Tunisians have supported Saied as they’ve been deeply disappointed by the performance of the country’s political parties.
The country's debt is approaching 100 percent of GDP as it negotiates with international lenders for a bailout and unemployment has been for decades one of the main sources of instability and social discontent.
Bouden has been given the task of helping Tunisia out of the political, economic and health crises but is still unclear how much she will be involved in how Tunisia is governed.
“When we look at the CV of this lady, who is a geologist without other specializations or experience in sensitive roles, I don’t know how well she will be able to tackle these enormous, complex issues,” Political scientist Slaheddine Jourchi told AFP.
“It is a positive sign that a woman will lead the government. I hope she will immediately start saving the country from the spectre of bankruptcy. She should quickly look at the problems of Tunisians,” Amin Ben Salem, a banker in Tunis told Reuters.
Women have only rarely held senior political roles in Arab countries. In Tunisia, Saied has also appointed a woman, Nadia Akacha, as chief of staff, his closest and most powerful aide.