A high-ranking security official in the government of ousted Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was nominated Monday as prime minister following Tunisia’s first free presidential elections. Habib Essid, who served as interior minister under Ben Ali, was selected after an agreement among political parties in the newly elected congress, according to Reuters.
"After consultations, both within the party and with other parties, there is consensus around the name of Habib Essid as candidate for the post of head of government," Mohamed Ennaceur, the vice president of the ruling Nida Tunis party said, according to Agence France-Presse. "He is an independent figure ... who has skills and experience."
Essid, 65, was the top-ranking interior ministry official in Ben Ali’s government before the autocrat was toppled during Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, which set off a series of regime-toppling uprisings in the region that became known as the Arab Spring. Despite his ties to Ben Ali, Essid stayed on in government following the regime’s toppling, serving as security adviser to the transitional government of Islamist prime minister Hamadi Jebali.
"We have chosen Essid because he is independent and has experience in the areas of security and the economy," congress speaker Mohammed Nacer said in a statement to press outside the congressional palace on Monday, Reuters reported.
Essid, a U.S.-educated agricultural economist, also held a number of posts in the country’s agriculture ministry prior to becoming interior minister. The technocrat received a master's degree in agronomy from the University of Minnesota in 1971, according to the Associated Press.
Essid’s appointment comes after the victory of 88-year-old Beji Caid Essebsi, another former member of the Ben Ali regime, in presidential elections late last month. Essebsi’s secular Nida Tunis party must form a coalition with other political parties to gain a majority in parliament. It's not clear whether the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which holds the second-largest number of seats, will join the coalition, according to AFP. Essid is now charged with appointing a government that will need to be approved by a parliamentary vote.