Essid, Habib (Tunisia)
Habib Essid was nominated as prime minister on 5 Jan. 2015 and charged with forming a new government. An agricultural economist by profession, he had been a leading security official in the administration of deposed President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Habib Essid was born on 1 June 1949 in Sousse in the French Protectorate of Tunisia. He studied economics at the University of Tunis and graduated with a master’s degree in agronomy from the University of Minnesota, USA in 1974. He became an irrigation specialist within Tunisia’s ministry of agriculture, working in the Gafsa region for much of the 1980s.
In 1989 Essid was appointed chief of agricultural development for the northern city of Bizerte. He held senior positions in the government under President Ben Ali at the ministry of agriculture and, from 1997, the ministry of the interior. From 2001 he was secretary of state to the minister of agriculture, initially with responsibility for fisheries and subsequently for water resources. He also headed the Pipeline across the Sahara (TRAPSA) project from 2003–04. Between 2004 and 2010 he was director of the Madrid-based International Olive Oil Council.
Following the revolution that toppled Ben Ali in Jan. 2011 and sparked the Arab Spring, Essid was appointed interior minister in the interim government. After the Constituent Assembly elections on 23 Oct. 2011 he was named security adviser to Hamedi Jebali, the interim prime minister and leader of the moderate Islamist Ennahda movement. When Beji Caid Essebsi was elected president on 21 Dec. 2014, he appointed Essid as premier.
Essid was ostensibly chosen as prime minister for his considerable experience in economic affairs and security, as well as his reputation for independence and competence. However, his critics have pointed to his close ties to the autocratic Ben Ali administration, especially during his time in the interior ministry.
Having taken office, Essid attracted controversy by appointing a cabinet dominated by members of Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunisia), a secular party founded by President Essebsi. He subsequently agreed to include members of other parties, including Ennahda and the leftist Popular Front, and on 5 Feb. 2015 his new cabinet won parliamentary approval.
Security was a major concern throughout 2015. In the wake of three major terror attacks by Islamist extremists in March, June and Nov.—on the country’s leading museum, a tourist beach resort and the presidential guard respectively—Essid carried out a cabinet reshuffle in Jan. 2016 in an effort to improve government effectiveness. He replaced the interior and foreign ministers among a series of changes and also abolished a number of posts. Also in Jan. the government imposed a night-time curfew as violent protests against rising unemployment spread across the country.
In July 2016 Essid lost a parliamentary vote of no confidence by 118 votes to three. Youssef Chahed took over as prime minister in Aug.