Beji Caid Essebsi, Tunisia’s first democratically elected president, has died aged 92, reviving fears of a power vacuum in the north African country before elections in November.
Essebsi, who was taken to hospital with a severe illness in late June, returned to intensive care early on Thursday. His death was announced by his office.
Essebsi, who was the oldest head of state after Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, appeared feeble in a video released by his office on Monday of a meeting at the defence ministry.
Concerned for the country’s stability, politicians and social media users had been calling for greater transparency about the president’s health since he was hospitalised last month.
Essebsi came to power in 2014, three years after the Arab Spring uprising toppled longtime despot Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and sparked revolts in several Arab nations.
A veteran politician, Essebsi served as an adviser to Habib Bourguiba, the father of Tunisia’s independence from France, holding a number of key jobs under him and later under Ben Ali.
Over the years, Essebsi was director general of the national police and interior minister. He later held the defence portfolio before becoming ambassador to France. He became prime minister after the 2011 uprising and organised parliamentary elections later that year.
Essebsi is the founder and chairman of the secularist Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunis) party.
In April, he said he did not plan to stand for re-election in polls due to be held in November this year in order to make way for someone younger.
Presidential elections are scheduled for 17 November, after parliamentary elections which have been set for 6 October.
Essebsi had neither rejected nor enacted an amended electoral code passed by parliament in June that would bar the way for several strong candidates in the upcoming polls.
The restrictions would rule out the candidacy of media magnate Nabil Karoui, charged earlier this month with money laundering, who has formed a political party and stated his intention to stand in the poll.