Friday, 29 September, 2023

Tunisian president’s mystery ‘disappearance’ raises questions about his health

Tunisian President Kais Saied’s almost two-week absence has raised questions about his health and succession in a country that has become increasingly authoritarian since he took power.

The 65-year-old president made no public appearances between March 22 and April 3, but resurfaced on Monday after media outlets, activists and the country’s opposition raised alarms about his “disappearance.”

In a video posted on the Tunisian presidency’s Facebook page, Saied was seen delivering a monologue to Prime Minister Najla Bouden, dispelling rumors about his health, including those of a stroke.

“(The rumors) had reached a level of insanity that we haven’t seen in Tunisia before,” the president said, adding that talk of a power vacuum had ulterior motives. “They (the opposition) want to create crisis after crisis… and to overthrow the authorities,” he said.

Despite his reappearance, the mystery of his whereabouts remains unsolved. The president repeatedly referred to his “temporary absence” in the 11-minute video but didn’t say what the cause of it was.

Whereas Saied downplayed his absence, analysts say it is cause for concern when the man who wields a multitude of powers is inexplicably absent for almost two weeks.
“He holds all the power so his whereabouts and state of health are of immense importance equally for those who support him and those who oppose and want to see him gone,” said Intisar Fakir, senior fellow and director of the North Africa and Sahel program at the Washington, DC-based Middle East Institute.

Former Tunisian Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalem, from the opposition Ennahda party, tweeted on Saturday that the president had been lying in a military hospital “in an atmosphere of complete secrecy,” without saying how he got the information.

Asked by reporters about the president’s health, Tunisian Health Minister Ali Murrabit on Sunday walked away without commenting, according a video posted in local media.

Tunisia’s presidency didn’t respond to CNN’s request for comment.