Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi speaks during a news conference last November at the Kartaca Presidency Palace in Tunis. (Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

‘He Had the Ability to Talk to People of All Different Persuasions’ (AUDIO INTERVIEW)

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi died in a Tunis hospital on Thursday. At 92, he was the second-oldest head of state in the world after Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.

Essebsi was Tunisia’s first democratically elected leader. He assumed the presidency in 2014 following three years of interim rule in the wake of the overthrow of strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, toppled in what is probably the sole case of a successful “Arab Spring.”

A veteran politician, Essebsi was an adviser to Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s first leader following independence from France in 1956, and eventually the country’s self-declared “president-for-life.” After Ben Ali overthrew Bourguiba in a bloodless coup in 1987, Essebsi held several key ministerial and security posts.

Despite his service under two despots, Essebsi was seen as a democrat and a unifier, as The Media Line learned in conversation with Amb. David Mack of the Washington-based Middle East Institute. Mack is a retired US diplomat whose career took him to numerous countries in the region, including Tunisia.

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