Bloomberg, October 2021
The first female head of government in the Arab world has people talking — but not always for the right reasons. Najla Bouden Romdhane was appointed by Tunisia’s president, Kais Saied, to lead a transitional government about two weeks ago. That came after the president sacked the previous premier and suspended parliament, prompting howls about a coup.
So instead of being celebrated as an event that cements Tunisia’s status as a gender pioneer in the region, the 63-year-old engineering professor who implemented World Bank programs at the higher-education ministry is being presented in some quarters as a figurehead. Critics accuse President Saied of tightening his grip on power and naming her just to appease those demanding a transition back to democracy—including feminist campaigners who want him to do more to address the gender gap, for example, by dropping his opposition to a highly contentious law to equalize inheritance rights. It’s true that when Saied named Romdhane, the optics weren’t great. He called it “an honor for Tunisia and a homage to Tunisian women” in a video posted on his Facebook page. She didn’t speak.