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Tunisia's New Prime Minister Is The First Woman To Hold The Role In An Arab Country

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Tunisia has a new prime minister - a woman, which is a first for the country and a rarity in the Arab world. Her appointment yesterday is overshadowed by concern that it's just cover for the president who named her. He has assumed new powers that threaten the fragile democracy the country embarked on after overthrowing a dictator 10 years ago. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT KAIS SAIED: (Arabic spoken).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The Tunisian presidency put out this video of President Kais Saied welcoming his newly appointed Prime Minister, Najla Bouden Ramadhane, into his office. She didn't speak but nodded to the cameras as he saluted her nomination, which he said paid tribute to Tunisian women. Tunisian Aida Hamdi, who works as an international consultant in Paris, says women have a prominent place in Tunisian society, so she's not surprised. But she says power is still very masculine.

AIDA HAMDI: Tunisian women are in all the disciplines. They are engineers. They are professors. They are doctors. What is really problematic is they are not in the very high - in the leadership posts.

BEARDSLEY: Hamdi believes the choice of putting a woman at the top is a signal that the usual cronyism and corrupt ways of male politicians won't work in the new government. But she does wonder if Ramadhane, an apolitical engineering professor and known consensus builder, will be able to impose her will with a president some now likened to a wannabe dictator.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: About a thousand demonstrators gathered in Tunis last weekend to protest what they call Saied's power grab. Saied has said he was forced to suspend parliament and dismiss the previous prime minister at the end of July to root out corruption.

HAMADI REDISSI: I think that now, we are in what I have called Roman dictatorship.

BEARDSLEY: A Roman dictatorship, says Tunisian political analyst Hamadi Redissi, because Saied, like a Roman emperor, has invested himself, at least for now, with powers beyond the country's constitution. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.