Former dissident sworn in as Tunisia’s president

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A former dissident doctor who once likened entrenched Arab regimes to cancer-stricken patients was sworn in as president of the transitional government of Tunisia on Tuesday, in the country’s latest step towards democratic rule.

French-educated Moncef Marzouki, 66, head of the Congress for the Republic party, was elected to the largely ceremonial post of president with 153 out of 202 votes cast by Tunisia’s new parliament late on Monday.

“I will always be aware of the heavy mission and the extent of the responsibility I have been entrusted with by the Tunisian people,” Dr Marzouki said after the vote, according to the official Tunisian news agency.

Dr Marzouki’s rise illustrates the dramatic changes taking place in the North African nation of 10m where the so-called Arab Spring revolutions began nearly a year ago.

Longtime ruler President Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali, deposed after weeks of street demonstrations in January, was an interior ministry apparatchik who imprisoned and tortured opponents. Dr Marzouki is a human rights activist who travelled to India and South Africa to learn about non-violent resistance to authoritarian regimes. The left-leaning activist has long been an outspoken critic of the Arab rulers now being challenged by popular uprisings.

“Speaking as a doctor, this Arab regime is like a patient who has syphilis, lung cancer and bladder cancer and leukaemia and mad cow disease and mad human disease, bad breath,” he said in a 2005 interview on Al Jazeera. “And then you come and tell me he will undergo a facelift so he can be a nice young guy.”

Dr Marzouki’s party is one of two junior partners in a coalition government led by the moderate Islamist Nahda party, whose secretary-general Hamadi Jebali is set to become Tunisia’s transitional prime minister. The transitional government has a year to oversee the drawing up of a new constitution.

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