It is one of the most taboo topics for the media world. Can we publicly discuss the health of a head of state?
The question arises not only in autocratic countries, it has long arisen in the largest democracies. For example, the French only became aware of the illness of their president François Mitterrand (1981-1995) after his departure from the Élysée. Even today, several American media outlets are wondering about the health of President Joe Biden, who regularly publishes his state of health.
In their works “These Patients Who Control Us” and then “These New Patients Who Control Us”, Pierre Accoce and Pierre Rentchnick are interested in this aspect of the exercise of power by “men” who are physically or psychologically affected. The common point was that these diseases were mostly kept hidden, and that these leaders had imposed on their fellow citizens the weight of their own torments, as well as the consequences of the reduction of their abilities. Books to consult in the light of events taking place in Tunisia.
In our regions, the question was posed with the insistence of the 1980s under the presidency of Habib Bourguiba, but without a single media debate on the subject. It was finally resolved on November 7, 1987 by its Prime Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s famous medical coup. He relied on a medical certificate signed by a number of doctors to justify a bloodless coup.
In the 2000s, rebellion with Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. President’s health, we’re talking about it in the salons (in a low voice), but never in the media.
After the revolution, the subject of the president’s health was raised again with Moncef Marzouki. It’s not about physical health this time, but about mental health. The rumors were insistent about the president’s hypothetical psychiatric disorders, but no media dared to ask the question publicly. The psychiatrists invited by a number of journalists to discuss the topic have all declined the invitation under the pretext that it is ethically impossible for them to deal with this type of issue in public.
In 2014, in the midst of the election campaign, Moncef Marzouki himself raised the issue by publishing a medical certificate testifying to his good physical health to exercise power. However, the maneuver was not carried out to establish new traditions in a respectable democracy, it was directed at his opponent Béji Caïd Essebsi, 88 years old at the time, who is said to be ill and unable to exercise the presidency for five more years.
The CPR militants and sympathizers of Moncef Marzouki, led by Yassine Ayari, had only this subject on their tongue.
Except that here, the same people who challenged the public on the physical health of the candidate Béji Caïd Essebsi made contact when evoking the mental health of the presidential candidate Moncef Marzouki. Rumors, however, claimed that the latter would have stayed in the past in a Parisian psychiatric hospital.
After being elected, Béji Caïd Essebsi established for the first time in Tunisia the tradition of publishing his state of health or his private visits to Paris for medical consultations.
The tradition is preserved in June 2019, when the president was urgently admitted to the military hospital in Tunis. The presidency’s communications service, then headed by Firas Guefrech, published an official press release to inform the public about the situation, then it was his military doctors who picked up the torch.
With Kaïs Saïed, we are writing a step back at all levels. The health of the president-elect in 2019 has never been seriously discussed in the media, but we like to talk about it in salons and on social networks. His outbursts of anger, his speeches to the nation at midnight, his peculiar appointments, and his blatant contradictions are all reasons to question the mental health of an extraordinary president.
The taboo was broken this week by his former chief of staff Nadia Akacha. In a leaked communication with an unknown person, the Tunisians experience that their president would suffer from psychiatric disorders. To hear him, he regularly took pills.
The president’s former right-hand man also evokes a private story with his wife, which theoretically would have psychological consequences.
Finally, his former communications director Rachida Ennaïfer warns between the lines that the president would be sleepless. ” He works twenty hours a day “, She said undisturbed on a TV channel with a large audience on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.
Whether Madame Akacha and Ennaïfer are selling lies or telling the truth, and whether their level is incredibly low, it is a fact that the two ladies have occupied a central stage with positions at the top of the state. They were both elected by the President of the Republic, who at one point believed in their skills.
Is this president who named these two “traitors” to his side mentally healthy?
The prosecution announced yesterday that it had opened an investigation into Mrs Akacha’s leaked conversations. But this prosecution does not specify whether the purpose of its investigation is to find out who leaked the communication, or whether the former chief of staff’s very serious words are true or not.
As Tunisians, what means the most to us? To punish Mrs. Akacha for her cleaved tongue and the palace secrets she revealed, or to find out if what she is saying is true?
It is the right of Tunisians to know whether their president suffers from a psychiatric disorder.
If what Mrs Akacha says is false, it is the duty of the President of the Republic to publicly deny the words of the former Chief of Staff, while at the same time supporting her denial with a statement from the President’s doctor.
Ditto if the president is under treatment and his hypothetical illness is properly taken care of and does not affect the performance of his functions.
On the other hand, if this hypothetical disease prevents the president from training normally, he has the moral obligation to leave the palace and immediately print a presidential election.
Unless he is in denial. In this case, it is up to his treating physicians to take responsibility with both hands and communicate publicly on the subject.
In self-respecting countries, the president’s health is not a private matter subject to medical secrecy, it is a public matter! It’s not just about the head of state’s own health, it’s about the health of an entire country and an entire people.
Raouf Ben Hedi