He died a fortnight later, by which time the country was beset by riots and demonstrations, and on February 27 2011 the Prime Minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, resigned following the death of five protestors. The President, Fouad Mebazaa, appointed Essebsi in his place.
The protests continued, however, and Essebsi found it difficult to shake off his history as an ally both of the repressive Bourguiba and the man who had overthrown him, the equally despotic Ben Ali.
He remained in office until the end of the year, when he stepped down. He formed a new secularist, Left-leaning party, Nidaa Tounes (“Call for Tunisia”), a coalition of businessmen, trade unionists and politicians, with the aim, he said, of countering “instances of disturbing extremism and violence”. In 2014 he stood against the incumbent, Moncef Marzouki, in the presidential election, winning in the second round.