Essebsi in Paris, France, December 2016
Romain GAILLARD / REA / Redux

Last Thursday, Beji Caid Essebsi, the president of the Republic of Tunisia, died in a military hospital at the age of 92. His death fell on a national holiday of particular resonance: Republic Day commemorates the founding of modern Tunisia on July 25, 1957, when the country abolished its monarchy and became a republic.

Essebsi had an important connection to the events of 1957. He belonged to the party and government of the Republic of Tunisia’s first president, Habib Bourguiba, who was among the most important, and most stridently secular, nationalists in the Arabic-speaking world. Bourguiba was friends with U.S. President John

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