Moncef Marzouki has been sworn in as Tunisia's new president. He is well-known for his firebrand style and his opposition to the old regime.

Story highlights

The presidency is more of a ceremonial role

Marzouki is the founder of a center-left party

The new president had lived in exile

The Arab Spring started in Tunisia

Tunis, Tunisia CNN  — 

Tunisia has sworn in a new president, a milestone in the North African country that kicked off the dramatic year-long cry for freedom across the Arab world.

He is Moncef Marzouki, a secularist elected on Monday by an Islamist-dominated parliament, the Constituent Assembly. He will fulfill a more ceremonial role as the affairs of state are handled by the prime minister.

Marzouki is the founder of the center-left Congress for the Republic Party. He is well-known for his firebrand style and his opposition to the old regime.

The secular party has formed a coalition with the Ettakatol and Islamist Ennahda Party. Ennahda came in first to become the largest party in Tunisia’s first democratic election since the ouster of former dictator Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

The Congress for the Republic Party party came in second in the October elections, collecting 29 out of 217 assembly seats.

Marzouki was the only candidate because the nine other candidates for president did not gather the required 15 signatures from Constituent Assembly members.

The new president lived in exile for the last decade. He is a human rights activist, founded the National Committee for the Defense of Prisoners of Conscience and was the head of the Tunisian League of Human Rights.

The elections were historic not only in Tunisia – which, until now, hadn’t had a national election since it became independent in 1956 and for 23 years was ruled by Ben Ali – but also in the region and the world.

Since Ben Ali was ousted in January – a month after 26-year-old street vendor Muhammad Al Bouazizi set himself afire after a police officer seized his goods – residents in several other Arab nations have similarly rallied for democratic reforms and against their leaders, a show of force called the Arab Spring.