One of the world’s oldest leaders, Essebsi died at the Tunis military hospital on Thursday morning, the presidency said in a statement.
He was hospitalised with a severe illness in late June, but returned to intensive care on Thursday, his son said. Earlier, Hafedh Caid Essebsi told AFP news agency that “things are not going well”.
Drafted in as prime minister in 2011 after longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled, Essebsi was elected president three years later, becoming the country’s first directly elected head of state after its Arab Spring uprising.
As prime minister, he helped draft a new democratic constitution guaranteeing fundamental rights such as freedom of speech, and preparing Tunisia for free elections.
He also cobrokered an historic power-sharing deal between his Nidaa Tounes movement and Islamist party Ennahda that helped to steady the country, as other parts of the region such as Syria, yemen or Libya struggled with upheaval and violence.
In recognition of their role, Tunisian civil society groups won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015.
Though Tunisia remained a democratic exception in a troubled region, critics accused Essebsi of attempting a dynastic handover to his son, rowing back on some post-revolution freedoms, and failing to support a truth commission seeking justice for the victims of authoritarian rule.
Essebsi recently announced he would not run in an election scheduled for November, saying a younger person should lead the country.