N'DJAMENA, Chad -- The first family of Chad, by its own admission, has issues.
President Idriss Deby's twin nephews -- Tom and Timan Erdimi -- were once part of their uncle's inner circle but defected and started a rebel movement earlier this year. They are, at times, loosely joined with hardened fighters such as Mahmoud Nour, a former military confidant of the president who orchestrated an April 13 coup attempt that nearly pushed Deby out of office.
At the same time, the rest of Deby's family is no longer speaking with the president after he held a secret meeting outside the capital last year in which he said he wanted his son -- the sunglasses-clad Brahim -- to take over the presidency.
That's just the start of "Deby's dysfunctional family," as Chadian newspaper cartoonists have depicted the first family.
Deby, 53, a French-trained helicopter pilot and a former rebel himself, is so afraid of being assassinated that he admits to using doubles when traveling. His relations grew so estranged with various relatives that he decided to add "Itno" to his family name to remind his tribe of his roots -- Itno was reportedly his grandfather's name, from the elite Zaghawa tribe. Over the radio recently, Deby declared, "Henceforth, the president's name is Idriss Deby Itno." Fresh T-shirts were handed out and campaign posters were changed to carry his new initials, "IDI!"
When nothing seemed to work to restore his fortune, Deby did what many other men have done when confronting a midlife crisis: He bought a new car -- a sparkling white Hummer -- and took a new wife.
The wife, 29-year-old Chadian beauty Hinda Deby, has captivated the capital in a way unseen before in this male-dominated society. Well-spoken and dressed in flowing designer gowns and matching head scarves, Hinda is seen nearly always by her husband's side. She has replaced his son as his stenographer, taking notes on legal pads with her henna-stained nails. She recently gave a speech at the African Union in his place.
She's the "fourth lady" of Chad. Or the 13th, depending on whom you ask. (Deby has had many wives and divorces and has at least a dozen children.) Dressed in a light baby-blue outfit and narrow high-heels, she stood out among the bevy of steely-eyed, red-beret-clad special forces guards who surrounded the couple at a recent event. "She's so beautiful," cooed the normally rough-mannered president. "She helps advise me with every single decision I make."
Educated in Morocco, France and a college in Montreal, she was friendly with Brahim, Deby's son, who dabbled in college courses.
The president and Hinda Deby met at a gathering of Chad's ruling elite in the capital. He met the parents. She said she had always had a crush on the president.
They were married soon after in September, in a Sahel desert ceremony under large tents with a mix of delicacies, including chicken with peanut sauce and steaks with various cream sauces, according to diplomats who attended.
Although the capital is abuzz with reports of Hinda's beauty -- she has clear coffee-colored skin and almond-shaped eyes -- the marriage may be strategic, as many are here.
Deby's older brother is married to Hinda's aunt.
Hinda hails from one of Chad's Arab tribes, and the match was widely seen as a way to connect the families and extend Deby's support during a vulnerable period, diplomats and Chadian journalists have reported.
"His own family distrusts him," Tom Erdimi, one of the twin nephews, said in a telephone interview from Texas, where he is now living. "Taking a totally new wife was clever. She can reach out to her extended family to assure them of his powers."
Those still close to Deby played down the family problems but admitted that the new marriage was reinvigorating for a man under stress.
"In Africa, we have extended families, so big that you can have conflict within even the same family," said Mahamat Hissene, secretary general of the governing Patriotic Salvation Movement and a longtime Deby ally. "And yes, you can also have many wives. Why not? It's a wonderful thing for the president to enjoy."
Deby, sitting on a sagging sofa at his campaign headquarters for an interview, brushed off news of family dysfunction and called those against him "worthless traitors, not worth another sentence."
When rebels in pickup trucks entered the capital on April 13, Deby said, he was waiting for them, "listening to the cannon fire, because we knew they were coming, as we took our breakfast of strong coffee and warm croissant."
"It was amateurish, really," he said. "I am not going anywhere. They were petty mercenaries."
Hinda nodded in agreement.
"We were enjoying our morning when they attacked," she said. "We weren't at all nervous. My husband is in full command."
Diplomats say Hinda has played an important levelheaded role in recent weeks.
"Deby tends to be stubborn and becomes the rebel he used to be," said a diplomat who has been meeting regularly with the president and spoke on condition of anonymity. "But Hinda seems to be a good adviser from what we have witnessed during this crisis."
A day after the attempted coup, Deby threatened to stop sheltering 200,000 Sudanese who have been displaced by the fighting in neighboring Darfur province and have sought refuge in Chad. He also threatened to shut off Chad's World Bank-financed oil pipeline unless the international institution lifted a freeze on oil revenue. The World Bank, which had financed the pipeline with the condition that the revenue be spent on building schools and roads in one of the poorest countries in the world, announced last week it had reached an interim agreement with Chad over the money.
Deby, seen at public rallies last month swathed in military head scarves and aviator sunglasses, has said openly that he wants to spend the oil revenue on helicopters and weapons.
After what diplomats said was advice from Hinda, he backed away from his threats to the refugees.
But Hinda and her husband said they feel they deserve the oil money and boasted about the need to buy weapons and defend the country. The U.S. government is now brokering talks among Exxon Mobil, the World Bank and Chad.
Hinda does not expect an easy negotiation.
"He is a fighter," she said, winding her flowing scarf and batting her eyes at him. "He always will be. It's not easy ruling this country."
Hinda said she wouldn't mind ruling one day, but was careful to temper her ambitions in front of her husband, who recently changed the constitution so he could run for a third term in May 3 elections.
Asked whether she was the power behind the throne, she smiled, raised her eyebrows and said, "Ask my husband."