Tunisia’s Ousted President Ben Ali Dies in Saudi Exile
By Staff, Reuters
Tunisia’s ousted president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, whose overthrow in a 2011 uprising triggered the so-called “Arab Spring” revolutions, died in exile in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, days after a free presidential vote in his homeland.
His funeral will take place on Friday in Saudi Arabia, his family lawyer, Mounir Ben Salha, told Reuters.
Ben Ali fled Tunisia in January 2011 as his compatriots - many of them angered after a vegetable seller set himself on fire a few weeks earlier in protest at the police - rose up against his oppressive rule in a revolution that inspired other uprisings in the Middle East and led to a democratic transition at home.
On Sunday, Tunisians voted in an election that featured candidates from across the political spectrum, sending two political outsiders through to a second round vote unthinkable during Ben Ali’s two decades in power.
However, while Tunisians have enjoyed a much smoother march to democracy than citizens of the other Arab states that also rose up in 2011, many of them are economically worse off than they were under Ben Ali.
While almost all the candidates in Sunday’s election were vocal champions of the revolution, one of them, Abir Moussi, campaigned as a supporter of Ben Ali’s ousted government, receiving 4% of the votes.
A former security chief, Ben Ali had run Tunisia for 23 years, taking power when, as prime minister in 1987, he declared president-for-life Habib Bourguiba medically unfit to rule.
In office, he sought to stifle any form of political dissent while opening up the economy, a policy that led to rapid growth but also fueled grotesque inequality and accusations of brazen corruption, not least among his own relatives.
During that era, his photograph was displayed in every shop, school and government office from the beach resorts of the Mediterranean coast to the impoverished villages and mining towns of Tunisia’s hilly interior.
On the few occasions his rule was put to the vote, he faced only nominal opposition and won re-election by more than 99%.