Tunisia’s Ex-President Ben Ali Dies At 83

FILES) In this file photo taken on April 01, 1988 former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali 1987 poses for an official picture in front of the Tunisian flag.  Handout / AFP


Former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the first leader to be toppled by the Arab Spring revolts, died Thursday in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia’s foreign ministry told AFP.

“We had confirmation of his death 30 minutes ago,” the ministry said, without giving further details. Ben Ali was 83.

His lawyer, Mounir Ben Salha, confirmed the news, citing family members and Ben Ali’s doctor.

Ben Ali, who ruled his North African country from 1987 until 2011, was viewed by some as a bulwark against Islamist extremism, but faced criticism for muzzling the opposition and his reluctance to embrace democracy.

Eventually, growing frustration over unemployment and high prices snapped.

In late 2010, the self-immolation of a young trader sparked major protests that rocked the country and sparked a deadly clampdown.

Ben Ali fled Tunisia for Saudi Arabia on January 14, 2011.

His rapid departure sparked a string of similar uprisings across the region, toppling Egyptian and Libyan strongmen Hosni Mubarak and Moamer Kadhafi.

The turmoil triggered what was to become Syria’s devastating eight-year war.

 Pyjamas in exile 

In mid-2012, Ben Ali was sentenced in absentia to life in jail for his role in the deaths of protesters during the uprising that ousted him.

Little information has emerged on his life in exile.

Photos posted on Instagram in 2013 showed the former strongman smiling in striped pyjamas.

Rumours of his death had circulated several times in recent years.

A week ago, Ben Salha said the former president was in a “critical condition”, before denying reports that he had died.

“He is not dead, but his state of health is bad. He has left hospital and is currently being cared for at his home — his condition is stabilising”, the lawyer said at the time.

Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said last week that on humanitarian grounds Ben Ali could return to die in his own country — “like every Tunisian” — should he wish to do so.

Ben Ali is survived by six children; three daughters by a first marriage and two daughters and a son by Leila Trabelsi.

A career soldier, Ben Ali took power on November 7, 1987 when he toppled Habib Bourguiba, the ailing father of Tunisian independence who was by then reported to be senile.

Tunisians, including Islamists, hailed his bloodless, non-violent takeover.

He went on to make Tunisia a moderate voice in the Arab world while Western governments viewed him as an effective bulwark against extremism despite criticism of his slow move toward democracy.

Ben Ali was also sentenced in absentia to misappropriating public funds and ordering the torture of army officers who allegedly led a coup attempt against him.

Tunisia on Sunday held a presidential election, in which two outsiders — law professor Kais Saied and detained media mogul Nabil Karoui — made it through to a second round run-off.

The country’s first post Arab Spring democratically elected president, Beji Caid Essebsi, died in July aged 92, bringing the first round of the presidential polls forward by several months.


Tunisia’s President Vows To Fight Terrorism ‘Without Mercy’

tunisia-1Tunisia’s President, Beji Caid Essebsi, has vowed to fight terrorism “without mercy”, following a gun attack on the Bardo Museum in the capital Tunis that killed 19 people.

Seventeen tourists were killed in the attack, including visitors from Japan, Italy, Colombia, Australia, France, Poland and Spain, officials said.

Two Tunisians, one a police officer, were also killed in Wednesday’s attack.

President Essebsi said the country was “in a war with terror”.

 Critical Moment In Our History

“These monstrous minorities do not frighten us,” he said “We will resist them until the deepest end without mercy.

“Democracy will win and it will survive.”

Prime Minister Habib Essid said: “It is a critical moment in our history, and a defining moment for our future.”

At the time of the attack, deputies in the neighbouring parliamentary building were discussing anti-terrorism legislation.

Parliament was evacuated, but later reconvened for an extraordinary session in the evening.

Many Tunisians took to the streets of central Tunis to protest against the attack, waving flags and lighting candles outside the museum.

World leaders condemned the attack and expressed their support for Tunisia’s counter-terrorism efforts.

The UN Security Council issued a statement saying no terrorist action could reverse Tunisia’s path towards democracy.

The statement offered condolences to those affected by the attack, and called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

Meanwhile, White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, said the US would “continue to stand with our Tunisian partners against terrorist violence”.

Tunisia has struggled with Islamist extremism since its authoritarian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown in January 2011.

Dozens of police officers and military personnel had been killed or wounded in violence blamed on militants including Islamic State.

The latest attack came a day after security officials confirmed the death in neighbouring Libya of a leading suspect in Tunisian terror attacks and the killings of two opposition figures.

Tunisia Lifts State Of Emergency, Three Years After Revolt

tunsiaTunisia has lifted a State of Emergency three years after it was imposed, in a largely symbolic move to show security is improving in the North African state.

Since the 2011 uprising that ousted autocrat, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisian security forces have been battling militants from the hard-line Islamist movement Ansar al-Sharia, one of the radical groups to emerge after Ben Ali’s fall.

“The President of the Republic issued a decree to lift the State of Emergency beginning on March 5, 2014,” a statement from the Presidency said on Thursday.

The State of Emergency had kept security forces on alert across the country and given troops and Police authority to intervene in protests. Troops have arrested dozens of militants and killed others during raids over the past few months.

It has also affected tourism, which is a major part of Tunisia’s economy. Almost 7 million tourists came to the country in 2010, a few months before the uprising. Last year, that was down to about 6 million in 2012.

Attracting more tourists will help Tunisia to stabilize its economy. Then it can carry out reforms demanded by international lenders, who want to see the state reduce its budget deficit and trim public spending.

Prime Minister, Mehdi Jomaa said on Monday that “terrorism” had left, without giving details. Ansar al Sharia has been blamed for clashes with security forces and for a suicide bombing at a beach resort at the end of last year – the first such attack in Tunisia in more than a decade.

Tunisia Signs New Constitution

Tunisia adopted a new constitution on Monday, January 27, a big stride towards democracy in the country that began the Arab Spring revolutions and has largely avoided the chaos and violence now plaguing the neighbours it inspired.

After years under autocrat Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s charter has been praised as one of the most progressive in the Arab world, designating Islam as the state religion but protecting freedom of belief and sexual equality.

Parliament erupted in celebrations after the official signing of the constitution. Lawmakers approved it on Sunday evening, ending months of deadlock that had threatened to undo Tunisia’s transition.

“This is an exceptional day for Tunisia, where we celebrate the victory over dictatorship. The government and the opposition have won, Tunisia has won,” President Moncef Marzouki told the assembly after signing.

On the streets of the capital Tunis, reaction to the new constitution was mixed, but mostly positive.

“I am very happy. I feel relaxed and delighted for my country and my people and all Tunisians“, said one man.

“(The constitution) represents me; however the country is not going in the right direction. No matter if they change the constitution or not. It does not mean anything,” added a woman.

One man said politicians had been able to prevent the type of turmoil that plagued other countries in the region.

“The National Constituent Assembly was a fertile seed, it prevented us from many other bad possibilities, that could have happened, like what’s happening in Egypt, in Libya, Syria and Yemen,” he said.

The small North African country’s steady progress contrasts sharply with turmoil in Libya and Egypt, whose people followed Tunisia in ousting their veteran leaders in 2011.

Tunisia’s stock market rose 1.7 percent on Monday in a sign of investor confidence in the country’s stability, with the constitution in place and the formation of a new caretaker cabinet that will govern until elections.

After months of crisis, Tunisia’s transition got back on track when ruling Islamist party, Ennahda agreed to compromise late last year and step down to make way for a non-political cabinet of experts, led by former minister, Mehdi Jomaa.

Hours before Sunday’s January 26 approval of the constitution, new Prime Minister, Jomaa named technocrats with international experience to key posts such as Finance Minister and Foreign Minister.

No election date has been set, but Ennahda and opposition party Nidaa Tounes, headed by a former Ben Ali official, are expected to battle for the presidency.

In the National Assembly and on the street, political divisions about the role of Islam were forgotten in the celebrations over a constitution that United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon commended as a “milestone”.