When Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali came to power, he did not want to do anything different, but much better. His predecessor Habib Bourguiba had governed Tunisia since independence in 1956 for more than three decades - until Ben Ali, as interior minister and head of security services second largest man in the country, declared the state founder on 7 November 1987 in a bloodless coup for incapacitated and deposed ,
At that time, Ben Ali promised that unlike Bourguiba, he would never seek a decade-long term as President. He made a constitutional amendment that said that a president should only govern a maximum of 15 years, of which a maximum of two terms of five years at a time. But no sooner had Ben Ali established himself at the top of the state, as these promises were forgotten.
In the end, he should become an ordinary Arab dictator and rule for more than 23 years straight - and many more years would have been added if the Tunisians did not overthrow him and go into exile after mass protests that started in December 2010 Saudi Arabia expelled. There Ben Ali died now at the age of 83 years.
His power was based on three pillars:
- The economic elite that exploited the country and shook hands with government contracts. Nobody embodied this part of society as much as the First Lady's family, Leila Trabelsi. After Ben Ali married the barber for the second time in 1992, her family piled up billions of dollars with state help. US diplomats described the clan in confidential cable reports published by WikiLeaks as a Mafia family modeled after Italy.
- The security apparatus, which censored the media, suppressed the opposition and undermined any criticism. Especially after the 1991 civil war broke out in neighboring Algeria, Ben Ali used this as an excuse to attack Islamist oppositionists as well as secular groups.
- The support of the West, who overlooked all human rights abuses. Ben Ali staged his country as a bulwark against the Islamists in North Africa and as a promoter of women's rights. Cleverly, Ben Ali used the September 11 attacks in the US and the assassination of tourists at the al-Ghriba Synagogue on Djerba to deepen intelligence links with the United States and European countries. Tunisia, a country in which human rights were trampled, suddenly became an ally in the so-called fight against terror.
Escape with 1.5 tons of gold
But even that did not help Ben Ali in the face of growing poverty and lack of prospects in the country. His rule system was stable until December 17, 2010, the greengrocer Mohamed Bouazizi in the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid ignited publicly. Two weeks later, the man succumbed to his injuries. His death became a shout and sparked mass protests that eventually led to Ben Ali's deposition.
Ben Ali fled with his wife and 1.5 tons of gold to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. He was the first ruler to fall in the wake of the Arab Spring - and no one should enjoy such a comfortable retirement as he did. His hosts shielded him hermetically, and at the end of 2011 he made another public appearance during the memorial service for a deceased Saudi prince. With his escape, he escaped both several lawsuits, as well as all attempts by the new government in Tunis to confiscate the riches of the Ben Ali Trabelsi clan.
Longing for Ben Ali light
Meanwhile, a nostalgic transfiguration of his dictatorship began in his homeland: the longer Ben Ali's term of office and the bigger the economic problems in Tunisia, the more the longing for a kind of Ben Ali light rose in the North African country. This is also testified by the result of the first round of the presidential election last Sunday. The two winners Kaïs Saïed and Nabil Karoui stand for an authoritarian secularism after Ben Ali's role model. Both want to weaken parliament and government and give the president again greater powers.
They aim for a Tunisia similar to Tunisia under Ben Ali.