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Tunisia's Ben Ali: dictator and western ally

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Tunisia's Ben Ali: dictator and western ally


Ex-president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali ruled Tunisia with an iron fist for 23 years.

He ousted predecessor Habib Bourguiba in a bloodless coup by declaring the then 83-year-old as mentally unfit to hold office.

Ben Ali was prime minister at the time.

He took over the presidency on November 7, 1987 promising to bring democracy to the former French protectorate.

Ben Ali made some advances on women’s rights, but his promises of a democratic Tunisia failed to materialise.

He ruthlessly stifled opposition dissent and muzzled the media, jailing journalists who criticised his regime.

Although Ben Ali scrapped the term “president for life” created by Bourguiba, he twice changed the constitution so he could stay in office.

Allegations of corruption marred his five consecutive election wins; Ben Ali never picked up less than 89 percent of the vote.

His regime was often touted as a model of stability by Western governments, which hailed his crackdown on Islamists and praised his liberal economic policies.

Yet ordinary Tunisians saw those policies as only benefiting Ben Ali’s family and friends.

A recently leaked US diplomatic cable described the former president’s clan as “the nexus of Tunisian corruption.”

After being unable to change their government for over two decades, Tunisians took to the streets to call on Ben Ali to step down.

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