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Zine el Abidine Ben Ali
Arabic: zīn 'al-¢abidīn bni ¢aliyyPlay sound

Ben Ali of Tunisia

Ben Ali humiliated by Bush - asking for rights that are contrary to teh politics of Ben Ali.

(1936-) President of Tunisia 1987-2011.
Ben Ali took power in a bloodless coup on November 7, when the cranky and old Bourguiba was ousted. Ben Ali was at that time prime minister, and had strong connections in the army, which gave support to the coup. What exactly transpired during the coup is still uncertain. It is clear, however, that the political situation in Tunisia was very unstable, and that Bourguiba was losing control. The situation became far more stable immediately after the coup.
Ben Ali has gone through three periods during his presidency. The first, from 1987 to 1990, was marked by a will to compromise. He had several talks with the Islamists, and he brought Islam back to the centre of Tunisian society.
The period from 1990 to 1992 was marked by one of the most efficient police actions in modern Arab history. The Islamists, an-Nahda, were destroyed and their leaders went into exile.
The period from 1992 until the present has been marked by Ben Ali running an internationally neutral politics dominated by a pragmatic attitude, not personal sentiment or religion, and he is thus recognized as one of the most reliable leaders in the third world. This has allowed him to become a mediator between other countries, both Muslim and Western.
Still, the leadership of Ben Ali is strongly criticised. Although control is mainly dealing with Islamists, sometimes even journalists and politically moderate activists have been persecuted and even imprisoned for demanding democracy and freedom of speech.
Economics under Ben Ali have been a roller coaster. Some years the growth has been enormous, then to be followed by stagnation in the following year. Ben Ali's economic politics are a kind of social democracy, the government trying to control the activities of investors and private companies. This has sometimes killed incentives.
Corruption is still a problem under Ben Ali, even if there has been some reform activity. The economy in Tunisia seems to depend on the government's ability to control without strangling and not to let nepotism stand in the way of national interests.
The line of Ben Ali's politics in the years to come will probably not change much, as he is in total control, and Tunisians are quite satisfied. The promises to introduce democracy are pending, and his explanation for this is that neither economy nor people are ready, implying that Islamism would be a major force in an election.
Since 2000 to 2002, a process towards allowing Ben Ali to remain in power for life, seems to have been started. The constitution was amended in 2002, in which the only remaining obstacle to this would be the age limit of 75 years for a president.
Ben Ali is twice married. His present wife, Leila Trabelsi, hairdresser by profession. He has 3 children from the first marriage, Insaf, Dorsaf and Cyrine. With Leila he has 2 daughters and son (Nesserine, Halima, Mohamed).

1936 September 3: Born in Hammam Susa.
1958: Becomes director of military security.
1974: Is appointed military attaché to Morocco.
1977: Becomes director of national security of the interior ministry, where he follows a hard line towards organizations protesting against the government's politics.
1979: Becomes general, and is appointed ambassador to Poland.
1984 January: Returns as director of national security.
October: Ben Ali becomes secretary of state of national security.
1985 October: Becomes minister of national security.
1986 April: Is appointed interior minister.
May: Is appointed minister of state for internal affairs.
1987 October 2: Becomes prime minister.
November 7: Coup removes Bourguiba. Ben Ali becomes new president. The coup is staged so that Bourguiba is declared senile, and Ben Ali uses the constitution to have himself appointed president.
1989: Elections. Islamists gain between 14 and 30% of the votes (majority in certain parts of Tunis). Ben Ali gets his infamous 99.27% of the ballots in the presidential elections.
1990: Ben Ali chooses a mediating position on the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Condemns both Iraq and the international community for their actions.
1991- 92: Strong actions towards the Islamists. Thousands get arrested, some killed. Arrests still continues
1994: Elections, in which Ben Ali is reelected. This time the reported results show 99.9% in his favour.
1995: Changes in the government, where more economically inclined people fill up the posts.
1999 October 24: Is reelected president, with the alleged support of 99.44% of the votes. This was the first contested presidential election, but the two other candidates represented no serious challenge, and there was no real campaigns held.
2002 May: Changes in the constitution allow a president to stay in power until the age of 75 (70 before) and be reelected unlimited times (3 times before, Ben Ali had at this time been reelected the three times).
2003 June: A French newspaper suggests that Ben Ali is ill with cancer, and that a family power struggle regarding possible successors was resulting from this.
2004 October 24: Ben Ali is reelected president, receiving 94.5% of the votes. Mohamed Bouchiha gets 3.8%, Mohamed Ali Halouani 1%.
2009 October 25: Wins the president election with 89.28% of the votes. This begins his 5th term in office.
2011 January 14: Facing the spreading unrest in Tunisia, Ben Ali escapes by plane. Attempting to find exile he asks France, then Italy, then Malta for landing permissions, but is rejected. First in Saudi Arabia he accepted. Briefly, prime minister, Mohamed Ghannouchi, is appointed president, but soon Fouad Mebazaa replaces him.

By Tore Kjeilen