Tunisia / Politics /
Zine el Abidine Ben Ali
Arabic: zīn 'al-¢abidīn bni ¢aliyy
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).