- Ben Ali was known as a dictator who ruled Tunisia with an iron fist from 1987 until 2011.
- Ben Ali ousted his predecessor, Habib Bourguiba, in a coup in 1987.
- Ben Ali was overthrown in 2011 by the Jasmine Revolution, which kickstarted the Arab Spring.
Tunisia’s former President, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who stayed in power in the North African country for over two decades, has died in Saudi Arabia. Ben Ali’s death was confirmed by Mounir Ben Salha, the Ali’s family lawyer. “Ben Ali has just died in Saudi Arabia,” he told Reuters by phone. The Tunisian Foreign Ministry also confirmed the death of the former leader. “We had confirmation of his death 30 minutes ago,” the ministry said, without giving further details, as reported by the AFP.
Ben Ali was known as a dictator who ruled Tunisia with an iron fist from 1987 until 2011. After more than two decades of serving as the country’s president, he was eventually overthrown as a result of a popular uprising. After being overthrown, the former leader fled from Tunisia with his family and sought asylum in France. However, the French authorities rejected him. Saudi Arabia, however, accepted him, and Ben Ali lived there in exile until his death.
Toppled his Predecessor in 1987
Ben Ali initially received military training in France before returning to his home country, where he managed to hold various senior leadership positions before ascending to the presidency. He became the security chief of the country’s military, the nation’s interior minister and prime minister under Habib Bourguiba, the country’s first president.
Ben Ali would later rise to the top, and he managed to become the country’s second president when he ousted Bourguiba in a coup, citing senility. Ben Ali had several doctors sign an official medical report that the then-84 year old Bourguiba medically incapacitated and no longer able to fulfill his duties.
During his many years as President of Tunisia, the authoritarian Ben Ali did not allow room for opposition or criticism of his government. Freedom of expression was repressed and the media were tightly controlled.
The ‘Jasmine Revolution’ Triumphed
It was not until 1999 that he allowed a democratic presidential election, in which he competed with opposition candidates. These so-called democratic elections were a total sham, disputed and condemned by international observers. Ben Ali triumphed over all opposition candidates, and took 99.6% of the vote.
Ben Ali would keep winning by similar margins in subsequent bogus presidential elections. Critical voices gradually began to spread among various political and religious groups, as well as activists in the country, who wanted good governance and an end to Ben Ali.
This gradually culminated into what became known as the “Jasmine Revolution,” in late 2010. The 28-day campaign of intense civil resistance itself kickstarted the Arab Spring, which lasted until 2012, and spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Massive street protests and demonstrations all across Tunisia eventually led to Ben Ali’s ousting in January 2011.