New Left Project
He was a motorcycle cop who climbed through the bloody ranks to become head of security. He was a filthy piece of work - the Lavrenti Beria of Tunisia. He had a penchant for using his position to take whatever woman he wanted, though inducements or directly through rape - think of Claude Raines’s character in Casablanca without the charm, bons mots or pangs of conscience in the final reel.
A friend of mine, the wife of a senior Palestinian official of the time, recalls her stay in Tunis.
Ben Ali followed her car all through the backstreets until she came to a hotel. There, she got out, told him who she was and that her husband had no compunctions about suitable reprisals should he not back off. Forlorn, he did.
Leila washed hair in a coiffeurs. She was attractive and presented well in European society. So the owner used her as a currier to smuggle high value items in from Paris. She was caught and put in the police cells. A grubby officer saw her and told his boss, Ben Ali that there was an attractive young woman in custody. She was brought to him. He told her she would be released if she agreed to be his mistress (he was already married). Under what was clearly some duress, she agreed.
He moved in to the Presidential Palace with his official wife, but Leila kicked up such a stink that he divorced and she moved in. Her brother, a small time mafiosi, overnight was transformed into one of Tunisia’s leading businessmen. Stellar advancement beckoned for the rest of the Trabelsi clan as Tunisia itself sank into the nightmare of police repression, corruption on a Croesian scale and slavish adherence to US/French policy interests, all glossed over in Washington, London and Paris, of course, as they encouraged tourism and then latterly the enforced one way flights of rendition to the black jails of the Tunisian desert.
So - an endearing first family for life. Somehow I don’t hear a Llyod-Webber musical in the wings, a la Evita: Eva Peron had in contrast infinite redeeming features.
Ben Ali was not alone at the top of a pyramid of sadistic repression, grand corruption internally and pimping the country externally. The core of the movement of demonstrations and strikes is surely right in focusing the next steps on the complete clearing out of all those tainted by association with the regime. The caretaker President is already being targeted and the protests continuing.
|Ben Ali: "What's yours is mine"|
Just when they were starting to cohere a policy in the Levant, however shot through with wishful-thinking, the first revolution in the wider region for three decades enters the equation. It’s a funny old world as someone once put it.