Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (Arabic: زين العابدين بن علي; born 3 September 1936) is a Tunisian political figure who was the second President of Tunisia from 1987 to 2011. Ben Ali was appointed Prime Minister in October 1987, and he assumed the Presidency on 7 November 1987 in a bloodless coup d'état that ousted President Habib Bourguiba, who was declared incompetent. Ben Ali was subsequently reelected with enormous majorities exceeding 90% every time; the final reelection was on 25 October 2009.
On 14 January 2011, following a month of violent protests against his rule, he was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia along with his wife Leïla Ben Ali and their three children. The interim Tunisian government asked for Interpol to issue an international arrest warrant, charging him for money laundering and drug trafficking. He and his wife were sentenced in absentia to 35 years in prison on 20 June 2011.
Education and military career
Ben Ali never completed secondary school, but was nevertheless awarded a training at Special Inter-service School in Saint-Cyr, France, the Artillery School in Châlons-sur-Marne, France, the Senior Intelligence School in Maryland, and the School for Anti-Aircraft Field Artillery in Texas. His professional military career began in 1964 as a Tunisian staff officer. During his time in military service, he established the Military Security Department and directed its operations for 10 years. He briefly served as military attaché to Morocco and Spain before being appointed General Director of National Security in 1977.
In 1980 he was appointed Ambassador to Poland, and served there for four years. Ben Ali subsequently served as Minister of State in charge of the interior before being appointed Interior Minister on 28 April 1986 then Prime Minister by President Habib Bourguiba in October 1987.
Rise to the presidency
Ben Ali ascended to the office of President on 7 November 1987, after attending physicians to the former president filed an official medical report declaring Bourguiba medically incapacitated and unable to fulfill the duties of the presidency.Two of the names given to Ben Ali's rise to the presidency include "the medical coup d'état" and the "Jasmine Revolution". Ben Ali favoured the latter. In conformity with Article 57 of the Tunisian Constitution, the peaceful transition occurred. The country had faced 10% inflation, external debt accounting for 46% of GDP and a debt service ratio of 21% of GDP.
In 1999 Fulvio Martini, former head of Italian military secret service SISMI, declared to a parliamentary committee that "In 1985–1987 we organized a kind of golpe in Tunisia, putting president Ben Ali as head of state, replacing Burghiba (the Italian spelling of the name) who wanted to flee". Bourguiba, although a symbol of anti-colonial resistance, was considered incapable of leading his country any longer, and his reaction to the rising Islamic integralism was deemed "a bit too energetic" by Martini; Bourguiba's threat to execute the suspects might have generated strong negative responses in neighboring countries. Acting under directives from Bettino Craxi, Italian Prime Minister, and foreign minister Giulio Andreotti, Martini claims to have brokered the accord that lead to the peaceful transition of powers.
Bettino Craxi had visited Algiers in November 1984, being warned by the president Chadli Benjedid that Algeria was ready to invade that region of Tunisia that was crossed by the pipeline towards Italy, if Bourguiba was not able to guarantee the stability of his own country. Algeria was trying to diversify its foreign policy, feeling isolated by Spain and French President François Mitterrand's accord with Morocco and Libya over Chad. For two years, according to Martini, Italian and Algerian secret services worked together in order, on one hand, to avoid the growing destabilisation of Tunisia spilling over into Algeria, and on the other hand to control pro-Palestinian activities in Italy. Finally, Ben Ali was singled out as possible replacement for Bourguiba: as chief of the Tunisian secret services and as Minister of the Interior, he had opposed plans to execute Islamic fundamentalists. SISMI's action did not have the consent of René Imbot, head of the French secret service, and the USA allegedly was not informed.
According to Martini, the SISMI did not have an operational role in Ben Ali's rise to power, but organized a political move to support politically and economically his new government, preventing Tunisia from falling into an open confrontation with fundamentalists, as happened in Algeria in the following years.
Ousted from the presidency
In response to the 2010–2011 Tunisian protests, Ben Ali declared a state of emergency, dissolved the government on 14 January 2011, and promised new legislative elections within six months. However, events moved quickly, and it appears the armed forces and key members of the legislature had lost confidence in Ben-Ali, and had decided to take steps of their own. With power slipping from his grasp, Ben Ali resigned the presidency at about 4:00pm local time and delegated prime minister Mohamed Ghannouchi to act as head of state during his "temporary" absence. With the army surrounding the Presidential Palace in Tunis, Ben Ali and close members of his family hastily left the presidential palace and headed to Laouina airport (annexed to the civil airport of Tunis Carthage). The military allowed Ben Ali's plane to take off, immediately after which the Tunisian airspace was closed. The presidential plane headed first to France. But after the plane was rejected to land in the French territory, it directly flew to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Ben Ali and his family were accepted by King Abdullah to live there under the condition that he should keep out of politics. Ben Ali and his family are now living in exile in the Saudi city of Jeddah, the same city where former President Idi Amin of Uganda lived in exile until his death on 2003 after being removed from power on 1979 at end of the Ugandan-Tanzanian War.
Other close associates and family members who attempted to leave the country via Tunis-Carthage International Airport were prevented from doing so by the army, which had seized the airport.
Ben Ali and his family are accused of great corruption, which was a major contribution to the 2010–2011 Tunisian protests which led to the fall of his government. Many of Ben Ali's family members subsequently also fled the country. On 20 January 2011, Tunisian television reported that 33 members of Ben Ali's family had been arrested in the past week, as they tried to flee the country.
Leïla Ben Ali was the chair of the Basma Association, a group that promotes social integration and provides employment opportunities for the disabled. She was also the president of the Arab Women Organization, which works to empower women in Arab states. In July 2010, the first lady founded the “SAIDA” Association (named after her late mother) to improve care for cancer patients in Tunisia. She has three children: Nesrine, Halima and Mohamed Zine El Abidine. (Ben Ali has three daughters from his first marriage: Ghazwa, Dorsaf and Cyrine.) Leila Ben Ali allegedly took 1.5 tonnes of gold from the central bank when she and her family fled to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. One of her nephews, Imed Trabelsi, was arrested during the 2010–2011 protests in Tunisia.
From : www.wikipedia.org