Tunisia's Marie Antoinette

Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the repressive president of Tunisia, has left the country after waves of protests. Did you know everyone also hates his Imelda Marcos-like wife? The revolution was basically her fault. Okay, not exactly, but she didn't help.

As usual, few reputable news sources have gone as far as The Daily Mail, which proclaimed that President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's "greedy" wife Leila "drove a nation onto the streets." Everyone loves to hate a Marie Antoinette, but as in that case, there's a grain of truth there in a far more complex situation.


US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks are indeed said to have fueled the anger against Ben Ali and his family. One cable, called "What's Yours Is Mine," described Ben Ali's family demanding bribes from low-level workers and capriciously commandeering private property, like yachts, that they wanted. Ben Ali's son in law kept a caged tiger that "consumes four chickens a day." This, even as Tunisians are suffering from unemployment and poverty.

And Leila Ben Ali's family, the Trabelsis, was widely despised. "She is the chief of all this infection in [the] Trabelsi family," a Tunisian journalism professor told the LA Times. She was known for her shopping trips to Dubai.

The caption to this photo reads, "Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali arrives with his wife Leila, right, at campaign rally Sunday Oct. 11, 2009 in Rades, outside Tunis, as a flower maiden casts flower petals onto the ground." Flower maiden: See, Ben Ali did create jobs!


The cable also singles out Tunisia as "a model for the region on women's rights." Unfortunately, what Ben Ali's wife and family chose to do with those freedoms is widely deplored. See what happens when you do that?

Cables Portray U.S. Ambivalence On Tunisia [NYT]
Greed Of The Tunisian President's Wife That Drove A Nation Onto The Streets To Start A Revolution [Daily Mail]
The First Wikileaks Revolution? [Foreign Policy]

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