Tunisia's Marie Antoinette

Illustration for article titled 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.

Illustration for article titled Tunisia's Marie Antoinette

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]


I am an Arab and Egyptian , most first ladies including ours are just like Laila Ben Ali and her family ,it is not a grain of truth , ask any Tunisian.

Laila Ben Ali has nothing with the laws and rights of women historically , these were put during the Bourguiba time.

With my all respect when the American media ignored the massacre that happened prior the great January 25 and all what you care now about is how the media portrays

Women and children were killed in the past 25 days in Tunisia by the orders of Ben Ali , more than 90 citizens were killed and hundreds were injured in hospital in 25 days for God sake. People used to chant in poor Sidi Bou Zid "Oh Laila you thief you steal the money of the orphans" , " Ben Ali and the Trablesis out of the country"

Do not feel sorry for her because that lady took a lot with her from Tunisia more than you or I can imagine or can gain in our life. She does not care about feminism or about Tunisia or how the international media portrays her , believe me Arab rulers and their families are isolated from the whole world.

I am Egyptian blogger and for 3 weeks I have been receiving horrible videos and new details from Tunisia different from that glossy poster we had in our minds about Tunisia, if you see them , you will understand why the Tunisians hate her and her family.

Instead of speaking about her , why not to shed some light about how Tunisian women activists had either no choice either to be in jail or to leave abroad if they say no to Ben Ali or how the women relatives of civil servants were not allowed to wear veil as a personal choice "in fact the secret service used to write reports about those ladies" or even better why do not you write about how an educated actress Hend Sabry was threatened by that lady's brother in order to support Ben Ali !!?


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