PARIS, June 21, 2012 (AFP)
PARIS, June 21, 2012 (AFP)
Leila Ben Ali, the reviled wife of deposed Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, says a plot by top security officials ended his long rule, in a book launched in France on Thursday.
The unpopular 55-year-old, dubbed the “Queen of Carthage” and reputed to have a voracious appetite for power and money, also said she and her husband were ready to return to their homeland for trial if guaranteed a fair hearing.
In the book, “My Truth”, she also admits that the flashy lifestyle of her Trabelsi clan — which had a stranglehold on business in the country – played a large part in ending Ben Ali’s 23-year rule in January last year.
Their control over the north African country’s economy was vast and they were said to have stakes in banks, airlines, car dealerships, radio and television stations and big retailers.
“Among my own, there were some who exaggerated — often the younger ones who freely indulged in their appetite for profits and refused to set limits,” she says in the book, written from interviews given on Skype to journalist Yves Derai.
“These weaknesses and errors of my family were amplified outside and use with the sole objective of bringing down the regime of Ben Ali… We were the Achilles heel of the president.”
Leila, Ben Ali’s second wife and 21 years his junior, also denied she had worked as a hairdresser when she met her husband or had numerous lovers, as widely reported in the media.
After Ben Ali took power in 1987 he obtained a divorce and wed Trabelsi, who allegedly set about installing members of her family in positions of power.
In ensuing years, the Trabelsi name came to personify the corruption that riddled Tunisian society and business, and a byword for shameless greed and excess.
Leila Ben Ali squarely blamed her husband’s chief of presidential security Ali Seriati, currently in jail, of being behind a “plot” that led to the uprising, which sparked the Arab Spring revolts.
She outlined the stages: “indoctrination of the masses, the distribution of money in poor areas, the recruitment of snipers, the intensification of protests through targeted killings, the torching of homes.”
Their flight into exile to Saudi Arabia would not have occurred “without Seriati’s insistence,” she said, adding: “Even once we were in the air, my husband thought he could return the following morning.”
Last week, a Tunisian court sentenced Ben Ali, in absentia, to life in prison for presiding over the bloody crackdown on the protests against his regime.
He faces countless trials and has already been sentenced to more than 66 years in prison on a range of charges including drug trafficking and embezzlement.
Despite all that, the former first lady said she and her husband were ready to face trial back home if “we are guaranteed the impartiality of the judgments and assured of the legitimacy of those in charge” of the trial.
She remained largely tight-lipped on her days in exile in Saudi Arabia, saying she passed “the major part of the day looking after my husband and my children… I go out rarely, hardly meet anyone and pray a lot.”