About twenty-seven years ago my Amnesty International group had a prisoner case in Tunisia. It was not a full-fledged prisoner of conscience case, but an investigation case. Our prisoner was a Tunisian military officer who belonged to a banned political party. The party had used and advocated violence in other countries in the Middle East, but we did not know if that was the case in Tunisia.
We were never able to resolve this issue and it became moot when our prisoner was released as part of a general amnesty following the ousting of then President Habib Bourguiba, by the recently ousted Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. In reading about the recent history there while working on the case, I noted how largely secular the nation appeared. Tunisia is a popular destination among European sunseekers and was a refuge for notoriously corrupt former Italian Prime Minister, Bettino Craxi.
What is interesting is that it appears that France is coming off quite badly among the opponents of the Ben Ali regime:
France has misread Tunisia for years, not just in recent weeks, said Jacques Lanxade, a retired admiral, former military chief of staff and former ambassador to Tunis in the late 1990s.
“Since 2000, people saw the Tunisian regime closing itself into a semidictatorship, but we did not react,” he said. “We continued public support of this regime because of economic interests, because we thought Ben Ali had a role in fighting Islamists.”
But France did not understand how deeply the economic crisis was changing things, and ignored restrictions on the press, Mr. Lanxade said, adding, “We didn’t take account of Tunisian public opinion and thought Ben Ali would re-establish his position.”
As for the US, it appears to be faring a little better:
By contrast, aided by the release of secret memos by WikiLeaks, the United States was seen by Tunisians to have made critical statements about corruption and greed in Tunisia. Washington also criticized the crackdown on demonstrators, and President Obama scored with protesters on Friday when he praised their “courage and dignity” and called for fair elections.
Christopher Hitchens is also being criticized:
Issandr El Amrani, a Moroccan-born freelance journalist in Cairo, who edits the Arabist blog, introduced this note of caution on his Twitter feed:
New Tunisia govt. needs to clarify next steps to convince and appease. Not legitimate yet.
Mr. el-Amrani also posted a link to a 2007 article on Tunisia in Vanity Fair, with the note: “Christopher Hitchens, you fraud, we still remember you this propaganda you wrote for Ben Ali.”
Ben Ali's wife may have been Tunisia's very own Imelda Marcos/Lady Macbeth:
The greed shown by former Tunisian president Ben Ali's wife, Leila, forced people to revolt against the ruling dispensation.
Dubbed as Imelda Marcos of the Arab world, Leila, a former hairdresser, was known for her love of wealth and its trappings. The woman, who came from a humble background,was branded "The Regent of Carthage' ' for her power behind the throne and her love of money, luxury cars and opulent homes.
This is why so much anger on the streets and the family known as "The Mafia''was a target of its attack directly. Looters , sick of the family's nepotism , filmed themselves on mobile phones destroying the expensive cars at one of their villas and riding motorbikes across the manicured laws.
Over the weekend, the man who has ruled Tunisia’s neighbor Libya with an iron fist for more than four decades, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, tried his hand at casting events in Tunisia in a sinister light. In a televised address to his people on Libyan state television on Saturday, Colonel Qaddafi identified the evil organization he blamed for unleashing a plot against public order and Arab self rule in Tunisia: WikiLeaks.
Picking up on the conspiracy theory put forward by Iran’s leadership, which holds that the leaked U.S. diplomatic cables were released by the C.I.A. to undermine anti-colonialist governments, Colonel Qaddafi warned his listeners about the dark designs of “WikiLeaks which publishes information written by lying ambassadors in order to create chaos.”
One hopes he has reason to be worried.