Ousted Tunisian president Ben Ali passes away at 83
A career soldier, Ben Ali took power on November 7, 1987 when he toppled Habib Bourguiba.
Tunisia's all-powerful leader for over two decades, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was forced from power and into exile by a popular uprising in early 2011. The man who once appeared in official portraits with a benevolent smile and jet black hair died on Thursday aged 83, in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia's foreign ministry said.
A career soldier, Ben Ali took power on November 7, 1987 when he toppled Habib Bourguiba, the ailing father of Tunisian independence who was by then reported to be senile. "I needed to re-establish the rule of law," Ben Ali told a French television channel in 1988. "The president was ill and his inner circle was harmful."
Tunisians, including hardliners, hailed his bloodless, non-violent takeover.
He went on to make Tunisia a moderate voice in the Arab world while Western governments viewed him as an effective bulwark against extremism despite criticism of his slow move toward democracy. He began his rule encouragingly, scrapping the title of "president for life" created by Bourguiba and limiting the number of presidential terms to three.
He launched a "solidarity" policy, creating a special fund for the underprivileged and a social security system, while pursuing the promotion of education and women's rights. But he consolidated his rule by muzzling the opposition, keeping strong control of the media and armed forces and eventually extending the number of terms he was allowed to serve under the constitution.
Ben Ali was born into a modest family in the east-central town of Hammam-Sousse on September 3, 1936. He studied at military academies in both France and the United States and was appointed minister for national security in 1985, moving up to the interior ministry the following year and the post of prime minister in 1987.
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