Tunisia turns the page on Ben Ali

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Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2007. –Courtesy photo

TUNIS - With the burial Saturday of former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia is turning the page on more than two decades of nepotism and repression with a large dose of indifference.

Forced out of Tunisia on January 14, 2011, by weeks of popular outrage spurred by the self-immolation of a market trader protesting police harassment and unemployment, Ben Ali died on Thursday.

His death did not feature especially heavily either in the news or the conversations of ordinary Tunisians, in a country that is in the midst of elections.

Reflecting the pluralism that has emerged since Ben Ali's downfall, two non-establishment candidates made it through the first round of a presidential poll held on Sunday -- one a socially conservative academic committed to radical decentralization of power, the other a populist media magnate currently behind bars.

The ex-leader's wife has little incentive to return home.

She faces heavy sentences for embezzlement, alongside possession of weapons, drugs and archaeological artifacts.

Her extended family captured vast swathes of the economy, as detailed by the World Bank in a 2014 report.

The global lender said that by the end of 2010, the 114 people who comprised the Ben Ali clan controlled 220 businesses that hoovered up more than a fifth of all private sector profits.

When he was forced from power, hundreds of businesses and properties, along with luxury cars and jewellery hoarded by the Ben Ali family, were impounded through a state holding company.

Persistent social and economic problems have fed nostalgia in some quarters for the Ben Ali era but that is a limited phenomenon.

Abir Moussi, the only candidate to overtly defend the record of Ben Ali's former ruling party, came a distant ninth in last Sunday's presidential election first round with four percent of the vote. -AFP


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