Key moments in Tunisia's ex-president Ben Ali life

AFP , Thursday 19 Sep 2019

Zine El Abidine Ben Ali
Former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, whose ousting sparked the Arab spring. Photo: AP

Key dates in the life of Tunisia's ex-president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who died on Thursday in Saudi Arabia, where he has lived since being ousted in 2011.

Early Life 

Ben Ali is born into a modest family in the town of Hammam-Sousse on September 3, 1936, when Tunisia is still a French protectorate.

He is 19 years old when the country achieves full independence, in 1956.

After military training in France and the United States, he enters army intelligence and is appointed minister for national security in 1985.

He moves up to the interior ministry the following year and the post of prime minister early in 1987.

Ben Ali with Habib Bourguiba,
Tunisian President for Life Habib Bourguiba, right, shakes hands in 1986 in Tunis with his prime minister, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, left (AFP)

Ousts Father Of Independence 

On November 7, 1987, Ben Ali takes power after having Habib Bourguiba, the ailing father of Tunisian independence, declared mentally unfit to rule.

The bloodless coup comes after several years of growing civil dissent exacerbated by economic difficulties, along with increasingly erratic behaviour by the autocratic Bourguiba, who in 1975 had himself declared president for life.

In 1988, the constitution is amended to rule out life presidencies, limiting presidential tenures to three terms each lasting five years.


In 1989, Ben Ali, the single candidate, wins presidential elections with 99.27 percent of the vote.

Five years later he is re-elected with 99.91 percent. The opposition enters parliament for the first time since independence in 1956.

In 1999, Ben Ali organises the country's first multi-candidate presidential election. Faced with only token resistance from two challengers, he wins with 99.44 percent of the vote.

Constitutional Change 

In May 2002, he wins a referendum on constitutional changes allowing him to stand for a fourth term, which he wins in October 2004.

He is overwhelmingly re-elected to a fifth five-year term in 2009, albeit with a score dipping for the first time just below 90 percent.

Fall of Ben Ali 

Tunisian employees remove portraits of Ben Ali
Tunisian employees of the prime ministry remove portraits of Ben Ali on 17 January 2011, three days after he fled the country following a month of protests (AFP)

Ben Ali quits on January 14, 2011 after weeks of deadly nationwide demonstrations sparked by the self-immolation of a fruit seller who was protesting police harassment and unemployment.

He is the first leader to stand down in the Arab Spring which sweeps the region, fleeing after 23 years in power to Saudi Arabia, where he lives until his death.

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