Sunday, December 26, 2010

Unrest continues across Tunisia, Wikileaks gives insight in the reasons

(Protest in the Tunisian capital Tunis in front of th headquarters of the labour union. Photo's Nawaat de Tunisie)

Clashes continued on saturday night between Tunisian security forces and residents in Sidi Bouzid governorate. The clashes took place on Saturday night in the towns of al-Ragab and Maknasi. in central Tunisia.The skirmishes broke out when security forces staged overnight crackdown campaigns after social protests against unemployment spread to Tunis, the Tunisian capital. In Tunis hundreds of protesters had rallied in front of the Tunisian labour union headquarters.  The demonstrators called on the authorities to provide jobs for those with university degrees.
Lina Ben Mhenni, a blogger, said that  people are organising protests everywhere and that it is spreading across the country. "Last night there were clashes in an area called Souk Jedid. Today there are marches and protests in Gassa, in the south, and in  Fax, the capital of the south," she said. "I just heard about another protest in Ben Guerdane, also in the South." Also there were reports about a demonstration in Kairouan. 

The unrest started on 17 December in the governorate of Sidi Bouzid when a young university gruaduate who could not find a job and who was robbed by the police of the possibility to sell fruits in the street, set fire to himself.  The incident prompted demonstrations. On Friday clashes broke out in which one young man was killed, four people were wounded and some police cars were burned. 
 Demonstations are extremely rare in Tunisia, which is unkwnown to many, one of the worst police states in the region. Whether the unrest will continue is yet unknown. But the ruling family of president Zine al- Abidin ben-Ali and his hated wife Leila Trabelsi and their clan have to be worried. That there is unrest in spite of the heavy repression by police and secret services is telling enough about the widespread discontent with the unemployment, lack of freedom and widespread corruption .

In this respect it is interesting to take a look at Wikileaks devoted to Tunisia, already better known as Tunileaks, for some insight :   

JUNE 08 Classified By: Ambassador Robert F. Godec for Reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
All in the Family
3. (S) President Ben Ali's extended family is often cited as the nexus of Tunisian corruption. Often referred to as a quasi-mafia, an oblique mention of "the Family" is enough to indicate which family you mean. Seemingly half of the Tunisian business community can claim a Ben Ali connection through marriage, and many of these relations are reported to have made the most of their lineage. Ben Ali's wife, Leila Ben Ali, and her extended family -- the Trabelsis -- provoke the greatest ire from Tunisians. Along with the numerous allegations of Trabelsi corruption are often barbs about their lack of education, low social status, and conspicuous consumption. While some of the complaints about the Trabelsi clan seem to emanate from a disdain for their nouveau riche inclinations, Tunisians also argue that the Trabelsis strong arm tactics and flagrant abuse of the system make them easy to hate. Leila's brother Belhassen Trabelsi is the most notorious family member and is rumored to have been involved in a wide-range of corrupt schemes from the recent Banque de Tunisie board shakeup (Ref B) to property expropriation and extortion of bribes. Leaving the question of their progenitor aside, Belhassen Trabelsi's holdings are extensive and include an airline, several hotels, one of Tunisia's two private radio stations, car assembly plants, Ford distribution, a real estate development company, and the list goes on. (See Ref K for a more extensive list of his holdings.) Yet, Belhassen is only one of Leila's ten known siblings, each with their own children. Among this large extended family, Leila's brother Moncef and nephew Imed are also particularly important economic actors.

Or this report about a visit the American ambassador payed to the luxurious house of  Mohammed Sakher and his tiger which is fed on four chickens a day. El-Matri is Ben Ali's son in law and seen as the preferred successor by Leila Trabelsi. He is married to Ben Ali's daughter Neshrine.

 JULY 2008 Classified By: Ambassador Robert F. Godec for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
El-Materi Unplugged: Home/Personal Life
 11. (S) El-Materi’s house is spacious, and directly above and along the Hammamet public beach. The compound is large and well guarded by government security. It is close to the center of Hammamet, with a view of the fort and the southern part of the town. The house was recently renovated and includes an infinity pool and a terrace of perhaps 50 meters. While the house is done in a modern style (and largely white), there are ancient artifacts everywhere: Roman columns, frescoes and even a lion’s head from which water pours into the pool. El Materi insisted the pieces are real. He hopes to move into his new (and palatial) house in Sidi Bou Said in eight to ten months.
12. (S) The dinner included perhaps a dozen dishes, including fish, steak, turkey, octopus, fish couscous and much more. The quantity was sufficient for a very large number of guests. Before dinner a wide array of small dishes were served, along with three different juices (including Kiwi juice, not normally available here). After dinner, he served ice cream and frozen yoghurt he brought in by plane from Saint Tropez, along with blueberries and raspberries and fresh fruit and chocolate cake. (NB. El Materi and Nesrine had just returned from Saint Tropez on their private jet after two weeks vacation. El Materi was concerned about his American pilot finding a community here. The Ambassador said he would be pleased to invite the pilot to appropriate American community events.)
13. (S) El Materi has a large tiger (“Pasha”) on his compound, living in a cage. He acquired it when it was a few weeks old. The tiger consumes four chickens a day. (Comment: The situation reminded the Ambassador of Uday Hussein’s lion cage in Baghdad.) El Materi had staff everywhere. There were at least a dozen people, including a butler from Bangladesh and a nanny from South Africa. (NB. This is extraordinarily rare in Tunisia, and very expensive.)
14. (S) They have three children, two girls and a boy. Leila is four and another daughter that is about 10 months. Their boy is adopted and is two years old. The youngest daughter is a Canadian citizen, by virtue of birth in Canada. The family’s favorite vacation destination spot is the Maldives Islands.
15. (S) El Materi said he has begun an exercise and diet regime. He has, he said, recently lost weight (it was visibly true). El Materi said he eats in a “balanced” way. He had just spent an hour on a bike, he claimed. Nesrine said she gets no exercise.
16. (S) Both El Materi and Nesrine speak English, although their vocabulary and grammar are limited. They are clearly eager to strengthen their English. Nesrine said she loves Disney World, but had put off a trip this year because of H1N1 flu. Nesrine has, for sometime, had Tamiflu nearby (even taking it on trips). Originally it was out of fear of bird flu. She packs it for El Materi too when he travels. Nesrine said she has visited several US cities. El Materi had only been to Illinois recently in connection with the purchase of a plane.
17. (S) Throughout the evening, El Materi (picture) often struck the Ambassador as demanding, vain and difficult. He is clearly aware of his wealth and power, and his actions reflected little finesse. He repeatedly pointed out the lovely view from his home and frequently corrected his staff, issued orders and barked reprimands. Despite this, El Materi was aware of his affect on the people around him and he showed periodic kindness. He was unusually solicitous and helpful to the Ambassador’s wife, who is disabled. Occasionally, he seemed to be seeking approval. One western Ambassador in Tunis, who knows El Materi, has commented that he has western-style political skills in his willingness to engage with ordinary citizens. It is an uncommon trait here.
18. (S) El Materi, in recent months, has been ever more visible in the local diplomatic community. He has clearly decided (or been told) to serve as a point of contact between the regime and key ambassadors. Nesrine, at age 23, appeared friendly and interested, but nave and clueless. She reflected the very sheltered, privileged and wealthy life she has led. As for the dinner itself, it was similar to what one might experience in a Gulf country, and out of the ordinary for Tunisia.
19. (S) Most striking of all, however, was the opulence with which El Materi and Nesrine live. Their home in Hammamet was impressive, with the tiger adding to the impression of “over the top.” Even more extravagant is their home still under construction in Sidi Bou Said. That residence, from its outward appearance, will be closer to a palace. It dominates the Sidi Bou Said skyline from some vantage points and has been the occasion of many private, critical comments. The opulence with which El Materi and Nesrine live and their behavior make clear why they and other members of Ben Ali’s family are disliked and even hated by some Tunisians. The excesses of the Ben Ali family are growing.

(Photo's in Tunileaks text from top down: President Zine al Abidin Ben-Ali, Leila Trabelsi Ben-Ali, Sakher el Matri (or El-Materi), Ben Ali's son in law and projected successor)  

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