Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, January 2011
Tunisia Former Dictator, Ben Ali:
Friendless, Homeless, and Humiliated.
Dictators ! Take Note
By Yvonne Ridley
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, January 16, 2011
He might still be living in the lap of luxury, but make no mistake Tunisia's former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his family are prisoners.
Like birds in a guilded cage, they are languishing in a palace in one of the most exclusive districts of Jeddah but the truth is Ben Ali and his equally odious and corrupt family have no where else to hide.
It should signal a warning to all the other despots and dictators in the region - Egypt in particular - that no matter how close you think you are to the West, in times of trouble they will drop you faster than a burning coal.
As one of the cruellest oppressors on the planet scrambled to board a plane to escape what some may consider a well deserved lynching, the truth is he had no idea where he was going.
So fast was his demise.
We were told he was heading for Malta, then France and Dubai and half a dozen other countries but the truth is no one wanted the 74-year-old.
A desperate man, he finally found a bolthole in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah on Friday, arriving around midnight after close ally President Nicholas Sarkozy rejected a request for his plane to land on french soil.
Meanwhile frantic calls to the White House hotline and to Obama rang unanswered.
Once again America has proved itself to be a fickle friend just as the late Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi discovered when he went in to exile after his repressive regime in Iran was overthrown in the islamic Revolution of 1979. The former Shah spent his exile in Egypt, totally isolated and shunned by the very same leaders in the West who had once supported him.
The Saudi government refuses to say how long he will be their guest but I like to think the many soldiers posted outside the palace's half dozen or so gates are not there for his protection but there to ensure he remains within the high sided walls.
Quite how this secular leader will settle in the land of the Two Holy Mosques is beyond me. Ben Ali despised Islam to such an extent he made sure his brutal enforcers abused and punished those God-fearing Tunisians who wore hijabs and grew beards.
For instance, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the Interior and the Secretary-General of Tunisia's ruling political party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally, stated several years ago that they were so concerned about rise in the use of the hijab by women and girls and beards and the qamis (knee-level shirts) by men, that they called for a strict implementation of decree 108 of 1985 of the Ministry of Education banning the hijab at educational institutions and when working in government.
Police ordered women to remove their head scarfs before entering schools, universities or work places and others were made to remove them in the street. Amnesty International reported at the time that some women were being arrested and taken to police stations where they were forced to sign written commitment to stop wearing the hijab.
Perhaps someone should remind the Saudis about that and have him charged under Shari'a law just for starters.
Ben Ali's hatred and fear of Islam can also be witnessed in Egypt where Hosni Mubarak rules with an iron fist. The prisons and dungeons of Egypt are jammed full of members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other dissenting voices and political opponents who are rounded up everytime an election is in the offing.
Mubarak's betrayal of the Palestinian people and his irrational fear of Hamas speaks volumes also about his secular outlook and lifestyle which is at odds with Islam.
I was asked to leave Cairo in December 2009 by his Foreign Ministry after writing an article in which I said Mubarak had turned Egypt into America's rent boy in the Middle East because of the huge sums of money he willingly took from the US in return for oppressing the people of Gaza and supporting Israel.
But now he must be wondering if bending over a barrel for Uncle Sam is really a price worth paying.
After all, no one grovelled more to America than Ben Ali. In 2005 he was even ordered to extend the hand of friendship to the Zionist State, a country which had bombed his own when Yasser Arafat's PLO was headquartered in Tunis in 1986.
Did he object? No, in fact Ben Ali went one step further and invited the war criminal Ariel Sharon to visit Tunisia. Well, where has all that craven behaviour got him?
Just like the previous Tunisian tyrant, he happily kissed the rump of Zionists while belly-dancing in front of Western leaders who claimed to be among his closest allies. Well, just where are his friends now?
He's friendless, homeless and humiliated.
* British journalist Yvonne Ridley is the European President of the International Muslim Womens Union. She travelled extensively through Tunisia in February 2009 with the Viva Palestina convoy.==========================
Tonight we are all Tunisians
By Yvonne Ridley
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, January 16, 2011
Over the last few days we have seen some of the bravest people facing down some of the worst.
Armed with nothing more than a revolutionary heart and hopes of a better future they gathered and protested as government forces aimed their weapons and fired live rounds in to the crowds.
But the ammunition and the underlying threats of arrest and torture meant absolutely nothing to the masses – for they had simply lost their fear.
It was the final testament to the brutality of a dictator who has had the support of European leaders and various presidents of the United States.
And that the Tunisian President Zine El-Abedine Ben Ali fled from his country like a rat up a drainpipe after 23 brutal years spoke volumes about the character of the man himself.
If he had one ounce of the courage his own people displayed, he too would have stayed but most of these tyrants are gutless with the moral fibre of a dung beetle.
The demise of Ben Ali came when police prevented an unemployed 26-year-old graduate from selling fruit without a licence. Mohammad Bouazizi turned himself in to a human torch on December 17 and died of the horrific burns in Sidi Bouzid, in central Tunisia.
It was the final straw, a defining moment which ignited rallies, marches and demonstrations across Tunisia.
And revelations from Wikileaks cables exposing the corrupt and extravagant lifestyle of Ben Ali and his grasping wife fanned the flames of unbridled anger from a people who were also in the grip of poverty.
I knew it was coming. I saw the burning desire for freedom in the eyes of the courageous people of Ghafsa when the Viva Palestina Convoy entered the country in February 2009 on its way to Gaza.
Our convoy witnessed the menacing secret police intimidate the crowds to stop them from gathering to cheer us on.
This vast army of spies, thugs and enforcers even tried to stop us from praying in a local mosque
That they stood their ground to cheer us on prompted me to leave my vehicle and hug all the women who had turned out. We exchanged cards and small gifts and then, to my horror, I discovered 24 hours later that every woman I had embraced in the streets of Gafsa had been taken away and questioned.
Human rights organizations have constantly condemened and exposed the brutality of the Ben Ali regime but that has not stopped America and European leaders from intervening or putting on pressure to stop the brutality.
Sadly, it serves western interests to have a people brutalized and subjugated.
Now Tunisia is minus one dictator but it is still in a state of emergency. The next few days and weeks are going to be crucial for the Tunisian people who deserve freedom and liberty. My God, they’ve paid for it with their own blood and we must always remember their martyrs.
None of the politicians, secret police or other odious government forces will emerge from this period with any honour and quite a few are already cowering in the shadows.
But perhaps the biggest show of cowardice in this whole sorry episode has come from The White House.
Not one word of condemnation, not one word of criticism, not one word urging restraint came from Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton as live ammunition was fired into crowds of unarmed men, women and children in recent weeks.
And news of the corrupt, mafia-like regime would not have come as a surprise to either of them. We know this thanks to the Wikileaks cables written by US Ambassador Robert Godec who revealed in one memo: “Corruption in the inner circle is growing.”
But, as the injustices and atrocities continued there was not one squeak from the most powerful nation on earth … until America’s dear friend, Ben Ali had scuttled from the country.
The reality is the US Administration likes dealing with tyrants and even encourages despotic behaviour. Egypt is one of the biggest testaments to this with its prisons full of political opposition leaders. Hosni Mubarak is Uncle Sam's enforcer and biggest recipient of aid next to the Zionist State.
Pakistan's treatment of its own people is little better. Remember when US Ambassador Anne Patterson in Islamabad wrote in one Wikileak cable about the human rights abuses carried out by the Pakistan military? Patterson then went on to advise Washington to avoid comment on these incidents.
But now the US has made a comment on the situation in Tunisia ... but only when Ben Ali was 30,000 feet in the air did White House spokesman Mike Hammer issue a statement which read: “We condemn the ongoing violence against civilians in Tunisia, and call on the Tunisian authorities to fulfill the important commitments … including respect for basic human rights and a process of much-needed political reform.”
Unbelievable. Too little, too late, Mr President. Actually that statement could have been uttered any time during the last US presidencies since Ronald Reagan.
But as I say, America couldn't give a stuff about the human rights of the people of the Maghreb, Pakistan, Egypt and Palestine to name but a few.
When US condemnation finally came through the tyrant had fled leaving behind more than 60 civilian martyrs and countless more injured.
Tomorrow I will go to the Tunisian Embassy in London as I have done previously and stand shoulder to shoulder with my Tunisian brothers and sisters and their supporters. We will remember the dead, we will pay tribute to the brave and courageous many who are still in the process of sezing back their country and we will pray that no tyrant will sleep easy in his bed from this moment on.
Tonight we are all Tunisians.
* Yvonne Ridley is the European President of the International Muslim Women’s Union.
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