Greed of the Tunisian president's wife that drove a nation onto the streets to start a revolution
By Nabila Ramdani
Tunisia's angry protestors are shedding no tears for the downfall of ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's greedy wife Leila.
The former hairdresser was likened to the Philippines' Imelda Marcos of the Arab world because of her love of wealth and its trappings.
While Ben Ali, 74, was granted refuge in Saudi Arabia, his wife, more than 20 years her husband's junior, was at first thought to be holed up in Dubai - a destination she is said to know well through shopping trips.
The woman who came from a humble background, was branded 'The Regent of Carthage' for her power behind the throne and her love of money, luxury cars and opulent homes.
This is why so much of the anger on the streets was directed at the family who were known as 'The Mafia.'
Looters sick of the family's nepotism filmed themselves on mobile phones destroying the family's expensive cars at one of their villas and riding motorbikes across the manicured laws.
Their two daughters have fled to the Disneyland Hotel in Paris, where they are holed up in £300-a-night VIP suites.
Nesrine Ben Ali, 24, and her sister Cyrine are under guard there while their father Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali is being given sanctuary in Saudi Arabia.
But yesterday the French government said members of the ex-President’s family would be expelled.
Much of the corrupt family’s £3.5billion fortune is thought to be banked in France, the former colonial power in Tunisia.
Pregnant Nesrine’s opulent lifestyle with husband Sakhr, 30, who is with her at Disneyland, was revealed by WikiLeaks and caused her to be likened to hated Queen Marie Antoinette, who was guillotined in the French Revolution.
Nesrine flew luxury foods to her beachside mansion by private jet and her playboy husband kept a pet tiger called Pasha, which he fed prime cuts of beef.
The descriptions led to riots, forcing the entire family to flee.
The Ben Ali sisters first headed for their embassy in Paris but were forced to leave when expatriate Tunisians started demonstrating outside.
With a retinue of servants and bodyguards, the sisters were last night staying at the Castle Club, a series of private rooms and suites inside the Disneyland Hotel.
A Disneyland source said: ‘The entourage is so large, people started to notice them immediately. The women look like princesses, covered in expensive jewellery. Limousines are coming and going all the time.
‘Four Tunisian bodyguards are permanently camped in the lobby of the hotel. Others wearing earpieces and presumably carrying guns are surrounding the building, scrutinising everyone who goes in and out.’
Ben Ali and Leila, 53, his second wife, had been expected to join their daughters in France but President Sarkozy refused to let them land, forcing them to head for Saudi Arabia instead.
They are now in a high-walled palace in Jeddah, guarded by soldiers. The Saudi government did not say how long they would be allowed to remain but the country has a history of hosting deposed rulers.
Ousted Ugandan dictator Idi Amin spent his final years in Jeddah and former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lived in the city for seven years after being overthrown in 1999.
Ben Ali has six children, all of whom will have multi-millionaire lifestyles with the money they were able to get out of Tunisia.
But they have had death threats and will need 24-hour protection for the rest of their lives.
This afternoon, there were reports of security forces in Tunis exchanging gunfire with demonstrators inside buildings.
Earlier, police arrested the head of the presidential guard and dozens of others suspected in drive-by shootings.
They held Ali Seriati, and several of his colleagues over accusations they had plotted against state security.
German photojournalist Lucas Mebrouk von Zabiensky, 32, of the EPA photo agency has died after being hit by a tear gas grenade in Friday's street protests.
Meanwhile, British holidaymakers fleeing from Tunisia told last night how they feared for their lives after their coach was attacked by an armed mob as they headed for the airport.
Angry rioters carrying guns surged towards the vehicle and started hammering on the sides, forcing it to halt.
The tourists were saved from harm by the bravery of their driver, who got out to calm the crowd.
They described their ordeal as the unrest worsened, with squads of men shooting at random from cars after days of looting in the capital, Tunis.
Tour operators evacuated more than 2,000 British tourists yesterday, leaving -several hundred still to be brought home. Many of those are due to return home today. Around 1,000 British expatriates live in Tunisia or have holiday homes there. It is unclear how many of them are planning to leave.
The Foreign Office said consular staff, bolstered by a Rapid Deployment Team sent from London, were assisting Britons stranded in the country.
Winifred Thomas, 74, from Wigan, who landed at Manchester Airport last night after being forced to cut short her holiday, said: ‘We had been aware for some time that there was trouble but we had been told to stay in our hotel.
‘It wasn’t until we started making our way to the airport that we realised just how bad it was. The streets were full of burned-out vehicles and several buildings had been destroyed by fire. There was glass everywhere.
‘As we approached the airport we were suddenly surrounded by a huge mob, which surged towards the coach. They were hammering on the side and the driver had to stop several times to remonstrate with them. Some of them were carrying guns. I was terrified we might be dragged off.’
Retired police officer Nick Edmond, 53, was among a group of tourists who commandeered a minibus from their hotel in the resort of Hammamet.
Mr Edmond, from Cumbria, said: ‘We had to bribe the driver to take us. It was very dodgy. The streets were littered with debris and many of the villas owned by wealthy Tunisians had been set alight.
‘As we drove to the airport, we saw crowds of rioters pushing wheelbarrows full of petrol cans, obviously looking for trouble. Round a corner we saw a mob climbing a statue of the president and trying to deface it.’
The tourists were evacuated after a day of escalating violence. In Monastir, at least 42 prisoners died when fire swept through a jail. The cause of the blaze was not immediately known.
In the coastal city of Mahdia, around 1,000 prisoners were set free after a violent rebellion in which soldiers opened fire on inmates, killing at least five. The decision to unlock the cells was taken by the prison governor in an attempt to prevent further bloodshed.
Passengers arriving at Birmingham Airport on a Thomson flight from Monastir also spoke of the escalating violence, with at least 100 Tunisians believed to have been killed so far.
Angela Khalifa, 56, from Newhall, Derbyshire, who had been visiting her Tunisian husband’s family, said: ‘The banks had broken glass and the big shops were like a war zone.’
Adam Wallace, 22, a security manager from Accrington, Lancashire, said the evacuation had been well organised by the tour companies and reps.
He added: ‘I would go back to Tunisia next week if I could. The people there are fantastic and very friendly.
‘Obviously they have got underlying problems with their economy and we did feel sorry for them because now we have left they have no income.’
James Milner-Walker, 32, and April Clark, 33, both from Petersfield, Hampshire, were stranded at Tunis Airport.
James said: ‘In our hotel, we heard gunshots and the staff told us to keep away from the windows. They said it was better not to go out and we should keep the shutters down.’
Another stranded traveller, Graham Sadler, 38, from Southampton, said: ‘It was pretty hairy in the city. There were police everywhere and there was a lot of shooting going on.’
WikiLeaks, the whistle-blowing website run by Julian Assange, played a role in the downfall of Tunisia’s ruling elite.
Leaked diplomatic cables from the U.S. ambassador in Tunis, describing the opulent lifestyle of President Ben Ali’s family and widespread corruption, fired up the nation’s youth and provoked the riots, which forced the President to flee.
Following the removal of Ben Ali, now in exile in Saudi Arabia, the speaker of parliament, Foued Mebazaa, took over as interim president. He said he had asked Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi to form a government of national unity, with elections within 60 days.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1347626/Tunisia-riots-Presidents-wife-Leila-drove-nation-streets-start-revolution.html#ixzz1BKQowY2b
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