Former Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was the first Arab dictator forced from office in the wake of massive public protest. But according to the now exiled ruler, he was “tricked” into leaving the country.
Ben Ali claims he agreed to take a plane to Saudi Arabia to prepare a place for his family to flee to safety, but intended to return immediately. This attempt was foiled when the crew flew back to Tunisia without him.
The aging Ben Ali, who is still in Saudi Arabia, was sentenced to 35 years in prison and $66 million in fines today by a Tunisian court for his role in embezzlement of public funds. His wife, accused to leaving the country with much of the nation’s gold, was also sentenced.
The Saudi government has refused to extridite Ben Ali or his family already, so the sentence in absentia is unlikely to have any real effect. It is symbolic, however, of the Tunisian peoples’ eagerness to move beyond the dictatorship of the past and toward free elections.