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1987 coup d'état in Tunisia

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Ben Ali, former President of Tunisia

Zine El Abidine Ben Ali became President of the Republic of Tunisia in 1987, and kept power until he was forced to leave in 2011. His government privatized nationalized infrastructure, and his family plundered the money gained from the privatization. His attempt at reapproachment with Islamist groups did not meet expectations. The ruling party was reorganized. Under his leadership Tunisia's economy continued to perform at a pace which yielded a moderate but overall steady rate of growth, albeit one with massive unemployment, notably among the well-educated.

Ben Ali may have, ironically, been the first to use the name "Jasmine Revolution" to describe his rise to power, a name which the hapless western media mistakenly gave to the Sidi Bouzid Revolt (Tunisian Revolution on Wikipedia) that DEPOSED HIM. The name was equally inappropriately appropriated by the leaders of the Chinese protests of 2011, however poetic the juxtaposition of China and Jasmine.


The French protectorate took power in Tunisia in 1881. Tunisian independence movements were soon formed; the earliest, The Young Tunisian Party in 1907; by 1920, the Destour, with a powerful base that was supported by the Bey; in 1934, Neo Destour, young nationalists. The support of the Bey declined, and in 1954 the Tunisian struggle and consequent civil disturbances resulted in the start of negotiations for Wikipedia:autonomy between France and the Wikipedia:Neo Destour political party (essentially under Habib Bourguiba) supported by the Tunisian labor unions and by the Wikipedia:Arab League. The agreed Convention of April, 1955, stated that France would retain control of the army and foreign affairs while granting autonomy, which was to began the following year. Bourguiba was released from prison by the French to a tumultuous welcome. This compromise, however, split the Neo Destour; eventually it led to suppression of its left wing, and expulsion of its radical, Wikipedia:pan-Arab leader Wikipedia:Salah ben Youssef (or Yusuf), who latter fled to Wikipedia:Egypt. This resolution of intra-party strife signalled that Neo Destour would pursue a moderate path. The French then terminated their protectorate over Wikipedia:Morocco, in order to concentrate their forces in Wikipedia:Algeria. In reaction, and following the strong public opinion voiced by Tunisians, Bourguiba pressed for independence. The French, overcoming the heated objections of the French settlers, eventually acceded and protocols were drafted. On 20 March 1956, Tunisia achieved its full sovereignty. In July Tunisia's application for membership in the Wikipedia:United Nations was accepted.

Wikipedia:Habib Bourguiba, official photo as President of Tunisia

Bourguiba's great asset was that "Tunisia possessed a mature nationalist organization, the Neo Destour Party, which on independence day held the nation's confidence in hand." It had made its case to the city workers in the modern economy and to country folk in the traditional economy; it had excellent leaders who commanded respect and who generally developed reasonable government programs.[1] The Wikipedia:Neo Destour regime sought to run a strictly structured regime with efficient and equitable state operations, but not with democratic-style politics, its programs yielding stability and economic progress, repressing Wikipedia:Islamic fundamentalism, and establishing rights for women.[2] The political culture would be secular, populist. Habib Bourguiba has been compared to Wikipedia:Ataturk (Mustafa Kemal) of Turkey, as a unique national modernizing leader.[3]

"Bourguibism" was also resolutely nonmilitarist, arguing that Tunisia could never be a credible military power and that the building of a large military establishment would only consume scarce investment resources and perhaps thrust Tunisia into the cycles of military intervention in politics that had plagued the rest of the Middle East. Bourguiba nationalized various religious land holdings and dismantled several religious institutions.[4]

As a result of his strong opposition to the Neo Destour leadership during their negotiations with France for autonomy prior to independence, Ben Youssef was removed from his position as secretary-general and expelled from the party. Exiled in Wikipedia:Cairo during the early 1950s, he had absorbed the pan-Arab nationalism associated with the Egyptian leader Wikipedia:Gamal Abdul Nasser. He rallied disaffected union members, students, and others, enough to put 20,000 youssefists into the street.[5][6][7] In 1963, the Neo-Destour Party was proclaimed to be the only legally permitted party, though for all intents and purposes Tunisia had been a one-party state since independence.

Destabilization. Reasons: Oil, socialism. Rationale: poverty[edit]

Socialism was not initially a major part of the Neo Destour project, but the government had always held and implemented redistributive policies. A large public works program was launched in 1961.[8] Nonetheless in 1964, Tunisia entered a short lived socialist era. The Neo Destour party became the Socialist Destour (Parti Socialiste Dusturien or PSD), and the new minister of planning, Ahmed Ben Salah, formulated a state-led plan for agricultural cooperatives and public-sector industrialization.[9]

Oil was discovered in the 1970s, and the West began to take interest. Also, from 1979 to 1991 the Wikipedia:Arab League was located in Tunis, and the Wikipedia:Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was based in Tunis from 1982 to 1994.[9]

Propaganda from western media[edit]

The propaganda machine sprung into operation. The Tunisian economy was faltering, it claimed, citing agricultural 'problems' and increased migration to Europe for work. The country had 10% inflation, which was below the US inflation at the time. It had external debt accounting for 46% of GDP, which was fairly normal for nations facing the Economic Hit Men described in the book of that title. And it had a Wikipedia:debt service ratio of 21% of GDP, again near that of the US.[10] These were all cited as 'economic collapse', and widely discussed in Western media, as were incidents of bombing and an attempted government overthrow, for which 76 members of the radical “Islamic Tendency Movement” were convicted in 1987.[11]

In the end, the subsequent coup was hailed by Wikipedia as "in conformity with Article 57 of the Tunisian Constitution", and a "peaceful transition" that occurred "as Tunisia was on the verge of economic collapse and a takeover of power by religious extremists."

The propaganda, of course, continued after the coup. A report published in July 2010 by the Boston Consulting Group ("The African Challengers: Global Competitors Emerge from the Overlooked Continent") listed Tunisia as one of the African "Lions" and indicated the eight African lions account for 70 percent of the continent's gross domestic product.[12]

IMF destabilization[edit]

In 1983 the Wikipedia:International Monetary Fund (IMF) forced the government to raise the price of bread and Wikipedia:semolina, causing severe hardship and protest riots, leading to protests.[13]

Rabblerousing and MTI backlash[edit]

The Wikipedia:Islamic Tendency Movement (MTI) of Wikipedia:Rashid al-Ghannushi came to the fore. Thousands were jailed, especially islamists; critical newspapers were closed, disruptive trade unions disbanded. Civil disturbances, including those by the islamists, were repressed by government security forces under then-General Wikipedia:Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. The government persisted in following its program; Ben Ali was named prime minister.[14]

Operation Wooden Leg: Israeli, US, and French air strikes[edit]

On 1 October 1985, in Operation Wooden Leg, Israeli Air Force McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagles bombed the PLO's Wikipedia:Tunis headquarters, laming a substantial bolster to the military power of the existing regime.

Taking place 1,280 miles (2060 km) away, this was the furthest operation from Israel undertaken by the Israel Defense Forces since the 1976 Entebbe Operation in Uganda (WP). For this reason, Tunisian sources believed that attack must have been known about by the United States, if not actually involving US collaboration.[15] 56 Palestinians and 15 Tunisians were killed and about 100 wounded.[16]

The US was to bomb nearby Libya the following year (Wikipedia:Bombing of Libya (1986)), in one of the first attempts at the overt US assassination of foreign leaders that continues to this day, with Reaper 9 drones. The French bombing of the Libyan airbase of Ouadi Doum is less obviously related.


Ben Ali ascended to the office of President on 7 November 1987, after attending physicians to the former president filed an official medical report declaring Habib Bourguiba medically incapacitated and unable to fulfill the duties of the presidency.[17][18] Two of the names given to Ben Ali's rise to the presidency include "the medical coup d'état" and the "Jasmine Revolution".[19][20]

In Wikipedia:1999 Wikipedia:Fulvio Martini, former head of Italian military secret service Wikipedia:SISMI, declared to a parliamentary committee that "In 1985-1987 we organized a kind of golpe in Tunisia, putting president Ben Ali as head of state, replacing Burghiba (sic) who wanted to flee".

Bourguiba, although a symbol of anticolonial resistance, was considered not capable to lead his country anymore, and his reaction to the raising Islamic integralism was deemed "a bit too energetic" by Martini: Bourguiba's threat to execute the suspects might have had strong negative implications in the neighbouring countries. Acting under directives of Wikipedia:Bettino Craxi, Italian prime minister, and Wikipedia:Giulio Andreotti, foreign minister, Martini claims to have brokered the accord that lead to the peaceful transition of powers.[21]

Wikipedia:Bettino Craxi had visited Wikipedia:Algeria in November 1984, being warned by the president Wikipedia:Chadli Benjedid that Wikipedia:Algeria was ready to invade that region of Wikipedia:Tunisia that was crossed by the pipeline towards Italy, if Bourguiba wasn't able to guarantee the stability of his own country. Algeria was trying to diversity his foreign policy, feeling isolated by Spain and by Wikipedia:Mitterrand's accord with Morocco and Libya over Chad. For two years, according to Martini, Italian and Algerians secret services worked together in order, on one hand, to avoid that the growing destabilization of Tunisia might spillover in Algeria, and on the other hand to control pro-palestinian terrorist activities in Italy. Finally, Ben Ali was singled out as possible replacement for Bourguiba: as chief of the Tunisian secret services and as Minister of Interiors, he had opposed plans for rough justice execution of fundamentalists. SISMI's action did not have the consent of Wikipedia:René Imbot, head of the French secret service, and the Wikipedia:USA were not informed.

According to Martini, the SISMI didn't have an operational role in Ben Ali's raise to power, but organized a political move to support politically and economically his new government, avoiding that Tunisia might fell in an open confrontation with fundamentalists as would be in Algeria in the following years.[22]

In Wikipedia:1994, following the Wikipedia:Tangentopoli scandal and the Wikipedia:Mani Pulite inquiry, Wikipedia:Bettino Craxi fled from Italy to Hammamet in Wikipedia:Tunisia, and remained a fugitive there, protected by Ben Ali's government. He repeatedly declared himself innocent, but never returned to Italy where he had been sentenced to 27 years in jail because of his corruption crimes (of these, 9 years and 8 months were upheld on appeal). He died on 19 January 2000, at the age of 65, from complications of diabetes.[23]

Ben Ali amended the constitution to limit the president to a total of three five-year terms, with no more than two in a row. He changed the ruling party's name to the Wikipedia:Democratic Constitutional Rally, and released several Islamist activists from prison in 1988. He forged a national pact with the Tunisian party Harakat al-Ittijah al-Islami (Islamic Tendency Movement), which had been founded in 1981; later it changed its name to Ennahda (the Renaissance Party).

He dismantled the personality cult surrounding his predecessor.

However, Ben Ali's innovative tack did not work out well. Subsequently An-Nahda claimed to have run strongly in the 1989 elections, giving it the appearance of being unfair; reports describe pro-government votes often at over 90%. Ben Ali subsequently banned Islamist political parties and reportedly jailed as many as 8,000 activists.[9] Soon afterward, Ben Ali ran unopposed in Tunisia's first presidential election since 1972. At the time, prospective presidential candidates had to get the endorsements of 30 political figures. Given the RCD's near-total domination of politics, opposition candidates found it impossible to get their nomination papers signed.

The 1989 crackdown led to the restoration of some Bourguiba-era restrictions. Increasingly, self-censorship gave way to official censorship. Ben Ali was reelected unopposed in 1994. After amending the constitution to allow a president to run for three consecutive terms, Ben Ali was reelected in 1999, 2004 and 2009--each time by implausibly high margins (well over 90 percent). While the requirement to get signatures from 30 political figures had been lifted, opposition figures still faced nearly insurmountable obstacles.

By the dawn of the 21st century, Ben Ali was reckoned as leading one of the most repressive regimes in the world. His regime consistently gained poor ratings from human rights and press freedom agencies.

Flag of Tunisia

Ben Ali's privatizations increased apparent GDP by 'adding capital to the economy', although of course it was held in the hands of not only merely a few, but primarily his immediate relations. Tunisia's per capita GDP more than tripled from $1,201 in 1986 to $3,786 in 2008.[24] After the brief spurt in growth afforded by the privatization, growth in 2002 slowed to a 15-year low of 1.9%, blamed on drought and lackluster tourism. After 2003 growth edged up to 5% of GDP, the same as the 20 years average after 1987.

Stable increase in GDP growth have continued through positive trade relations with the European Union, a revitalized tourism industry and sustained agricultural production. Privatization, increasing foreign investment, improvements in government efficiency and reduction of the trade deficit are challenges for the future.[25][26] The 2010-2011 Global Competitiveness Report (Davos World Economic Forum) ranked Tunisia first in Africa and 32nd globally out of 139 countries.[27]

However, Tunisia continues to suffer from a high unemployment, especially among youth. Left out of the recent prosperity were many rural and urban poor, including small businesses facing the world market. This was the cause of mass protests in December 2010-January 2011. It was the worst unrest the country has faced for at least a decade.

During Ben Ali's presidency, Tunisia has pursued a moderate foreign policy promoting peaceful settlement of conflicts. Tunisia has taken a middle of the road approach contributing to peacemaking especially in the Middle East and Africa. Tunisia hosted the first-ever Palestinian American dialogue. While contributing actively to the Middle East peace process, Tunisian diplomacy has supported the Palestinian cause. As host to the Palestine Liberation Organization from 1982–1993, considerable efforts were made to moderate the views of the organization.[28] Tunisia has, since the early 90's, called for a "concerted" international effort against terrorism. It has also been a key US partner in the effort to fight global terrorism through the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative.[29]

President Ben Ali has mostly retained his predecessor's pro-western foreign policy, though he has improved ties with the Arab-Moslem world. He has taken several initiatives to promote solidarity, dialogue and cooperation among nations. President Ben Ali initiated the creation of the United Nations World Solidarity Fund to eradicate poverty and promote social development based on the successful experience of the Tunisian National Solidarity Fund.[30] Ben Ali also played a lead role in the UN's proclaiming 2010 as the International Year of Youth.[31]

Loss of power and revolution[edit]

Starting in December of 2010, Tunisian citizens began mass protesting against unemployment and Ben Ali's corruption. As mass protests grew, Ben Ali declared a Wikipedia:state of emergency in the country, dissolved the government on 14 January 2011 and promised new legislative elections within six months. Later on that same day Prime Minister Wikipedia:Mohammed Ghannouchi went on state television to say he was assuming power in Tunisia and said that the President had left the country. Ben Ali fled the country on 14 January at 4:00pm local time on a flight bound for Wikipedia:Dubai and arrived in Wikipedia:Saudi Arabia early on Saturday 15 January, where he was welcomed by Saudi authorities. The protests became known as the Wikipedia:Tunisian Revolution.[32][33]

See also[edit]

Reference notes[edit]

  1. Brace, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia (1964) at 141.
  2. Brace, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia (1964) at 142.
  3. Perkins, A History of Modern Tunisia (2004), e.g., at 130, 204-209.
  4. Bourguiba could bargain when opportunity offered. He negotiated with the Catholic Church; as a result Tunisia received scores of churches and land parcels to be used for libraries or museums, and the right to be consulted in the naming of future Church leaders. John K. Cooley, Baal, Christ, and Mohammad. Religion and Revolution in North Africa (Holt Rinehart Winston 1965) at 3-5, 297-298.
  5. Perkins, A History of Modern Tunisia (Cambridge Univ. 2004) at 117-118, 128-129.
  6. Ben Youssef was assassinated in Egypt in 1961. Brace, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia (1964) at 115-116, 142.
  7. After 1987, Ben Youssef was gradually "rehabilitated" and his body returned to Tunisia for burial. Perkins, A History of Modern Tunisia (Cambridge Univ. 2004) at 199-201.
  8. Brace, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia (1964) at 146-147.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Moncef M. Khaddar, "Tunisia" at 848-850, 849, in Joel Krieger (ed.), Oxford Companion to Politics of the World (2d ed. 2001).
  10. "Republic of Tunisia Country Assistance Evaluation". 2004, September. Retrieved 20 November 2010. </li>
  11. Tunisian Constitution. URL accessed on 20 November 2010.
  12. Various, Various (2010 June). "The African Challengers: Global Competitors Emerge from the Overlooked Continen". Retrieved 20 November 2010. </li>
  13. Seddon, David Riot and Rebellion: Political Responses to Economic Crisis in North Africa, Tunisia, Morocco and Sudan. URL accessed on 20 November 2010.
  14. "Longtime Tunisian Leader Deposed by Prime Minister". Los Angeles Times. November 1987. Retrieved 20 November 2010. </li>
  15. W. Seelye, Talcott (March 1990). "Ben Ali Visit Marks Third Stage in 200-Year-Old US-Tunisian Special Relationship". The Washington Report: pp. 7. </li>
  16. Seale, Patrick. Abu Nidal: A gun for hire. Arrow, 1993, ISBN 0-09-922571-9 p.238
  17. Error on call to template:cite web: Parameters url and title must be specified URL accessed on 20 November 2010.
  18. Delany, Paul (9 November 1987). "Bourguiba Described in Tunis". The New York Times. Retrieved 20 November 2010. </li>
  19. Michael, Ayari; Vincent Geisser (2011). Tunisie: la Révolution des "Nouzouh"* n'a pas l'odeur du jasmin. Wikipedia:Témoignage chrétien. Archived from source 2011-03-14. URL accessed on 2011-03-14.
  20. La révolution par le feu et par un clic. Wikipedia:Le Quotidien d'Oran/ Archived from source 2011-03-14. URL accessed on 2011-03-14.
  21. La Repubblica, 10 October 2010
  22. La Repubblica, 11 October 1999
  23. "Craxi: Fallen kingpin". BBC News. 20 January 2000. Retrieved 4 September 2008. </li>
  24. "UNdata Record View Per Capita GDP at Current Prices". 2010, August 10.;currID:USD;pcFlag:1;crID:788. Retrieved 20 November 2010. </li>
  25. Various, Various (2009). "Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali Biography". Retrieved 20 November 2010. </li>
  26. "Country Coverage Tunisia". 2006. Retrieved 20 November 2010. </li>
  27. Global Competitiveness Index. URL accessed on 20 November 2010.
  28. Sorkin, Jerry (fall, 2001). "The Tunisian Model". Retrieved 20 November 2010. </li>
  29. "The Report: Tunisia 2007: Country Profile". 2007. Retrieved 20 November 2010. </li>
  30. "ECOSOC Endorses Decision to Establish World Solidarity Fund to Eradicate Poverty and Promote Social Development". 7 November 2003. Retrieved 20 November 2010. </li>
  31. Labidi, Samir (2008). "Address by Mr. Samir Labidi". Retrieved 20 November 2010. </li>
  32. "Tunisia: President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali forced out". Wikipedia:BBC. 14 January 2011. Archived from the original on 14 January 2011. Retrieved 15 January 2011. </li>
  33. Ganley, Elaine; Charlton, Angela; Keaten, Jamey; Al-Shalchi, Hadeel (14 January 2011). "Tunisian leader flees amid protests, PM takes over". Wikipedia:The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Wikipedia:Associated Press. Template:citation/identifier. Retrieved 14 January 2011. </li> </ol>

External links[edit]

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