Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011

Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali

The first glimmer of the Arab Spring appeared in the Arab world's periphery after a young Tunisian street vendor, beaten down by the daily humiliations of his authoritarian society, set himself aflame in protest. It was the fire that sparked a year of revolution across the world; for Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, it was the beginning of the end. In power since 1987 (his predecessor was the only other head of state in the former French protectorate's independent history), Ben Ali employed a brand of velvet-gloved authoritarianism that was successful enough to co-opt a host of the country's elites and ingratiate himself to the West; he counted administrations in Washington and Paris as friends. But high unemployment gnawed at the edges of his rule, and the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi blew off a lid of seething discontent and anger at the corruption and cronyism of the Ben Ali regime. As unrest spread to the stately boulevards of Tunis, Ben Ali was compelled to bow out Jan. 14 and take refuge in Saudi Arabia, long a haven for ousted despots. He would be only the first to go.