Leïla Ben Ali
|Leïla Ben Ali
ليلى بن علي
Leila Ben Ali presides over a meeting of the Arab Women Organization, November 2010
|First Lady of Tunisia|
26 March 1992 – 14 January 2011
|President||Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali|
|Preceded by||Naïma Kefi|
|Succeeded by||Beatrix Marzouki|
24 October 1956 |
Leïla Ben Ali was the president of the Arab Women Organization and chair of the Basma Association, a charitable organization working to secure employment for the disabled. In July 2010, Mrs. Ben Ali founded SAIDA to improve care for cancer patients in Tunisia. During the Tunisian revolution in 2010–11, she fled with her husband and three children into exile in Saudi Arabia. During her time as First Lady of Tunisia, she is believed to have enriched herself and her family through gross corruption and embezzlement of state money to finance a lavish lifestyle, factors which contributed to the protests against the regime of Ben Ali at the end of 2010. She is currently wanted by Interpol on behest of the Tunisian judiciary for high treason and money laundering.
Family and education
Leïla Ben Ali is the daughter of Mohamed and Saïda Trabelsi. She has ten brothers and sisters. A "hard hitting" 2009 book by French journalists Nicholas Beau and Catherine Graciet traced her rise from the daughter of a dried fruit seller to First Lady. Prior to her 1992 marriage to Ben Ali, she was a hairdresser with little formal education, partying hard in Paris. She was married for three years to Khelil Maaouia. She then had an affair with industrial magnate, Farid Mokhtar, a friend of the Prime Minister who introduced her to the highest levels of Tunisian society.
After her romantic relationship and subsequent marriage to Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, she and her family rose to prominent positions in Tunisian business and became noted for their greed, power and ruthlessness. Leila Ben Ali and most of her relatives fled Tunisia to Saudi Arabia, France, Canada and Qatar on 14 January 2011, when President Ben Ali was ousted.
Leila Ben Ali was active in philanthropy and humanitarian work in her role as First Lady of Tunisia. She founded the Basma Association in 2000 to help secure employment for the disabled, and has chaired the organization ever since. Under her leadership the association has provided micro-finance loans, secured employment for many and opened a center for the disabled in October 2010. The center provided technical training in a number of fields including computer science, embroidery, carpentry, theater and music.
She also started SAIDA, an initiative to improve cancer treatment, in 2010. She frequently gave speeches, was present at official ceremonies and occasionally read her husband’s speeches. She regularly travelled with the president on official visits to other countries. Ben Ali was also active in S.O.S. Gammarth and El Karama, which provided care for orphans and promoted human rights, respectively.
Arab Women Organization
As president of the AWO, Leila Ben Ali established the Arab Women’s commission for International Humanitarian Law which served to promote international humanitarian law by increasing awareness and providing training programs for governments and humanitarian organizations. She also made domestic violence prevention a major priority of the AWO, and called for greater public attention and reporting of violence against women in the home. In an interview in Trends Magazine, she asserted the importance of Arab women in sustainable development and bettering the Arab women’s image were her main objectives as president of the AWO.
She was recognized for her contributions to these organizations in a variety of publications. In 2000, she was selected as the "World Family Personality"; in 2003 deemed "Person of the Year" in the Russian magazine The World of the Woman, for her activities to promote social welfare and women's rights; and chosen as one of the world's 50 most influential Arabs by Middle East Magazine, a publication based in London. She was commended for her work with the AWO to increase women's capacity in all fields and positions, and for increasing cooperation among Arab states on women's issues. She was also recognized by the World Association of Women Entrepreneurs (FCEM) for her role in empowering women in economic development.
She became a lightning rod for dissatisfaction within a Tunisian society disgusted with the rise of her immediate family and Trabelsi family. Two French authors wrote an extensive book titled "La regente de Carthage" detailing the corruption of Leila, her family and in-laws. According to the French newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique, Leila Ben Ali symbolizes the "greed" of the presidential family. An American diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks described how Ambassador Robert F. Godec often heard “barbs about their lack of education, low social status and conspicuous consumption.” During the 2010–2011 Tunisian protests, rioters specifically targeted homes they believed belonged to the Trabelsi extended family. It was reported that Leila Ben Ali removed 1.5 tons of gold bars (worth about $65 million) from the Central Bank of Tunisia (representing half of the Tunisian gold reserves) before fleeing the country when her husband was ousted on 14 January 2011; however, the removal was denied by the bank. The Swiss government announced that it was freezing millions of dollars held in bank accounts by her family.
On 20 June 2011, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Leila Ben Ali were sentenced to 35 years in prison in absentia after being found guilty of theft and unlawful possession of cash and jewelry. A report came out that Leila may have attempted suicide by poisoning herself in her residence in Abha.
She and her husband have three children together: Nesrine (born out of wedlock; recognized by her father, married to Mohammad Sakher El Materi), Halima and Mohamed Zine El Abidine.
- (French) (Arabic) "Mission". Association Saïda de Lutte contre le Cancer.
- (English) Arab Women Organization (AWO)
- (English) "Who are we?". Association BASMA pour la Promotion de l'Emploi des Handicapés. Retrieved 24 October 2010.
- Williams, David (2011-01-18). "Wife of Tunisian president fled riot-torn country with 1.5 TONNES of gold (that should help feed the son-in-law's pet tiger)". Daily Mail. London. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
- Black, Ian (2010-12-07). "WikiLeaks cables: Tunisia blocks site reporting 'hatred' of first lady". The Guardian. London. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
- Reuters (2011-01-26). "Tunisia asks Interpol to arrest Ben Ali and wife". MSNBC. Retrieved June 13, 2011.
- "Leila Ben Ali rose from hairdresser to first lady". The Telegraph. 20 June 2011. Retrieved 2 September 2015.
- Kirkpatrick, David D. "Behind Tunisia Unrest, Rage Over Wealth of Ruling Family". The New York Times. 13 January 2011. Retrieved 13 January 2011.
- "Presidential couple inaugurates Basma Centre for the Integration of Disabled". Tunisia Online News. 22 October 2010.
- "Tunisian First Lady Gives Exclusive Interview to "Arabies Trends" Magazine". The e-Seoul Post. 1 June 2009.
- "What We Do". El Karama.
- "SOS Children: Child Sponsorship Charity". Gammarth.
- "Mrs. Leila Ben Ali Gives Interview to UPI". allAfrica.com. 11 March 2010.
- "The World's 50 Most Influential Arabs". Middle East. 1 May 2010.
- "FCEM World President Françoise Foning Activities 2005 - April 2008". World Association of Women Entrepreneurs.
- (French) 
- (French) Séréni, Jean-Pierre. "Le réveil tunisien" Le Monde Diplomatique. January 6, 2011. Retrieved January 13, 2011.
- Sparks, Ian (January 17, 2011). "Wife of Tunisian president fled riot-torn country with 1.5 TONNES of gold (that should help feed the son-in-law's pet tiger)". London: Mail Online, Daily Mail. Retrieved January 17, 2011.
- Dehghanpisheh, Babak; Dickey, Christopher (January 31, 2011). "Tunisia's Message". Newsweek: 41.
- Tunisia Issues Warrant for Arrest of Ousted Leader; BBC News, "Tracking down the Ben Ali and Trabelsi fortune", 30 January 2011
- Thomson Reuters (20 June 2011). "Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Former Tunisian President, Sentenced To 35 Years In Jail For Theft, Unlawful Cash And Jewelry Possession". Huffington Post.
- Jo Adetunji (20 June 2011). "Ben Ali sentenced to 35 years in jail". The Guardian. London.
- Did Leila Ben Ali Attempt Suicide?, tunisia-live.net