Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (زين العابدين بن علي), (born 3 September 1936) has been the President of Tunisia since 7 November 1987. He took power from President Habib Bourguiba after serving briefly as Prime Minister.
Ben Ali was born in Hammam-Sousse. He was appointed to establish and manage the Defense Ministry's Military Security in 1964, which he ran until 1974. He was promoted to director-general of National Security at the Ministry of the Interior in 1977 after serving as military attaché to the Kingdom of Morocco. He returned from four years as Ambassador to Poland to become once again head of National Security at the Ministry of the Interior but this time with Cabinet rank. For his success in dealing with the political opponents and their threat to the regime, he was promoted to Minister of the Interior, and retained this position until he was appointed Prime Minister.
Ben Ali was appointed Prime Minister by President Habib Bourguiba on 1 October 1987; in this position, he was the President's constitutional successor. Five weeks after becoming head of the government, he had President Bourguiba declared medically unfit for the duties of the office and assumed the presidency on 7 November 1987. The constitutional destitution of President Bourguiba was popular and legitimately based on Article 57, that allowed the procedure; the political life of the country had deadlocked in an unending presidential succession debate and political crisis, cronyism and economic stagnation.
He then retained his predecessor's pro-western foreign policy and supported the economy which has been growing since the early 1990s. Growth in 2002 slowed to a 15-year low of 1.9% due to drought and lackluster tourism. Better conditions after 2003 have helped push growth to about 5% of GDP. Privatization, increasing foreign investment, improvements in government efficiency and reduction of the trade deficit are challenges for the future.
Ben Ali's Constitutional Democratic Rally (formerly Neo-Destour party) continues to dominate the national politics. In 1999, although two alternative candidates were permitted for the first time to stand in the presidential election, Ben Ali was reelected with 99.66% of the vote. He was again re-elected on 24 October 2004, officially taking 94.48% of the vote, after a controversial constitutional referendum in 2002 which allowed him to seek reelection.
Following calls from members of the Constitutional Democratic Rally for him to run again in the 2009 presidential election, Ben Ali said at a party congress on July 30 2008 that he would stand for re-election as the party's candidate.
Freedom of the press is officially guaranteed and condoned. However, human rights organization Reporters Sans Frontieres states that "Tunisians have no access to independent news in the local media and the press, radio, TV and the Internet is under the president’s control. Journalists and media are actively discouraged from being more independent by means of bureaucratic harassment, advertising boycotts and police violence.
Many political prisoners remain in jails or in exile in and out of the country. Many disappearances, deaths and torture cases were reported to the human rights organisations. Many arrests are a result of individuals venturing into the internet to bypass government propaganda and controlled press. Ben Ali introduced a law that exonerates him from future prosecution and thus gave himself an amnesty.
Ben Ali was first married to Naima Kefi, the daughter of General Kefi, Tunisia's first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and had three daughters (Ghazwa, Dorsaf and Cyrine); he divorced her in 1992 and married Leila Trabelsi, whom he met when he was President Habib Bourguiba's minister of the Interior. With her, he has two daughters (Nessrine and Halima) and a son (Mohamed Zine El Abidine) (source: Encyclopedia of the Orient at ).
In its January/February 2008 issue, the Foreign Policy Magazine reported that Tunisia's First Lady has been using the 737 Boeing Business Jet of the government to make "unofficial visits" to European Fashion Capitals, as Milan, Paris and Geneve. The report says the trips are not on the official travel itinerary. Bloggers tracked the official airplane on spotting webpages as Airliners.net. The first lady has been described as a shopaholic.