Lady Macbeth or unjustly accused? Laila Ben Ali speaks.
The hated wife of deposed Tunisian president, Zine Ben Ali, has spoken out for the first time since fleeing the country last year. In an interview with French magazine, Le Parisien, Laila Ben Ali talked about firing at protestors, her husband’s health and those corruption rumors.
The former First Lady is about to publish ‘My Truth’, her book in which she will tell her side of the story, including the regrets she has at her behavior while she was wife of the Tunisian president.
Laila and her husband fled Tunisia on January 14, 2011 for Saudi Arabia following protests across the country. The couple now lives in hiding but Laila was about to talk to Le Parisien using Skype.
The Tunisian demonstrations were famously started in Sidi Bouzid after street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire. Although the unrest began as protests against rising food prices, they ended by calling for a total regime change.
But according to Laila Ben Ali, this process was more organized than it first appeared:
“I don’t speak of ‘riots’. For me it was a coup d’etat, organized, masterminded and prepared,” she told Le Parisien, “The police were there but they didn't move. I don't believe that the entire scenario for a revolution was spontaneously born out of a youth protest.”
Laila was seen as an upstart in her country with a classic tail of rags to riches. She started her adult life as a lowly hairdresser but ended it as the wife of a president, complete with crown jewels and lavish holidays abroad. Critics say she enriched herself at the expense of her countrymen.
But the former First Lady said she had been the victim of a “campaign of media lies” and had written her book as a response to the “liars” and “false witnesses.”
The most abiding image most people have of the former First Lady is of a woman handing out privileges to her ‘proches’, while many ordinary Tunisians suffered from mass unemployment and rising commodity prices.
Laila admits she has some regrets on this front:
“I did help those closest to me to have a good life, it's true. For example I helped one of my brothers to obtain a loan but he paid it back before he passed away. What people forget is that I helped people I didn't know too.”
She claimed she initially left for Saudi Arabia as part of a religious pilgrimage, intending to return once the situation in Tunisia had settled down. According to her, it was the head of the president’s security, Ali Seriati, who told the couple to leave.
“We left without luggage or money or passports,” Laila said.
But despite the lack of preparations, The ex-First Lady writes in her book that Bernard Squarcini, the head of the French Secret Service, was aware of the couple’s departure in advance and even approached her daughter, who was living in France at the time.
Laila fiercely denied accusations that Ben Ali gave her the order to fire at protestors, despite reports that Tunisian police were using live rounds to quell demonstrations. According to her, Ben Ali’s lawyer asked for the recordings of communications between the ex-president and his ministers to be handed over to the courts. But so far the transitional government has refused this request.
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