Late-life fatherhood in Tunisia...
Jordanians rejoiced recently upon the birth of the royal couple’s fourth child, Prince Hashem, born on his father King Abdullah II’s 43rd birthday. In May 2004, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, 41, celebrated his son Crown Prince Moulay Al-Hassan’s first birthday, while in Syria, reports said that in December 2004, First Lady Asma Al-Assad, gave birth to the couple’s third child. President Bashar Al-Assad is 39 years old.
Now, the time has come for the Tunisian nation to celebrate. A new son has been born to President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, 68, and First Lady Leila Ben Ali, the official Tunisian news agency reported in mid-February.
According to TAP news agency, the new baby boy was named Mohamed Zine El Abidine. The only difference between the Tunisian leader and his other Middle-Eastern counterparts, regarding this issue of fatherhood, is that the Tunisian President is nearing the age of 70…
Regardless of this complex issue of age, it is obvious that little Mohamed Zine El Abidine’s childhood will be quite different from that of other children, due to the fact that he was born into Tunisia’s First family.
Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, born in 1936, has been president of Tunisia since 1987, only the second since its independence from France in 1956. Ben Ali was appointed to establish and manage the military security department in 1964, which he ran till 1974. He was promoted to director-general of the National Security in 1977, after serving as military attaché to Morocco.
Ben Ali returned from four years as ambassador to Poland to become head of the National Security and then secretary of state. Later, he was appointed interior minister, and retained this position when he was made prime minister under President Bourguiba in October 1987. Ben Ali deposed Bourguiba and assumed the presidency in November 1987. He then retained his predecessor's non-aligned foreign policy stance and supported the economy which has been growing since the early 1990s.
In 1999, although two unknown alternative candidates were permitted for the first time to stand in the presidential elections, Ben Ali was reelected with 99.6% of the vote. He was again reelected on October 24, 2004, officially taking 94.48% of the vote, after a controversial constitutional referendum in 2002, which allows him to stand in office at least until 2014.
Prior to Mohamed's birth, President Ben Ali was already the father of five. His wife, Leila Ben Ali is active in a number of Tunisian and international charities, working to promote the causes of women, families and children. Her activites mainly focus on calling for the activation of women's social role in society.
On October 22, 2004, on the occasion of the closing of the electoral campaign for presidential and legislative elections in Tunisia, First Lady Leila Ben Ali chaired in Le Kram a large gathering of women; an event which was also attended by the President.
The Tunisian First Lady delivered an address during the event in which, among other issues, she spoke about Tunisia today, “This is Tunisia in the era of change and reform; Tunisia of modernity and progress; Tunisia of devotion and diligence; Tunisia in which the promotion of the life of Tunisian men and women is a priority in all fields, and in which the fruits of development are distributed among all individuals, social categories and regions; Tunisia in which the practice of democracy and pluralism is continuously anchored, and in which rights and individual and public liberties are preserved, within the context of the rule of law and the values of the republic...”
Back to babies and late-life fatherhood, Leila Ben Ali’s longtime close friend, Suha Arafat, wife of the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, had also given birth to the couple’s daughter when Yasser Arafat was 66 years old…
In 1991, in Tunisia, Arafat, then 62-years-old, stunned Palestinians when he wed his 28-year-old private secretary, Suha, in a secret ceremony. The couple's daughter, Zahwa, named for Arafat's mother, was born in the French capital of Paris in July 1995. In a 1999 interview with a French magazine, Suha Arafat described their simple wedding: It took place in a PLO bunker with no white wedding dress or reception. She said that since then she had never spent an entire day alone with Arafat.
Arafat lived separately from his wife and daughter till his death in November 2004. He was confined by Israeli troops to his office in the West Bank town of Ramallah during most of the Palestinian uprising that began in September 2000. His wife and daughter moved to Paris after the violence erupted.
One of the most common arguments against bringing new children to the world when one parent is not so young anymore is that it is unfair to the child, that they harm the children in some way. As a result of significant progress in medical science and reproductive medicine, the ethical matter of late-life parenthood is often discussed and debated.
Without diving into the details of this complicated subject, it seems the Tunisian President, for his part, is evidently young at heart, capable of leading his country, and will be able to father his new son with dignity and respect.