Ben Ali Quietly Leads Tunisian Success

By Geyer, Georgie Anne | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 1, 1998 | Go to article overview

Ben Ali Quietly Leads Tunisian Success


Geyer, Georgie Anne, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


TUNIS, Tunisia - Of all of the leaders of the Middle East, he is one of the least known.

Most Americans would not even recognize his name. His pictures show an austere, elegant and handsome man - distant and authoritative - and even those who know him seem to feel a certain air of historic Moorish mystery hanging over him.

Yet in person, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, for 10 years the president of Tunisia, is something else.

Open, charming, passionate about issues, he is also analytical, computer crazy and more than a little sentimental about his people, particularly the poor. He listens to others carefully and seems to have the talent of absorbing, molding and then putting into practice their ideas.

For many years head of intelligence in a country with such problematic neighbors as Libya and Algeria, he is described by aides as paradoxically both shrewd and gentle at the same time. "Nobody can get away with anything but him," said one minister admiringly.

But quite above and beyond all of that, by virtually all available measures, Mr. Ben Ali is rapidly becoming recognized in development circles as one of the most successful leaders, not only in the Middle East but indeed in the world.

The key to putting Tunisia's successes under his leadership into historic perspective came to me one day from the country's respected scholar, the minister of culture, Abdelbaki Hermassi.

"It's obvious that all the `grand ideologies' are in crisis," he mused. "Whether with pan-Arabism or pan-Islamicism, it is clear we are living in a much more complex world and a time when people are not going for the simplest solutions. In this kind of post-ideological period, people will judge their leadership on the chances in life it offers them."

FUNDAMENTAL DIVERGENCES

I asked Mr. Ben Ali about these ideas in his first major interview with an American journalist, conducted half in written answers and half in personal discussion in his gorgeous gold office in the presidential Carthage Palace here. And his answers were revealing.

"I would state the question differently," he said. "It is the ideological debate that is in crisis - or that at least has ceased to be relevant since the collapse of communism. It is also true that fundamental divergences exist within the liberal debate today, separating to varying degrees those who advocate `hard-line' capitalism from those with a more social vision of the system.

"This is what gives pragmatism, moderation and the human social and cultural aspects an essential value in building a method of development, managing the transition and ultimately succeeding. This is the path we have taken, a path where freedom is at the heart of all our choices." Today, that "path" has led Tunisia to become the first Arab and North African country to be chosen by the European Union for a free-market agreement.

Two-thirds of the people are now considered middle class and the same percentage own their own home, according to the World Bank. Culture is blossoming and women work freely in every profession. Tunisia now has more tourists a year than Egypt - 5 million - and more than 1,000 foreign companies that work freely here.

But there was nothing in the 1980s to make such an evolution inevitable. By then, the respected but elderly father of the country, President Habib Bourguiba, who had set Tunisia on a forward path in the 1960s with massive investment in education - an astonishing 30 percent of the national budget - was failing physically and mentally.

A THINKING REGIME

The earlier lure of communism as the ideology of choice had been taken over by the next ideology to offer an absolutist answer to all human questions, radical Islamic fundamentalism, and Tunisia was one of the first targets.

It was only when Mr. Bourguiba's doctors proclaimed him incapable of ruling the country that Mr.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Ben Ali Quietly Leads Tunisian Success
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.