Ben Ali, Zine el-Abidine

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Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali (zē´nĕl abĬdēn bĕn älē´), 1936–, president of Tunisia (1987–2011). Educated in France and the United States, he entered the army and became ambassador to Poland (1980–94), minister of national security (1984–86), and interior minister (1986–87). In Oct., 1987, he became prime minister under the aging Tunisian president Habib Bourguiba, whom he deposed in a bloodless coup on Nov. 8, 1987. Ben Ali was elected president in 1989 and reelected in 1994, 1999, 2004, and 2009, but the elections were marked by a lack of real opposition and government intimidation.

Ben Ali had a moderating influence on the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO leaders lived in Tunisia for 10 years) and was a supporter of attempts at reaching peace with Israel. Domestically, he continued to develop a relatively secular, Westernized, and increasingly middle-class nation, but the enrichment of members of his extended family during his rule and persistent high unemployment led in 2011 to protests that forced him into exile. He was subsequently convicted (2011, 2012) in absentia of embezzlement and other charges.