The Arab Spring bears fruit: Today, former Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his wife Leila were sentenced to 35 years in prison on charges of theft and of unlawful possession of large sums of foreign currency, jewelry, archaeological artifacts, drugs and weapons. The sentence was delivered in absentia as Ben Ali and his wife fled Tunisia on January 14th, after massive popular protests which have proved the catalyst for anti-government movements in other Arab nations including Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Yemen and Syria. Ben Ali and his wife remain in exile in Saudi Arabia which has refused requests to extradite them.
The Guardian reports that Ben Ali has also been charged a fine of 91 million Tunisian dinars (about $66.5 million); he accumulated his wealth during his 23 years in power through involvement in some of Tunisia’s biggest businesses. The Tunisian court still plans to try him on further charges for ordering the killing of civilians as he sought to stay in power, and for the illegal possession of illegal drugs, firearms and archaeological artifacts that were found in his palaces.
Says the New York Times about Tunisia’s hatred of its deposed president and his wife:
They are reviled in Tunisia for presiding over a corrupt administration that enabled Ms. Trabelsi, a former hairdresser from a humble family, to help her relatives achieve vast fortunes and opulent lifestyles very quickly.
The most notorious of her kin, Sakher al Materi — known derisively as “Mr. Son-in-Law” — kept a caged tiger that ate four chickens a day and he boasted of the authentic Roman columns, frescoes and a lion’s head fountain at his villa.
Ben Ali remains unrepentant and issued a statement saying that the legal proceedings are “a false and shameful image of victor’s justice” and, notes the BBC, a “joke.”
Egypt been watching Ben Ali’s trial closely, as ousted president Hosni Mubarak and his sons, Alaa and Gamal, are scheduled to be on trial on August 3 on charges of “premeditated murder,” for which they could face the death penalty. Mubarak, as announced just today, has stomach cancer. While his sons have been imprisoned in Torah prison in Cairo, the 82-year-old former ruler has remained at the hospital in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh since officials detained him for questioning in April. As the Guardian points out:
The timing of Mubarak’s illness means he has been spared jail, fuelling claims that he is receiving special treatment from the Egyptian army, which took power following his ousting.
A committee of doctors appointed to assess Mubarak’s state of health said in late May that he should not be moved to a prison hospital because he was depressed, had poor blood circulation and was at risk of a sudden heart attack.
Mubarak has also been said to have tumors in his gall bladder and pancreas. Indeed, in the years proceeding his ouster in February, there had been many rumors about Mubarak’s health — he had indeed traveled to Germany last year for medical treatment — but any reports had been downplayed by the government.
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Photo of demonstrators facing police lines on Aveunue Bourguiba, Central Tunis, by cjb [CC-BY-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons