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A Despot’s Death in Tunisia

Following the death of former Tunisian leader Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, author Gordon Gray reflects on his interactions with the despotic president while serving as U.S. ambassador to Tunisia at the start of the Arab Spring.

January 14, 2011, will always represent a momentous inflection point for Tunisia. On that day, millions marched in the streets, demanding the resignation of President Zinedine Ben Ali, who had ruled in an increasingly authoritarian manner. It turned out to be his last day in his homeland; Ben Ali saw the handwriting on the wall and hastily fled with his family to sanctuary in Saudi Arabia, where he died on September 19.

I was serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia at the time and had a front-row seat to this history. Contrary to published reports, I never told Ben Ali that he needed to relinquish power or that the United States would not give him asylum. And while I do not want to speak ill of the recently departed, I must admit that my interactions with Ben Ali left me greatly unimpressed.

For a French translation of this article, click here.

The above excerpt was originally published in The National Interest. Click here to view the full article.

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Gordon Gray

Former Senior Fellow