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The whole country welcomed the Change with relief. The new President brought to the nation a coherent societal project, ushering in a new era of diligent action and hard work in order to build a bright future for Tunisia.
Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was born on September 3, 1936 in Hammam-Sousse, to a moderate-income family which brought him up to respect tradition, and imbued him with a sense of dignity, patriotism and respect for others.
From his family upbringing, he developed a propensity for simplicity, hard work and rigor, as well as a sense of moderation and tolerance.
While still a student in the Sousse secondary school, Ben Ali heeded the call of patriotic duty. Outraged by colonial oppression, he resolutely joined the national movement, acting as liaison between the regional structures of the Neo-Destour Party and the armed struggle. As a result, he was imprisoned and dismissed from all educational institutions in Tunisia. Still, he did not give up. He resumed his studies with energy and determination to move into higher education after completing secondary school.
Recognizing Ben Ali's outstanding qualities, the Party sent him to France to pursue his higher training as part of a group that was to form the nucleus of the future national army. He first graduated from the Special Inter-service School in Saint-Cyr (France), then from equally prestigious schools: the Artillery School in Châlons-sur-Marne (France), and the Senior Intelligence School (Maryland, USA) and the School of Anti-Aircraft Field Artillery (Texas, USA). He also obtained a degree in electronic engineering.
"My interest in computer science", he was later to say, "has had a considerable impact on the way I work, giving me a strong taste for logic, rigorous analysis and long-term planning away from improvisation."
The second stage in Ben Ali's career was marked by a steady increase in responsibilities, due to his deep sense of duty, his readiness to listen to others, and his capacity for rigorous analysis. Prior to taking any decision, he would carefully examine the facts, analyze situations and compare results. Summarizing this approach in a newspaper interview, he said : "I listen, I think, I act."
In 1964, while still a young staff officer, he created the Military Security Department which he ran for 10 years. In 1974, he was appointed military attaché to Morocco and Spain. He was then assigned to the office of the Defense Minister, before holding the position of Director General of National Security in December 1977.
In April 1980, he was appointed Ambassador to Warsaw. In January 1984, he returned to Tunisia to serve, first, as Director General, then as Secretary of State for national security (October 29, 1984), then as Minister of National Security (October 23, 1985). On April 28, 1986, he was appointed Minister of the Interior. In June 1986, he joined the Political Bureau of the Socialist Destour Party (PSD). He was then appointed Deputy Secretary-General of the PSD. In May 1987, he was promoted to the rank of Minister of State in charge of the Interior. Then on October 2, 1987, he was appointed Prime Minister, while keeping the Interior portfolio. He also became Secretary General of the PSD.
President Habib Bourguiba at that time was weakened by senility and illness, and was surrounded by scheming and interest-driven intrigue. Ben Ali, however, remained above rivalries. He acted instead to ease the political climate, to promote openness to organizations such as the Tunisian Human Rights League, and to establish channels of contact with opposition parties. This won him the consideration and respect of the entire political class, which saw in him the man of dialogue and openness.
As Prime Minister, Ben Ali assumed, with competence, the duty of handling the situation in the country as it was faced with acute crisis. With great resolve, he undertook to remedy the situation, foiled machinations, and took a host of appeasing measures. He strove to restore confidence, opted for logical and realistic solutions, and invariably made the higher interests of Tunisia his top concern, at a time when President Bourguiba grew increasingly disconnected from the realities of the country.
Based on a medical report drawn up by seven treating physicians of President Bourguiba, attesting to the latter's total incapacity to continue assuming his functions, and by virtue of article 57 of the Tunisian Constitution, Prime Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali acceded, on November 7, 1987, to the highest executive office. Transition went smoothly and in full conformity with constitutional legality. This was seen by observers as an example of civilized behavior. This impression was further reinforced by the attitude adopted toward the former president who was offered all due care.
Since he took office, President Ben Ali has made every effort to honor the commitments contained in his November 7th, 1987 Declaration : rule of law, people's sovereignty, national reconciliation, respect for fundamental freedoms, democracy, pluralism, social justice, solidarity, hard work, openness and modernity. This program won the support of the overwhelming majority of Tunisians, as it met their aspirations and expectations.
First of all, Ben Ali restored the vitality and credibility of the old Socialist Destour Party (PSD), which had lost its capacity for self-renewal and mobilization and fallen into lethargy. Renaming it the Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD), he renovated its structures, modernized its methods of action, and renewed its political discourse. The Party opened up to the young and to all people of competence, renewed its cadres, and restored free debate and grass-root initiative, which has consolidated its credibility and its grassroots outreach, and widely enlarged its constituency.
At the political level, a climate of detente and national concord prevailed, and various measures were taken to establish true democracy and lay the foundations for the rule of law.
The National Pact, signed on November 7, 1988 by all political parties, intellectual and political tendencies, and civil society components, anchored national concord, the supreme objective of President Ben Ali. An amnesty law was also enacted to further promote national reconciliation.
The Constitution was amended to abolish life presidency and automatic succession to the highest executive office. The Economic and Social Council was restructured, its prerogatives expanded, and its representation broadened to encompass the various social and political tendencies; the aim being to ensure national consensus on major development choices.
A Constitutional Council was established soon after the Change to guarantee, in both letter and spirit, the constitutionality of the laws. Besides, a constitutional law (No. 1998-76) was enacted on November 2, 1998, making the opinions of the Constitutional Council binding on all public authorities.
Many initiatives and measures were taken to promote the media landscape. The Press Code was amended four times (1988, 1993, 2001 and 2006) to give Tunisian legislation in this field a modernist and liberal outlook, and to ensure adequate conditions for journalists to exercise their profession. Specific measures were also taken to encourage journalists and the opinion press. On November 7, 2003, President Ben Ali announced the opening of the audio-visual landscape to private initiative.
To promote freedom of the press, and to guarantee the right to difference and the right to communication, a law was enacted on January 9, 2006, abolishing the procedure of dépôt légal (legal submission of copies of published material prior to distribution). On November 7, 2007, President Ben Ali announced his decision to remove administrative control on books, publications and artistic works.
To further develop and enrich the media landscape, and to make it best serve the national choices, a new composition of the Higher Communication Council was announced, according to which the Council would henceforth include, in addition to the competent specialists known in this field, personalities representing civil society and political parties.
In April 2008, President Ben Ali announced his decision to further expand the prerogatives of this Council, in such a way as to foster its role in promoting the national media and communication landscape, and to reflect its diversity and pluralism.
A new law on political parties, adopted in 1988, redefined the conditions for the creation of political organizations; thus giving a new impetus to the principle of pluralism. The early presidential and general elections of April 2, 1989 were the first in the country's history to take place in absolute transparency and perfect conformity with the law.
The candidate of all Tunisians across party lines, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was elected President of the Republic. This national consensus around President Ben Ali was confirmed through his re-election on March 20, 1994, on October 24, 1999, and on October 24, 2004, with an overwhelming majority.
The amended Electoral Code promoted the multi-party system in the 1994 legislative elections. For the first time since Tunisia's independence, it made possible the Opposition's entry to the Chamber of Deputies.
Thanks to the new amendments introduced in 1998 into the Electoral Code, the Opposition, represented by five political parties, won 33 parliamentary seats out of 182 in the legislative elections of October 24, 1999, and 37 seats out of 189 in the elections of October 24, 2004. The Opposition also won 268 seats in the municipal elections held in 2005. Other amendments lowered to 23 years the minimum age of candidacy to the Chamber of Deputies, and guaranteed the right to stand as candidate for all electors born of a Tunisian father or a Tunisian mother; thus opening larger prospects of participation for considerable segments of society.
In an initiative reflecting the special status Tunisian youth enjoy in the New Era, the minimum voting age was lowered from 20 to 18. This constitutional amendment, which was adopted in 2008, will allow a large new segment of Tunisian society to exercise its right to vote.
The Constitution was also amended to guarantee plurality of candidacies in presidential elections. This plurality found its concrete illustration, for the first time in Tunisia's history, in the presidential elections of October 24, 1999.
To consolidate the foundations of the republican system, democracy, pluralism, public freedoms and human rights, President Ben Ali proposed, on February 13, 2002, a fundamental constitutional reform, considered to be the most comprehensive and the most profound in the history of Tunisia.
The aim of the reform was to achieve a qualitative leap in the Tunisian political system, and thus lay the foundations for the Republic of Tomorrow whose broad lines have been defined by President Ben Ali in his speech of November 7, 2001 marking the 14th anniversary of the Change.
The reform accorded human rights and liberties a special place in the text of the Constitution, and enriched the legislative branch through the establishment of a second parliamentary body called the Chamber of Advisors. It also consolidated the role and independence of the Constitutional Council, further enhanced relations between the Government and Parliament, and promoted the presidential election system.
Firmly convinced that the people's will is above any other will, President Ben Ali submitted the constitutional reform bill to popular referendum, in order to make sure this reform reflected the people's choice and aspirations.
Tunisians massively participated in this referendum held on May 26, 2002, the first of its kind in the history of Tunisia, and expressed their full support to the content of the constitutional reform.
On September 3, 2004, President Ben Ali submitted his candidacy to the presidential election of October 24, 2004. In his speech at the opening of the electoral campaign, he proposed to the people an ambitious 21-point program entitled "Ben Ali for Tomorrow's Tunisia". Covering all fields and all sectors, this program aimed at further enriching Tunisia's gains and achievements in the era of the Change.
Proceeding from his democratic convictions and liberal outlook, President Ben Ali placed human rights among the constant tenets of his policy, in accordance with a comprehensive vision that establishes a close correlation between economic, social and cultural rights, on the one hand, and civil and political rights, on the other hand.
Just two weeks after the Change, a bill laying down, for the first time, the rules for pre-trial custody and preventive detention was adopted. The State Security Court and the office of State Prosecutor were abolished, and so was the hard labor penalty.
Moreover, Tunisia ratified, without reservation, the 1984 UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Punishment or Treatment.
A new law was enacted in 1999 with the aim of reducing the period of pre-trial custody. Moreover, the rule of dual jurisdiction in criminal cases was established, and the position of "penalty enforcement judge" was created. Authority over detention facilities and their administration were also transferred to the Ministry of Justice.
A law was enacted on March 4, 2008, establishing the obligation to justify any extension of the period of custody and preventive detention; its aim being to provide individuals with further judicial guarantees during the pre-trial stage.
To consolidate the mechanisms of human rights and fundamental freedoms, a law was enacted on June 16, 2008, concerning the High Committee on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (created on January 7, 1991). The law establishes the autonomy of this Committee, expands its prerogatives, modernizes its working methods, and empowers it to take charge of any issue related to the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Keen on anchoring the value of work in society, President Ben Ali has endeavored to clear the social climate by rehabilitating the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), establishing regular dialogue between management and labor, and making of hard work and diligence cardinal values in public life.
Thanks to economic reforms undertaken since the Change, Tunisia has maintained a sustained economic growth rate of about 5%, and brought under control the inflation rate.
Moreover, the successful development action has made it possible to increase the per capita income nearly fivefold since the Change, to reach 4,400 dinars in 2007. As for the Gross Domestic Product, it went up from 7,160 million dinars (MD) in 1986 to 44,254 MD in 2007.
The openness of the Tunisian economy has achieved considerable success. The exports' share in GDP increased from 34.7% in 1987 to 50.7% in 2007. The volume of foreign investment went up from 100 million dinars in 1987 to 2,132 MD in 2007.
In addition, the general balances have been preserved. The budget deficit, the balance of payments, and foreign indebtedness have been brought under control, and the debt service was reduced from 26.3% in 1986 to 15.4% in 2007.
A national program for the modernization and upgrading of the industrial fabric was developed in collaboration with the European Union, with which Tunisia signed an association and free-trade agreement in 1995. Under this agreement, a Tunisia-EU free-trade zone for industrial products was established on January 1st, 2008.
The country's modern infrastructure, favorable legislation, social and political stability and economic growth have attracted an increasing number of foreign investors.
The success of the Tunisian economic model is now recognized all over the world. Some observers have even called it the "Tunisian miracle".
The year 2008 is exceptional in Tunisia in terms of attraction of foreign investment. Huge projects have already been launched, or are currently being prepared, with investments amounting to 30 billion dollars. These projects constitute a qualitative leap in the process of making of Tunisia a regional pole for trade and services.
Reflecting the substantial growth in economic and investment activity, Tunisia ranks 1st in the Arab Maghreb, 3rd in the Arab world and Africa, and 32nd internationally, in terms of competitiveness, according to the Davos World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report (2007-2008).
No doubt, the deeply humanistic approach to social realities remains one of the dominant characteristics of President Ben Ali's personality and manner of exercising power. A man of the people, President Ben Ali constantly listens to citizens from all social categories, and responds to their concerns and aspirations. What has been achieved in President Ben Ali's era is, in fact, the fruit of a policy that anchors the values of solidarity and mutual help, offers equal opportunities for all, rejects exclusion and marginalization, and promotes disadvantaged areas. This policy has made it possible to bring down the poverty rate to 3.8%, and to expand the middle class which now accounts for nearly 80% of the population.
In tune with his people, President Ben Ali strives to give concrete expression to the concept of national solidarity which constitutes the cornerstone of his social policy. His visits to various regions as well as to economic, social and educational institutions are invariably followed by immediate action, sometimes in the form of a cabinet meeting held on the same day, which he chairs in person, to take the appropriate measures.
It was, in fact, after a visit he paid to one of the remote areas of the country in December 1992 that President Ben Ali decided to create the National Solidarity Fund, commonly known as the "26-26 Fund". This avant-garde decision was warmly welcomed by Tunisians, who demonstrated their sense of solidarity with other citizens, by responding to their President's appeal with generous donations and contributions to the Fund. The mission of the "26-26 Fund" is to open up the formerly-isolated and disadvantaged areas, improve the living conditions of their inhabitants, and enable them to undertake income-generating projects offering them a decent life.
In addition, the establishment of the Tunisian Solidarity Bank in 1997 has made it possible to finance thousands of small projects every year, to create jobs for new graduates and young people.
The priority accorded to employment has been concretely illustrated through the establishment of a micro-credit system to stimulate the sense of initiative among youth, as well as through the creation of the National Employment Fund, commonly known as "21-21 Fund".
The educational reform, which made school attendance compulsory until the age of 16, has raised the schooling rate for six-year-olds to more than 99%, fostered the values of openness, tolerance and innovation, and further promoted gender equality.
Such equality has been reinforced by a host of avant-garde measures taken by President Ben Ali. The Code of Personal Status, one of the most advanced in the world with respect to women, has been consolidated, putting an end to all forms of gender-based discrimination, and promoting men-women relationship to the level of partnership.
As regards foreign policy, President Ben Ali has established the bases for an active and dynamic diplomacy, working to boost the Maghreb process, promote Arab and African causes, and create a Euro-Mediterranean space of co-development.
President Ben Ali has also actively contributed to the search for a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East, and to the promotion of world peace and security in general.
President Ben Ali has been, since the 1990s, among the first to warn against the dangers of extremism and terrorism. In 1998, he called for convening an international conference on terrorism, under the auspices of the United Nations, to establish a code of action to which all countries shall be committed. This code would lay the ground for a responsible dialogue that transcends double standards and defines common denominators to combat terrorism which poses a real threat to all humanity.
Given Tunisia's distinguished place within the Euro-Mediterranean space, President Ben Ali has been keen on giving a fresh impetus to the 5+5 Dialogue. During his chairmanship of the 5+5 Summit (Tunis - December 5, 2003), he endeavored to develop a common awareness reflecting the solidarity among the West Mediterranean countries and the specificity of the partnership uniting them.
In line with this orientation, President Ben Ali reaffirmed, during the summit on "the Barcelona Process : the Union for the Mediterranean", held in Paris on July 13, 2008, Tunisia's determination to contribute to establishing appropriate and effective mechanisms of action in order to further promote economic integration between the two shores of the Mediterranean, to usher in a new stage in Euro-Mediterranean relations, and to build a common future for all countries belonging to the Euro-Mediterranean space, based on mutual respect, balanced dialogue, reciprocal interests and solidarity-based partnership, as well as on a comprehensive approach to sustainable development.
On the other hand, the 16th Arab Summit (Tunis - May 22-23, 2004) came to reaffirm the soundness of President Ben Ali's views and realistic vision concerning the importance of this Summit and the need to rationalize the role of the Arab League in order to promote joint Arab action, reinforce its credibility, and build a better future for the Arab world.
In line with President Ben Ali's humanistic vision and pragmatic and balanced approach to international relations, the holding of the second phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (Tunis - November 16-18, 2005) clearly reflected the credibility Tunisia enjoys on the international scene. This Summit was, in fact, the crowning step of a call launched by President Ben Ali in 1998 in Minneapolis, USA, for convening a world summit to address the digital divide between the countries of the North and the countries of the South, premised upon his conviction that "the digital divide is essentially a development disparity and a gap impeding the dialogue of civilizations, before being a technological divide".
Two important documents emanated from this Summit : one entitled the "Tunis Commitments", expressing the international community's strong political will to move ahead in bridging the digital divide; the other entitled the "Tunis Agenda for the Information Society", illustrating the common determination to find practical formulas in order to promote consensus and open up fresh prospects allowing all the world's countries to have access, without obstacles, to communication technologies and to their global networks.
Still in line with his universalistic and humanistic approach, President Ben Ali called for the establishment of a World Solidarity Fund to combat poverty and promote the poorest regions of the world. On December 20, 2002, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution providing for the establishment of this Fund.
To anchor the culture of mutual understanding, cooperation and solidarity among peoples, President Ben Ali announced, on November 7, 2002, his decision to establish the "Prize of the President of the Republic for World Solidarity".
The UN General Assembly also adopted a resolution proclaiming December 20th of each year an International Human Solidarity Day, which confirms and anchors the value of solidarity in international relations, as advocated by President Ben Ali.
In April 2008, President Ben Ali called on the international community to contribute to the effort of international solidarity.
He exhorted oil-producing countries to allocate one dollar for each oil barrel in order to increase the resources of the World Solidarity Fund, and thus allow it to promote the poorest countries of the world, to help them face the adverse effects of the world's current economic situation and alleviate its negative social impacts, and to prevent the intensification of hunger and poverty in the world.
The Secretary General of the United Nations has commended the sound initiative launched by President Ben Ali to the international community to contribute to financing the World Solidarity Fund.
UNESCO's designation of Tunis as Cultural Capital for 1997 constituted another token of recognition for the outstanding place of Tunisia's culture in the world, and its contribution to promoting dialogue among cultures and civilizations.
Moreover, ISESCO's designation of Kairouan as Islamic Cultural Capital for 2009 bears testimony to Tunisia's deep commitment, under the leadership of President Ben Ali, to its cultural and civilizational identity, as well as its success in highlighting the noble values of Islam which advocate fraternity, coexistence, tolerance, moderation, and its diligent endeavor to eradicate all forms of extremism, intolerance and fanaticism.
To promote the enlightened image of Islam in the world, President Ben Ali announced, on November 7, 2002, his decision to establish the "Prize of the President of the Republic for Islamic Studies".
President Ben Ali is married and is the father of six children. His spouse, Mrs. Leila Ben Ali, is active in a number of Tunisian and international charities
source : http://www.tunisiaonline.com/government/biography.html