A dictator’s legacy exposed

Between 2008 and 2009, Tunisian Airlines (Tunisair) was involved in two transactions which benefited only the family of then President, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

Under the late Ben Ali’s dictatorship, everything was harnessed to respond to his slightest request – be it selling Tunisair shares to his relatives or acquiring a new presidential plane on his order.

Malek Khadhraoui. Image: Supplied

“Since then, Tunisair has experienced successive difficulties and losses. The introduction of Tunisia’s Reconciliation Law has all but hidden these crimes from the public eye,” said Haïfa Mzalouat, who researched and co-wrote Tunisian Airlines and Ben Ali: A regime in the service of a dictator remains unaccountable, with colleague Malek Khadhraoui.


Both Mzalouat and Khadhraoui work for Inkyfada, an independent, non-profit media group in Tunisia. Their investigation was published on Inkyfada’s website on 31 January 2020.

“I wanted to write this story because, since the Tunisian revolution in 2011, questions around transitional justice are essential for the collective memory in Tunisia. I wanted a closer look at the way the former dictator and his entourage monopolised the country’s wealth and used national companies to their advantage. It is impossible to understand the situation of Tunisair, which is experiencing multiple financial problems, without analysing these elements,” said Mzalouat.

The article centred on understanding how the system of governance ensured Ben Ali and his entourage were kept satisfied at the expense of public finances and Tunisair. The subject of corruption remains of great interest to people in Tunisia, said Mzalouat.

Haifa Mazlouat. Image: Supplied

“The two deals detailed in this article describe how state institutions and officials were organised to meet all the wishes of the presidential family, and show the extent to which the Ben Ali regime was able to establish a legal tyranny in which the actors were in the service of the dictator and his relatives,” said Mzalouat.

The investigation included Mzalouat and Khadhraoui keeping a file with documents and contact details and contributions of different sources. “We had to face numerous unpleasant confrontations to verify our information with rather inaccessible people, such as Mongi Safra, Ben Ali’s former henchman. During the investigation of several months, we studied all the legal loopholes used by the former presidential family to get what they wanted,” said Mzalouat.

She said the extent of the damage Ben Ali caused is still being uncovered. “It is unlikely that those responsible will face legal consequences; Tunisia’s so-called Reconciliation Law that was passed after the fall of the regime has made it possible to bury this case and shelter the key figures involved.”

Mzalouat joined Inkyfada as an intern in 2017 and was hired fulltime after she completed her studies in history, Arabic, and political science in France. “I always had an interest in writing and current affairs, but even more so after the Tunisian revolution in 2011. Being Franco-Tunisian, I wanted to go to Tunisia to better understand the political and general situation there. Hence my interest in journalism.”

The following year she won the Migration Media Award which recognises the journalistic excellence of articles dealing with migration in the Euro-Mediterranean region.

Read full article here: https://inkyfada.com/fr/2020/01/31/avion-ben-ali-tunisair-uib/

Featured image: Former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Image Supplied