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Tunisia: How Ben Ali planned to return when he fled (secret records)

Tunisia: How Ben Ali planned to return when he fled (secret records)
(FILES) In this file photo taken on October 11, 2009, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali flanked by his wife Leila (L) waves to wellwishers before delivering his speec   -  
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FETHI BELAID/AFP or licensors


The former Tunisian president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali considered turning back while onboard the plane that carried him into exile in 2011 under pressure from the street, according to recordings broadcasted by the BBC on Friday.

In what appeared to be phone conversations between Ben Ali and senior officials and relatives Ben Ali could be heard talking to one of his relatives on 13 December 2011, shortly after he had given a speech to the nation.

The relative, believed to be businessman Tarek ben Ammar, congratulates him on his speech, while the soon-to-be-fallen president says it lacked "fluidity".

The BBC says it has had the recordings it obtained examined by experts who found "no evidence of tampering or manipulation".

The release of the audio recording coincides with the 11th anniversary of his downfall on 14 January 2011 after 23 years in power.

The Tunisian revolution which kicked off the Arab Spring revolts that have rocked several countries in the region began on 17 December 2010, when Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor fed up with poverty and police humiliation, set himself on fire.

In the other recordings, made on 14 January 2011, Ben Ali, from the plane carrying him and his clan to Saudi Arabia, talks in turn with three interlocutors, including then Defence Minister Ridha Grira.

When Mr Grira informed him that an interim president had been appointed, Ben Ali replied that he would be back in the country "in a few hours".

Ben Ali then asked a close friend, Kamal Eltief, on the phone if he "advises him to come back now or not". "Things are not looking good," Eltief finally replies.

Ben Ali asked the same question to Rachid Ammar, the army chief at the time, who replied they will alert him when it’s alright for him to come.

Ben Ali finally died in exile in Saudi Arabia in September 2019, without ever having set foot in Tunisia again.

The 11th anniversary of his fall comes against a backdrop of deep crisis in Tunisia since President Kais Saied assumed full powers in July, raising fears of a return to authoritarian rule in support of the Arab Spring.

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