- Ben Ali, Zine al-Abidine
▪ president of Tunisiaborn September 3, 1936, near Sousse, Tunisiaarmy officer and politician who became president of Tunisia in 1987.Ben Ali was trained in France at the military academy of Saint-Cyr and at the artillery school at Châlons-sur-Marne. He also studied engineering in the United States. From 1964 to 1974 he was head of Tunisian military security, a post that took him into top government circles. In 1974 he began a three-year term as military attaché to the Tunisian embassy in Morocco. He then returned to Tunisia to become head of national security, and in 1980 he became ambassador to Poland. After his return, he was appointed state secretary for national security in 1984 and a cabinet minister in 1985. Ben Ali had gained a reputation as a hard-liner in suppressing riots in 1978 and 1984, and in 1986 he became minister of the interior, taking an active role in rooting out the Islamic Tendency Movement, a violent fundamentalist group. In October 1987 President Habib Bourguiba (Bourguiba, Habib) appointed him prime minister. Bourguiba, who had ruled Tunisia since its independence from France in 1956, was ill and considered by many to be unfit to continue in office, and on November 7 Ben Ali deposed him in a peaceful coup.Ben Ali was expected to favour a somewhat less secular government than Bourguiba's, with a more moderate approach toward religious fundamentalists. In elections held on April 2, 1989, he received more than 99 percent of the votes. In 1991, however, he banned the Al-Nahḍah (“Renaissance”) party and called for the suppression of Islamic militants, and from this point on he came under increasing criticism for his human rights policies. As head of the Democratic Constitutional Rally (Rassemblement Constitutionnel Démocratique), he won reelection in 1994, 1999, and 2004, each time with more than 90 percent of the vote.
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