US embassy cable - 87TUNIS11327

REACTION TO AND BACKGROUND ON TUNISIA'S NEW PRIME MINISTER AND PARTY LEADER

Identifier: 87TUNIS11327
Wikileaks: View 87TUNIS11327 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Tunis
Created: 1987-10-07 08:17:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PINR
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
P 070817Z OCT 87
FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2540
INFO AMEMBASSY ALGIERS
AMEMBASSY CAIRO
AMEMBASSY RABAT
AMEMBASSY PARIS
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TUNIS 11327 
 
E.O. 12356: 
TAGS: PGOV, PINR 
SUBJECT: REACTION TO AND BACKGROUND ON TUNISIA'S NEW 
         PRIME MINISTER AND PARTY LEADER 
 
REF: TUNIS 11130 
 
1.  CONFIDENTIAL - ENTIRE TEXT. 
 
----------------------- 
ZINE EL ABIDINE BEN ALI 
----------------------- 
 
2. LOCAL AND FOREIGN REACTION TO ZINE EL ABIDINE BEN 
ALI'S APPOINTMENT AS PRIME MINISTER IS GENERALLY 
POSITIVE.  AT HOME, HE IS RESPECTED AS A COMPETENT 
HARD-WORKER SOMEWHAT ALOOF FROM THE USUAL POLITICAL 
SQUABBLES.  HIS MILITARY BACKGROUND AND TENURE AT THE 
MINISTRY OF INTERIOR, HOWEVER, LEAD MANY TUNISIANS TO 
SUSPECT A HARDENING OF GOT'S POSITION VIS-A-VIS 
DISSENT, AN IMPRESSION THAT BEN ALI'S INITIAL 
STATEMENT AND RECENT EDITORIALS BASED ON THAT 
STATEMENT HAVE TAKEN PAINS TO DISPEL.  THE FOREIGN 
MEDIA, INCLUDING SUCH CRITICS OF RECENT DEVELOPMENTS 
IN TUNISIA AS "LE MONDE", HAVE SPOKEN FAVORABLY OF 
HIS APPOINTMENT.  CHARACTERIZING BEN ALI AS A "STRONG 
MAN", LE MONDE OPINED THAT BEN ALI IS THE RIGHT MAN 
FOR THE JOB AT THIS TIME.  GOT SEEMS PARTICULARLY 
GRATIFIED BY THIS ENDORSEMENT FROM THE FOREIGN MEDIA 
AND HAS GIVEN IT PROMINENT COVERAGE. 
 
3. ZINE EL ABIDINE BEN ALI WAS BORN AT HAMMAM SOUSSE, 
A SMALL TOWN NEAR PRESIDENT BOURGUIBA'S BIRTHPLACE OF 
MONASTIR, ON 3 SEPTEMBER 1936.  HE STUDIED AT THE 
MILITARY ACADEMY OF SAINT-CYR AND THE ARTILLERY 
SCHOOL IN CHALONS SUR-MARNE IN FRANCE AND TOOK THE 
SENIOR FOREIGN OFFICERS INTELLIGENCE COURSE AT FORT 
HOLABIRD, MARYLAND, AND AN ARTILLERY COURSE AT FORT 
BLISS, TEXAS.  HE BECAME DIRECTOR OF MILITARY 
INTELLIGENCE IN 1958, A POSITION HE HELD FOR 16 YEARS 
UNDER FOUR DIFFERENT DEFENSE MINISTERS.  IN 1974, BEN 
ALI WAS SENT AS MILITARY ATTACHE TO RABAT.  ACCORDING 
TO JEUNE AFRIQUE, THIS APPOINTMENT RESULTED FROM 
PRESIDENT BOURGUIBA'S SUSPICIONS WHEN BEN ALI'S NAME 
APPEARED ON A LIST OF PROJECTED APPOINTMENTS 
RESULTING FROM THE STILL-BORN TUNISIAN/LIBYAN UNION 
AGREEMENT.  KNOWN FOR HIS DISCIPLINE AND COMPETENCE, 
BEN ALI WAS CALLED BACK TO TUNIS TO RUN THE BUREAU OF 
NATIONAL SECURITY (SURETE NATIONALE) JUST BEFORE 
LABOR STRIFE CULMINATED IN GOT'S VIOLENT CRACKDOWN OF 
THE GENERAL STRIKE OF 1978.  IN 1980 HE REPORTEDLY 
RAN AFOUL OF MRS. WASSILA BOURGUIBA AND WAS SENT AWAY 
TO BECOME AMBASSADOR TO POLAND.  IN THE AFTERMATH OF 
THE VIOLENT BREAD RIOTS OF 1984, BEN ALI WAS RECALLED 
TO THE DIRECTORSHIP OF NATIONAL SECURITY.  ON 28 
APRIL, HE WAS NAMED MINISTER OF INTERIOR AND IN 
MID-MAY WAS PROMOTED TO MINISTER OF STATE. 
 
4.  WHILE HIS PUBLIC APPEARANCE IS SOMEWHAT AUSTERE, 
BEN ALI IN PRIVATE DISPOSES OF CONSIDERABLE CHARM AND 
RADIATES CONFIDENCE.  IN RECENT MONTHS, HE HAS 
INCREASINGLY BEEN CALLED UPON TO EXPLAIN GOT SECURITY 
POLICY IN PUBLIC MEETINGS AND WITH THE FOREIGN PRESS 
AND HANDLED THESE SITUATIONS WELL.  HE HAS LITTLE 
EXPERIENCE IN FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND ECONOMICS, AND WILL 
HAVE TO RELY ON HIS MINISTERIAL COLLEAGUES IN THESE 
AREAS AT LEAST INITIALLY.  HIS TENDENCY FOR 
MICRO-MANAGEMENT OF THE SECURITY SERVICE MUST ALSO 
CHANGE AS INDICATED BY THE APPOINTMENT OF MOHAMED 
KARBOUL, A CAREER INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIAL, AS 
DIRECTOR GENERAL OF NATIONAL SECURITY OCTOBER 6. 
 
--------------- 
MAHJOUB BEN ALI 
--------------- 
 
5.  MAHJOUB BEN ALI, THE NEW DESTOURIAN SOCIALIST 
PARTY (PSD) CHIEF, IS THE MOST PROMINENT OF FIVE OR 
SIX HARDLINERS THAT PRESIDENT BOURGUIBA HAS CALLED 
BACK TO SERVICE IN THE RECENT MONTHS.  REACTION TO 
MAHJOUB'S APPOINTMENT IS GENERALLY NEGATIVE.  THE 
EDUCATED ELITE IN PARTICULAR HAVE A LOW OPINION OF 
HIM.  THEY SNEER AT HIS LACK OF FORMAL EDUCATION AND 
DEEM HIM RIGID AND NARROW-MINDED. 
 
6.  MAHJOUB BEN ALI, 62, WAS BORN IN BIZERTE.  IN 
1952 HE WAS PUT IN CHARGE OF ORGANIZING 
PRE-INDEPENDENCE RESISTANCE TO THE FRENCH IN THE 
NORTH AND BECAME A PRINCIPAL LEADER OF THE RESISTANCE 
MOVEMENT.  MAHJOUB LED THE GUERILLA ATTACK ON A 
BUSLOAD OF FRENCH CIVILIANS IN 1952 THAT BOURGUIBA 
CREDITS WITH SHAKING FRANCE OUT OF ITS COMPLACENCY 
ABOUT TUNISIA.  HE LED THE NATIONAL GUARD FROM 1956 
UNTIL 1967 WHEN HE WAS DISMISSED FOR FAILING TO 
CONTROL ANTI-AMERICAN DEMONSTRATIONS IN THE WAKE OF 
THE 6 DAY WAR.  HE THEN OCCUPIED A NUMBER OF LESSER 
POSITIONS WHERE HE EARNED A REPUTATION FOR 
HEAVY-HANDEDNESS.  IN THE WAKE OF THE BOMBINGS AT THE 
TOURIST HOTELS LAST AUGUST, HE WAS APPOINTED DEPUTY 
DIRECTOR OF THE PSD IN CHARGE OF THE VIGILANCE 
COMMITTEES. 
 
 
PELLETREAU 

Latest source of this page is cablebrowser-2, released 2011-10-04