The Chicken and the Tiger

Tunisia - the first 'WikiLeaks' revolution

Just as you will not have heard of the Tunisian revolution until a week ago, (although it began on 18th December) you will also likely not have heard of WikiLeaks' vital role in it.

On 14th December WikiLeaks began publishing 17 exchanges between the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia and the U.S. State Department. All the documents were marked SECRET with the additional classification 'NOFORN' (not for foreigners)

20% of Tunisians have access to the Internet, a high proportion, which is higher still amongst activists, trade unionists and urban dwellers. the WikiLeaks cables were spread rapidly, helped by specialist sites such as 'tunileaks'.

The cables outlined the outrageous corruption and extravagance rife within the ruling regime. We only provide a short selection.  The US ambassador writes: 

"One of the standard jokes about President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali (usually delivered only half in jest) is that he has three goals for his presidency: to stay in power; to stay in power; and to stay in power. Ample evidence supports this view.. President Ben Ali's extended family is often cited as the nexus of Tunisian corruption. Often referred to as a quasi-mafia, an oblique mention of "the Family" is enough to indicate which family you mean.
Yacht Wanted
Imed and Moaz Trabelsi, Ben Ali's nephews, are reported to have stolen the yacht of a well-connected French businessman, Bruno Roger, Chairman of Lazard Paris. The theft, widely reported in the French press, came to light when the yacht, freshly painted to cover distinguishing characteristics, appeared in the Sidi Bou Said harbor.

El Materi [Presidential son-in-law] has a large tiger (“Pasha”) on his compound, living in a cage.
Short race
He acquired it when it was a few weeks old. The tiger consumes four chickens a day. (Comment: The situation reminded the Ambassador of Uday Hussein’s lion cage in Baghdad.) El Materi had staff everywhere. There were at least a dozen people, including a butler from Bangladesh and a nanny from South Africa. (NB. This is extraordinarily rare in Tunisia, and very expensive.)"

"El-Materi’s house is spacious, and directly above and along the Hammamet public beach. The compound is large and well guarded by government security. The house was recently renovated and includes an infinity
An 'infinity pool'
pool and a terrace of perhaps 50 meters. While the house is done in a modern style (and largely white), there are ancient artifacts everywhere: Roman columns, frescoes and even a lion’s head from which water pours into the pool. El Materi insisted the pieces are real. He hopes to move into his new (and palatial) house in Sidi Bou Said in eight to ten months. 
After dinner, he served ice cream and frozen yoghurt he brought in by plane from Saint Tropez, along with blueberries and raspberries and fresh fruit and chocolate cake.

He would be pleased to assist McDonald’s to enter Tunisia, suggesting they begin at the new cruise port in La Goulette. He complained about the unhealthy food served by McDonald’s, however, adding it is making Americans fat. 

Throughout the evening, El Materi often struck the Ambassador as demanding, vain and difficult. He is clearly aware of his wealth and power, and his actions reflected little finesse. He repeatedly pointed out the lovely view from his home and frequently corrected his staff, issued orders and barked reprimands.

The opulence with which El Materi and Nesrine live and their behavior make clear why they and other members of Ben Ali’s family are disliked and even hated by some Tunisians. The excesses of the Ben Ali family are growing.

The GOT's strong censorship of the press ensures that stories of familial corruption are not published. The Family's corruption remains a red line that the press cross at their own peril.

Although the February imprisonment of comedian Hedi Oula Baballah was ostensibly drug-related, human rights groups speculate his arrest was punishment for a 30 minute stand-up routine spoofing the President and his in-laws...Corruption remains a topic relegated to hushed voices with quick glances over the shoulder."

It is ironic that the sources of the information which helped finally topple the corrupt regime were the very US officials who supported it.  They just wanted the corruption to be less obvious and the regime more stable.  

We're calling Tunisia as the first 'Wikileaks' revolution, Wikileaks not being the cause but a crucial catalyst. You won't read that in the mainstream press.

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