Tunisia’s government has collapsed, partially due to food price inflation and unemployment, but also because of WikiLeaks.One of the U.S. government cables released by WikiLeaks (via @spbaines) exposed the corruption of Tunisia’s President’s family, its reach into business in the country, and ability to transcend the rule of law. President Ben Ali’s family was called “The Family” throughout the leak. The government attempted to block access to WikiLeaks earlier this month.
Here are some highlights from the June 2008 leak (read the full leak here):
On the power of the president’s family:
Whether it’s cash, services, land, property, or yes, even your yacht, President Ben Ali’s family is rumoured to covet it and reportedly gets what it wants.
On the family’s business dealings:
The economic impact is clear, with Tunisian investors — fearing the long-arm of “the Family” — forgoing new investments, keeping domestic investment rates low and unemployment high (Refs G, H).
Often referred to as a quasi-mafia, an oblique mention of “the Family” is enough to indicate which family you mean. Seemingly half of the Tunisian business community can claim a Ben Ali connection through marriage, and many of these relations are reported to have made the most of their lineage. Ben Ali’s wife, Leila Ben Ali, and her extended family — the Trabelsis — provoke the greatest ire from Tunisians.
On that yacht:
In 2006, 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.
On the banking sector:
Tunisian business people joke that the most important relationship you can have is with your banker, reflecting the importance of personal connections rather than a solid business plan in securing financing.
According to a representative from Credit Agricole, Marouane Mabrouk, another of Ben Ali’s sons-in-law, purchased a 17 per cent share of the former Banque du Sud (now Attijari Bank)
shares immediately prior to the bank’s privatization. This 17 per cent share was critical to acquiring controlling interest in the bank since the privatization represented only a 35 per cent share in the bank. The Credit Agricole rep stated that Mabrouk shopped his shares to foreign banks with a significant premium, with the tender winner, Spanish-Moroccan Santander-Attijariwafa ultimately paying an
off the books premium to Mabrouk.
Finally, a prescient warning:
Although the petty corruption rankles, it is the excesses of President Ben Ali’s family that inspire outrage among Tunisians. With Tunisians facing rising inflation and high unemployment, the conspicuous displays of wealth and persistent rumours of corruption have added fuel to the fire.
So, while unemployment and inflation were the underlying causes of the revolution, this WikiLeak may have been the spark that turned the public, and the government, against itself.