The BBC has discovered a series of stunning recordings that we believe were made by former Middle East dictator Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali when he left the country in 2011. for “Arab Spring”.
The recordings were professionally reviewed by listening experts who found no evidence of distortion or correction. Ben Ali died in captivity in 2019, but the BBC re-played the footage for people he knows who are involved, and believes the wording is real, in support of the footage. Yet some of the people involved strongly oppose their accuracy.
As a matter of fact, the paintings provide a striking insight into Ben Ali’s dramatic change of heart in the last 48 hours of his reign, as he slowly begins to understand the real effects of the protests rocking his fearsome police state.
The recording – the appendix below – begins on the evening of January 13, 2011. The first is a call from a mysterious man, believed to be Tarak Ben Ammar, a well-known TV actor who is known for inspiring director George Lucas to make a film. the first Star Wars movie in Tunisia. Earlier in the day Ben Ali spoke on television in the country, in an attempt to stem the tide of mass protests.
Many people’s dissatisfaction with economic conditions and years of oppression and corruption erupted weeks ago when a young street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, became angry when authorities banned him from selling goods in Sidi Bouzid. By January 13th about 100 people died in the show, which was now filled with the streets of the capital.
But Ben Ali seems stable while Ben Ammar seems to be praising him.
“It was amazing, this is Ben Ali we’ve been waiting for!” Says Ben Ammar in the painting.
Ben Ali blames himself, saying his speech was not good, but his confidant reassures him.
“No … It’s a reversal of history. You’re a human being. You speak their language,” his friend says.
Ben Ali laughs at what sounds like a relief. But the speeches given to the Tunisian people are clearly not enough. The next day, protests intensified and threatened to overthrow the Interior Ministry. Arrangements have been made for Ben Ali’s family to fly out of the country for safety – to Saudi Arabia – by Ben Ali then they are forced to accompany them, he says.
The content and timing of the following footage puts Ben Ali on a plane trip.
He could be heard calling mostly three people – believed to be his security minister, military chief, and secret agent – Kamel Eltaief.
He begins by asking someone we know as the Security Minister Ridha Grira about the situation in Tunisia. Grira informs him that the incumbent president is now in office. Ben Ali asks Grira to repeat this three times, before replying that he will return to the country “in a few hours”.
He then phoned a man whom the BBC believes to be his close friend Kamel Eltaief. Ben Ali tells Eltaief that the security minister has assured him that things are going well.
Eltaief is explicitly preparing this idea.
“No, no, no. Things are changing fast and the troops are not enough,” his companion tells him.
Ben Ali interrupted him, asking: “Are you advising me to return now or not?” He has to repeat the question three times before Eltaief can answer correctly.
“Things are not going well,” Eltaief finally replied.
Ben Ali is the caller whom we believe to be the army chief, General Rachid Ammar. Ammar does not seem to know the words at the end of the line. “I am the President,” Ben Ali should tell him.
Ammar assures him that “everything is fine”. Once again, Ben Ali asks the same question he asked Eltaief – should he return to Tunisia now? Rachid tells him it would be better to “wait a bit”.
“If we see you can come back, we will let you know, Mr President,” Ammar told Ben Ali.
He also calls his defense minister, and asks if he should return to his homeland, and this time Grira makes it clear, telling Ben Ali that he “could not guarantee his safety” if he did.
Shortly after midnight, President Ben Ali’s plane landed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He orders the pilot to prepare for the return trip, and he and his family are escorted to King Faisal Palace Guest House.
But the pilot does not obey the order. He left Ben Ali and flew to Tunisia.
Returning to Saudi Arabia the next morning, Ben Ali again calls on his security minister. Grira agrees that the authorities do not control what happens on the streets. He tells Ben Ali that there is another matter for him to come. Ben Ali condemns this as a “Muslim” act, before talking about his return.
Grira now seems to be trying to match her boss.
“There’s a rage in the streets that I can’t explain,” Grira says. He seems to want to clarify the President, adding: “In order not to say I have misled you, the choice is yours.”
Ben Ali is trying to protect his reputation. “What did I do on the street?
“I’ll give you what’s going on, not explain” Grira replies.
On December 17, 2010, a Tunisian street vendor burned himself after being banned from selling produce.
His actions, and the subsequent death, sparked protests – more than 100 people died in the violence.
President Ben Ali addressed the nation on January 13, promising to take action on food prices.
In the evening Ben Ali flew with his family to Saudi Arabia
In a few hours a new government is being formed in Tunisia – one in which the same ministers, including Grira, retained their positions. Ben Ali did not return to his homeland, remaining in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, until his death in 2019.
Defense Minister Ridha Grira and Chief of Army Staff Rachid Ammar declined to comment on the video after being linked to the BBC. Ben Ali’s followers, Kamel Eltaief and Tarak Ben Ammar, have denied the allegations in a statement issued Friday stating “Similar, baseless allegations concerning Ben Ammar’s activities have been made more than once.
The BBC has been conducting a year-long investigation into whether the footage is accurate. It was reviewed by a number of leading experts in the UK and US who looked for signs of distortion or change, or to correct “falsehoods” that repeat the words fraudulently. No ideas of any kind can be found.
The BBC also tried to reassure the caller by calling what should be given to people who know at least one of the speakers who appears to be audible. The interviewees were three of Ben Ali’s security officials, leaders of his political party, and even a copyist.
All those who were contacted were able to identify the speakers and not raise any concerns about the facts. Other evidence also confirms the history of these phones, including what security minister Grira and Chief of Army Ammar said to the president on the plane, and the memory of Ammar is very much in line with what he called.
The photographs show how the dictator who ruled over an oppressive and dangerous world for 23 years was disillusioned and listened to the advice of his ministers during his last days. In 2011, while in exile in Saudi Arabia, Ben Ali received a life sentence in solitary confinement. protesters during riots.