World Politics

Lawyer: Tunisia's toppled ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali dies

Key Points
  • Ben Ali led Tunisia for 23 years before being toppled by bloody protests that unleashed a wave of revolt across the Arab world.
  • He was being treated for prostate cancer and had been hospitalized last week.
Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali is pictured in his Presidential Palace in on September 6, 1988 in Carthage, Tunisia.
Francois Lochon | Gamma-Rapho | Getty Images

Former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, an autocrat who led his country for 23 years before being toppled by bloody protests that unleashed a wave of revolt across the Arab world, died Thursday at age 83, according to his lawyer.

Ben Ali, was lived in exile in Saudi Arabia, died in Jeddah and his body is to be transferred to Mecca, awaiting the family's decision on a burial, lawyer Mounir Ben Salha told the Associated Press.

Ben Ali was being treated for prostate cancer and had been hospitalized last week.

His ouster as Tunisia's president in 2011 unleashed what became known as the Arab Spring, a movement that saw many autocratic leaders swept from power.

Convicted repeatedly of corruption after he fled to Saudi Arabia, Ben Ali was widely detested after Tunisia's jasmine revolution, but some supporters started calling for his return as economic and security troubles plagued the country's new democracy.

As president, Ben Ali's image was plastered for decades on billboards and buildings across the country, his face remaining strangely ageless despite the passage of time, his hair still jet-black. It seemed that only death would end his grip on power.

But as revolt swept the country in late 2010 and early 2011, fueled by anger about corruption, repression and unemployment, demonstrators set fire to his photo — a once-unthinkable act. After Ben Ali was ousted from power on Jan. 14, 2011, his picture was peeled off buildings and billboards nationwide like old wallpaper.

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