Former Tunisian first lady admits to ‘fatal mistakes’ in memoirs


The memoirs of the former First Lady of Tunisia, Leila Trabelssi, finally saw the light of day in Paris and reveal a lot of details about the revolution, the famed escape from Carthage, and corruption charges leveled at the ruling clique.

In the French memoirs entitled Ma Vérité (My Truth) and published by Editions du Moment, the wife of former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, admitted to “fatal mistakes” committed by her family, which was much hated in Tunisia, and said that some of her relatives abused the privileges given to them by virtue of being the first lady’s family.

“Some of my relatives, especially younger ones, got too greedy and wanted the maximum profit they could get.”

Trabelssi said that the actions of her family members constituted Ben Ali’s major drawback, yet contended that their mistakes were blown out of proportion.

“My relatives’ mistakes were exaggerated outside Tunisia for the purpose of toppling the regime.”

Trabelssi recounts the story of the revolution that ousted her husband on January 14, 2011 which she calls a “planned coup” staged by the Tunisian army and Director of Presidential Guard General Ali Seriati.

“People from impoverished areas were mobilized and given money in order to carry out organized violence and vandalism and to incite massive protests. Snipers were also recruited.”

She adds that her husband received a phone call from the French intelligence telling him that a suicide operative infiltrated the presidential guard and was planning to carry out a massacre in the palace.

“Ben Ali got worried about his family and Seriati took advantage of that to put pressure on him to leave and deceived him into thinking that he would be back the following day.”

Although Trabelssi held Seriati, who has been in jail since Ben Ali’s ouster, accountable for her husband’s departure, she does not explicitly implicate the Tunisian army and only alludes to its role.

Trabelssi writes about the first time she met Ben Ali, who is 21 years her senior, and denied rumors that spread in Tunisia about her taking lovers.

She also talks about her daily life in Saudi and says that she spends her time taking care of her husband and children.

“I hardly go out and I don’t mix with people and I pray all the time.”

Trabelssi expressed her readiness to present herself before the Tunisian judiciary provided that she gets a fair trial.

“The verdicts issued till now against my husband and I are populist ones, but if we can make sure the verdicts will be objective and the judges will be fair we will face trial in Tunisia.”

The book, which features on its cover Trabelssi in a white headscarf and black sunglasses, has been stirring much controversy in Tunisia.

Some believe the memoir is incomplete and does not satisfy the curiosity of the Tunisian people.

“We need to know everything that happened on January 14 especially this bit about a conspiracy,” Naji Abdul Sattar, an employee at Tunis Air told France Press.

For Salma Jabbas, manager of al-Kitab bookstore, one of the most famous in the capital Tunis, Trabelssi’s memoirs are full of lies.

“That is why we chose not to display it in our bookstore,” she said. “We will only get it if a customer asks for it.”

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)