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Tunisians hail fall of ex-leader's corrupt family

Jan 17, 2011 3:05:00 PM - thestate.com
Tunisians couldn't stand her even more than they couldn't stand him.

The end of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's iron-fisted, 23-year rule brought joy to many ordinary people in this North African nation - and they were especially elated at the prospect of life without his wife and her rapacious family.

The clan of former first lady Leila Trabelsi, a one-time hairdresser who rose to become Tunisia's most influential woman, was widely despised as the ultimate symbol of corruption and excess. Leila and her 10 siblings are said to have operated like a mafia, extorting money from shop owners, demanding a stake in businesses large and small, and divvying up plum concessions among themselves.

Their control over the North African country's economy was vast. The Trabelsi and Ben Ali's own families were said to have a stake in Tunisian banks and airlines, car dealerships, Internet providers, radio and television stations, industry and big retailers.

And when mass protests forced Ben Ali to flee Friday to Saudi Arabia, his peoples' pent-up rage was directed more at Leila's side of the family than at her husband and his authoritarian regime.