Tunis – Tunisia’s ousted autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali died in exile in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, days after a free presidential election in his homeland. He was 83.
He had been in intensive care in a hospital for three months after battling prostate cancer for years.
“Ben Ali just died in Saudi Arabia,” family lawyer Mounir Ben Salha told Reuters news agency by phone.
Tunisia’s foreign minister confirmed his death.
Ben Ali fled Tunisia in January 2011 as his compatriots rose up against his oppressive rule in a revolution that inspired other Arab Spring uprisings abroad and led to a democratic transition at home.
On Sunday, Tunisians voted in an election that featured candidates from across the political spectrum, sending two political outsiders through to a second-round vote – something unthinkable during Ben Ali’s own era of power.
However, while they have enjoyed a much smoother march to democracy than citizens of the other Arab states that also rose up in 2011, many Tunisians are economically worse off than they were under Ben Ali.
The Death of Fear
While almost all the candidates in Sunday’s election were vocal champions of the revolution, one of them, Abir Moussi, campaigned as a supporter of Ben Ali’s ousted government, receiving four percent of the vote.
“Tunisians themselves – if this most recent election on Sunday is any indication – have moved on from the Ben Ali regime,” Leo Siebert from the United States Institute of Peace told Al Jazeera.
“Tunisia has firmly moved into democracy and to multi-party politics, and the death of Ben Ali spells kind of an important end for autocracy in Tunisia.”