It’s been two years since the revolution that swept Tunisia’s long-time president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power.
Ben Ali was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia, but it he left behind a palace-full of luxury possessions.
The CBC’s Middle East correspondent Sasa Petricic went to a sale of the former dictator’s belongings.
He speaks with anchor Aaron Schachter about some of the items that were up for sale.
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Aaron Schachter: Israel is one of several countries the President will visit during his trip to the Middle East next month. He’s also expected to make stops in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan. One Mid-East country not on the itinerary is Tunisia. The North African country plunged into political chaos this week when the country’s Prime Minister quit. It’s the latest turmoil in Tunisia since the revolution there got the Arab Spring rolling. That revolution swept long-time President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from power after 24 years. Ben Ali was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia. But it seems he wasn’t able to pack up some of his most prized possessions. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Mid-East correspondent Sasa Petricic joins us now. Sasa, as you’ve reported, Tunisia is holding a fire sale to make some money off the former dictator’s loot. First of all, where was this luxury garage sale held?
Sasa Petricic: Well Aaron, the sale was held in this shabby, old casino – actually a building that was built for a casino but never used in that way and now it’s home to this garage sale.
Schachter: Yeah and there are some incredible stuff there including a number of cars like Lamborghinis and Bentleys. What were some of the other vehicles that were there for those looking for something special?
Petricic: Well, if you wanted to pick up maybe an Aston Martin, there was one particular model that was handmade in Britain. There’s a little plaque inside that actually says that. It has the name of the owner who happens to be the son-in-law of Ben Ali himself. This car apparently is only one of two of this model that was ever built in the world. Reportedly, the other one belongs or belonged to Elton John. There’s a couple of others as well – a Mercedes that was a gift from Moammar Gadhafi, the former dictator in Libya next door. And then, mixed in among these very unique cars were Rolls Royce, many, many BMWs, even a Volkswagen Touareg that looked like a family car that was being used by one of Ben Ali’s children. So, a real mixture of things, but really several dozen luxury cars – some of them armor-plated – all up for sale and if you want to put a bid in, they’re there.
Schachter: Yes. So, this is an auction; there are no price tags on them.
Petricic: That’s right.
Schachter: Now, there were also household goods – Xboxes, fridges and some nice shiny items as well.
Petricic: Well, yeah. You know, when you get into that section where you really see and get this feeling of a household up for sale, it has everything from curtains that were taken off the windows. There are many, many shoes that used to belong to his wife, fur coats. There are jackets, other pieces of clothing, his own shirts, his own shoes. And then, the things that were a little bit more unique here were gifts that were brought from foreign leaders when Ben Ali hosted these various Heads of State in his palace. These were golden camels, and cut-crystal stallions, and Buddhas on sort of podiums, and a great deal of this kind of stuff that I’m not quite sure where you would put in a regular household, but that’s also up for sale.
Schachter: We’re making light of this just a bit because of some of the outrageous luxury items for sale, but there is a serious side to this. Tunisia needs to sell this stuff to make money.
Petricic: They do. They do. I think there’s really two purposes for selling this. One of it is, in fact, to make money. The economy is shrinking. It hasn’t been doing well since the revolution. The jobless rate is very, very high in some cases over 50 percent, so this is a big problem. The other side, though, is really to put that whole era behind them. You know, Ben Ali’s ghost really hangs around the entire country. You see it everywhere. Everybody still knows of him. Everybody still kind of fears him a little bit. In a way, this is a step in the direction of getting rid of that.
Schachter: The CBC’s Middle East correspondent Sasa Petricic who has been to a sale of former Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s possessions. You can read more of Sasa’s great story on our website theworld.org. Sasa, thank you.
Petricic: My pleasure Aaron.
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