Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a former Tunisian president, who was forced out of power in an uprising in 2011, has died at the age of 83.
Ali, who ruled the North African country for more than 20 years, went into exile by the landmark uprising, which ignited revolts across the Arab world.
He died in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, according to Tunisia’s foreign ministry.
The revolution, known as the Arab Spring, which brought Ben Ali down, ignited similar protests against other authoritarian leaders across the part of Africa. It also led to the removal of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Moamer Kadhafi in the same year.
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The former soldier took power on November 7, 1987, when he toppled Habib Bourguiba; the ailing father of Tunisian independence, who was said to be senile at the time.
“I needed to re-establish the rule of law,” Ben Ali told a French television channel in 1988.
“The president was ill and his inner circle was harmful.”
Tunisians, including Islamists, praised his bloodless and non-violent takeover.
He went on to make Tunisia a moderate voice in the Arab world, while Western governments perceived him as an effective tool of defense against Islamist extremism, despite criticism of his slow embrace of democratic values.
He started his rule by scrapping the title of “president for life” created by Bourguiba, and limiting the number of presidential terms to three.
He launched a “solidarity” policy, creating a special fund for the underprivileged and a social security system. He also stood for education and rights of women.