The French secret service confirmed that the wife of Tunisian President Ben-Ali, Ms Trabelsi, went to the Bank of Tunisia with her staff in January and demanded that the 1.5 tonnes of gold bullion valued at about US $60 million be handed over to her for safekeeping.
When the bank president refused, a telephone call was said to have come from the President ordering that the handover take place. These reports have since been denied by the central bank.
A few hours later the President and the First Lady flew out of the country planning to seek refuge in France. However, they were diverted to Saudi Arabia after President Nicolas Sarkozy, hitherto a supporter, refused them permission to land.
..disaster: constitutional monarchy to republic…
It is a too familiar story.
An Arab constitutional monarchy in which there is at least some degree of political freedom and where minorities are well protected is overthrown. A republic is declared which is soon exposed as a dictatorship in which the ruling family enrich themselves, often proposing dynastic control.
Ousting the monarchy has invariably been a disaster.
Tunisia is a good example. President Ben-Ali held the office from 7 November, 1987, until he was forced to step down and flee the country on 14 January, 2011. Appointed Prime Minister in October 1987, he had seized the presidency in November 1987 in a bloodless coup d'état from then President for life Habib Bourguiba.
Bourguiba had overthrown the constitutional monarch, King Muhammad VIII al-Amin in 1957. President Ben Ali was subsequently re-elected with enormous majorities at every election, the last on 25 October, 2009.
[ We saw a similarly ludicrous majority in favour of a republic in Australia at that disgrace, the 2020 Summit. It served as a warning that our republican politicians are quite prepared to resort to the tools of a tinpot dictatorship.
Christopher Hitchens recently advised Arab dictators ( National Post 2/2) never to claim more than say 75% in any popular vote.]
On 26 January 2011, the Tunisian government issued an international arrest warrant for the arrest of Ben-Ali. It accused him of taking money out of the nation illegally and other offences.
The Swiss government then froze millions of dollars held in bank accounts by his family.
On 28 January 2011, Interpol issued an arrest warrant for Ben Ali and his six family members, including his wife Leila Trabelsi.
The events in Tunisia are generally believed to have triggered the unrest which is sweeping the Arab world, especially in Egypt.
…hereditary absolutist republics…
It was widely believed that the President planned that his wife should succeed him on his death.
Keeping it within the family is not at all unusual. Syria is a recent example.
In Egypt the only period of democratic government was under the constitutional monarchy which was overthrown in after the 1952 coup d'état against King Farouk by General Naquib and Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser.(“The Copts and the monarchy,” 17 January, 2011)
The Egyptian constitutional monarchy was one of the benefits bequeathed to Egypt by the British. The coup was supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, the Russians, the CIA and the American administration.
From the end of the protectorate in 1922, and even before, Egypt had become a robust and cosmopolitan parliamentary democracy. All races and religions were treated equally, especially the Copts the descendants of the original Egyptians.
King Farouk was not the most perfect monarch, and after his abdication was subjected to a government campaign mainly related to his personal life.
The criticism of him as King related to the conduct of the war with Israel and allegations that he was pro-British.
His republican successors were pro-Russian. They led the country into disastrous military encounters with Israel, expelled some of the most gifted communities – including the Greeks and Jews, persecuted the Copts and installed a dictatorship.
…government in the Arab, Muslim world..
It should be remembered that the concepts of limited government with checks and balances and the separation of church and state are not indigenous to Arab Muslim culture and have been imported from the West.
The only form of government which has offered good government in the principal countries of the Arab world has been constitutional monarchy on the British model, as it was in Egypt and Iraq and still is in Morocco. Indeed, a substantial Jewish minority remains in Morocco – most such communities were expelled either directly or though persecution.
The Lebanon seemed an exception, giving for two decades the appearance of effective constitutional government in a parliamentary republic. This was mainly because of the influence of the Christian communities whose philosophical orientation is essentially Western. But with demographic changes and increasing militant fundamentalism, the uneasy relationship between the religious communities ended in the long civil war from 1975 -1990.
An example of the advantages of a constitutional monarchy in a Muslim non-Arab country was that rare golden period when Afghanistan was at peace and governed democratically. This was under King Zahir Shah whose reign from 1933 marked the longest of stability known to Afghanistan.
The King turned Afghanistan into a constitutional monarchy, with democratic elections to a parliament, civil rights, and women’s liberation. He was overthrown in a coup d’état in 1975 and not My driver said things were going very well until a failed politician , Mohammed Daoud Khan, staged a coup d'état and declared Afghanistan a republic while the King was in Europe for an operation.
This was the beginning of the disaster, followed by dictatorship, the Soviet invasion and the rule of the Taliban. After the fall of the Taliban, there were calls for a return to the monarchy.
When he returned to Afghanistan, Nearly two thirds of the delegates to the loya jirga in 2002 signed a petition to make King Zahir Shah the interim head of state.
As an opinion piece in a prominent US newspaper ently pointed out, only “massive US interference behind the scenes in the form of bribes, secret deals, and arm twisting got the US-backed candidate for the job, Hamid Karzai, installed instead.”
The point is there is insufficient serious consideration by foreign offices , academics and others – and especially the US administration -of the potential for constitutional monarchy to solve constitutional issues in many countries.
The extraordinary success of constitutional monarchy on the ground should be reason enough. As we have long argued, the UN measure of wealth, education and health, the Human Development index has for two decades been dominated disproportionately by constitutional monarchies.
Too many dangerous opportunists are waiting in the wings in Egypt. The fear is that the present dynastic corrupt an authoritarian republic could be replaced by something worse. The Australian interest must especially be in the protection of the Copts who have suffered terrible persecution under the republic.