The ex-president of Tunisia, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, was one of the richest men of his country. His luxury items, including cars, furniture and jewellery, are estimated to worth around 13 million US dollars. Although the presidential family took what belongings they could upon their hasty departure from Tunisia, the biggest share has been left behind, and is not subject to the new government’s commission on confiscation.
In the new government’s enthusiasm to get rid of Ben Ali once and for all, these luxury goods were sold off on a public auction. 40 top-of-the-range cars and gold and diamond jewellery and furnishings were exhibited in the Cleopatra stands in the suburb of Tunis. For an entry fee of around 20 euros per person, anyone could bear witness of how the “glory” of the Ben Ali regime was publicly sold off. Still, many contested the entry fee, being too much for the average Tunisian, and claimed that entry should have been free for all citizens, as the exhibited luxury had been bought by Ben Ali on the citizens’ money.
Adding to the already existing popular discontent against Ben Ali and the satisfaction after his departure, revolutionary images were scattered around the place: flags and slogans stood next to portraits of martyrs of the revolution. While the sales were made public, Ben Ali’s relatives and the close ones were prohibited from making any purchase, either on the fixed-price sales, or on the auction.
Selling out Ben Ali carries several possible motifs. Not only is this an economic gesture, recovering the economic loss Ben Ali’s luxury is seen to have produced (it is also doubtful whether or not the revenue from the sales and the entry fees will be reinvested in the economy of Tunisia and be used to decrease unemployment and resolve the major issues of the country). But it is also a political sign, declaring that Ben Ali is gone and is not welcome anymore. Both as a means and a political sign, the action is strong and meaningful on the global scale, and produced a wide echo worldwide. It is also a signal to other regional autocrats, and also a warning that says: watch out, you are not welcome here anymore!
The fate of Ben Ali’s treasures could be the fate of any next regime to fall, and could be still the fate of those already fallen.