In mid-January 2011, in a televised statement, Muammar el-Qaddafi warned Tunisians against being tricked by “WikiLeaks, which publishes information written by lying ambassadors in order to create chaos.”
Almost two weeks before the desperate young fruit-seller Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire on a street in Tunis and a full month before the uprising that ensued, touching off the “Arab Spring” that is still unfolding, the rationale for revolution appeared on the Internet, where it was devoured by millions of Tunisians. It was a WikiLeaks document pertaining to the unexampled greed and massive corruption of Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and all his money-hungry family, World Affairs Journal reports.
The most memorable details were in a dispatch written by Robert F. Godec, the US ambassador to Tunisia, who had dined a year earlier in the lovely seaside resort of Hammamet. His host was Mohamed Sakher El Materi, the prosperous son-in-law of Ben Ali. The luxurious appointments of the Materi mansion, its lavish display and flaunted wealth clearly struck a chord in the American. Roman columns and ancient frescoes adorned the cream-colored home; an infinity pool shimmered beneath a 50-meter terrace, its constant supply of water pouring liberally from an ancient lion’s head, Godec reported in a passage subheaded “Al-Materi Unplugged.” And that wasn’t all:
“Al-Materi has a large tiger (‘Pasha’) on his compound, living in a cage,” Godec wrote. “He acquired it when it was a few weeks old. The tiger consumes four chickens a day.” As for the family itself, its members gobbled their own gustatory treats—fish, turkey, steak, and octopus were followed that night by ice cream and frozen yogurt freshly flown in from Saint-Tropez. The talk on the night Godec was present, however, focused less on the gourmet items than the cash required to keep them coming. The already wealthy son-in-law wanted to acquire a McDonald’s franchise in Tunisia, and he needed help from the US.
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Tunisia happens to have the highest percentage of Facebook users in the world—“Something like two million among ten million people have their own Facebook account,” Radwan Masmoudi, president for the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, told a British newspaper. Since the information on the site is constantly being passed along, it is almost inconceivable that the fruit-seller Bouazizi, a frustrated university graduate of twenty-six, didn’t know the contents of Godec’s leaked report. On November 28th of last year, a TuniLeaks site was created—the very day the New York Times began posting the materials it had received from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Al Jazeera, too, which enjoys tremendous popularity in Tunisia, had drummed the WikiLeaks revelations into the consciousness of disgusted citizens. When that brutal policewoman told Bouazizi that his cart would be confiscated because he didn’t have a proper license, the contrast between the fruit-seller’s own shabby, miserable existence—an existence that allowed the policewoman to slap him around and spit in his face—with that of Pasha, the pampered tiger munching four chickens a day, must have been unbearable.
Read more: World Affairs Journal