Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Women of Carthage Palace | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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When Laila al-Trabelsi, wife of ousted President Ben Ali, was dethroned by the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, everyone stuck the knife in without mercy. They said that she had left Tunisia carrying a tonne and a half of gold – a claim which the Tunisian Central Bank has rejected. They claimed she was preparing to overthrow her husband within three years, but they failed to tell us how. She was labelled a ‘kingmaker’ – championing and bringing down anyone she pleased, and a ruthless real-estate, land and investment tycoon. In brief, everyone is sticking the knife in today, quenching their thirst by defaming Laila al-Trabelsi – the ‘common hairdresser’ who crept up to seize the title of Tunisia’s First Lady.

I’m not here to claim she is innocent of all or even some of these charges. However, the fact is that the Lady of Carthage cannot be given a fair evaluation in such a prevailing climate of hostility. It is worth noting that some of what has been said about her was also previously lodged against former female residents of Carthage Palace [the Tunisian President’s official residence]. Two examples of this include Wasila, the wife of former President Habib Bourguiba, and Saida Sassi, his niece. Some claim that Wasila held significant influence over the Tunisian political decision-making process, and that she in fact represented the gateway to the elite, for Tunisia’s aspiring cadres. Similar words were also said about Saida Sassi, who commanded special influence over her uncle’s decisions.

The women of Carthage Palace seem different to those in other Arab states, who are often detached from events or decisions taking place around them. The Carthage ladies had their own share of power, influence and impact. Perhaps this is due to a certain psychological characteristic within the female Tunisian mentality. Tunisian women acquired numerous rights relatively early in the Middle East, as a result of decisions which Bourguiba had enacted at the beginning of his reign, and thus they surpassed their peers across the Arab world. Perhaps such a psychological trait may also have its roots in ancient Tunisian culture.

The character assassination of Mrs. Laila al-Trabelsi, which has taken on unprecedented intensity after the fall of her husband, must have its foundations and motives. However I’m certain that these have been mixed together with wild exaggerations, like accusing her of leaving the country with masses of gold. At this stage, the worst thing that can happen to Tunisia is for its people to be driven by rumours, revenge, and anger and to behave with a mob mentality, in a subconscious state whereby the individual does not think for himself.

May God bless Tunisia.