Former Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the first leader to be toppled by the Arab Spring revolts, died Thursday in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia's foreign ministry said. He was 83.

With the burial of exiled former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, Tunisia is turning the page on more than two decades of nepotism and repression with a large dose of indifference.

Forced out of Tunisia on January 14, 2011, by weeks of popular outrage spurred by the self-immolation of a market trader protesting police harassment and unemployment, Ben Ali died on Thursday in the Saudi city of Jeddah.

His death did not feature especially heavily either in the news or the conversations of ordinary Tunisians, in a country that is in the midst of elections.

Reflecting the pluralism that has emerged since Ben Ali’s downfall, two non-establishment candidates made it through the first round of a presidential poll held on Sunday – one a socially conservative academic committed to radical decentralisation of power, the other a populist media magnate currently behind bars.

The funeral of the former president took place in the Muslim holy city of Medina in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, according to a small notice published in La Presse newspaper.

Heavy sentences

Some of his family will receive condolences in an upmarket suburb of Tunis on Sunday.

The former leader’s wife – Leila Trabesli who has led a comfortable and discreet life in exile with daughters Nesrine and Halima along with son Mohamed – has little incentive to return home.

She faces heavy sentences for embezzlement, alongside possession of weapons, drugs and archaeological artefacts.

Ben Ali himself was sentenced several times to life in prison, including for the bloody suppression of protests in the last weeks of his autocratic rule, which killed more than 300 people.

He never faced justice.

“The second president of the Tunisian republic henceforth belongs to history, and history will judge him,” said his Lebanese lawyer, Akram Azouri.

Several trials are ongoing, notably under the auspices of the truth and dignity commission, which is mandated to shine a light on violations committed between 1955 and 2013.

The commission has collected witness testimony, documents and information from official archives so that those implicated in serious abuses can be judged by special courts.

Fourteen public hearings have, meanwhile, brought a measure of closure for relatives of the disappeared.

They have also seen public testimony on the network of corruption established by Ben Ali’s nephew, Imed Trabelsi, who was a pillar of the regime.

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