Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s former autocratic president whose extravagant life and oppressive rule inspired the 2011 Arab Spring revolts, died on Thursday in exile in Saudi Arabia, the Tunisian state news agency reported. He was 83.
The death of Mr. Ben Ali came just days after Tunisians voted in national elections, a new milestone in their nation’s transformation into the Arab world’s purest democracy.
Mr. Ben Ali was the first of the autocrats to be ousted in the uprisings that roiled the Middle East nearly nine years ago. He fled Tunisia with his family in January 2011 for Saudi Arabia, where the ruling monarchy allowed him to live quietly and rejected Tunisian requests for his extradition.
Six months after he fled, a Tunisian court sentenced him and his wife, Leila Trabelsi, to 35 years in prison and a $66 million fine after a trial in absentia for embezzlement and corruption.
He also was accused of possessing illicit drugs, guns and purloined archaeological treasures in his palaces, as well as ordering the killings of those who opposed his 23-year-long grip on power.
His lavish lifestyle, as many Tunisians struggled economically, is widely regarded as a major catalyst of the Arab Spring protests that would later embroil Egypt, Syria, Libya, Bahrain and Yemen.
Mr. Ben Ali’s disregard for the plight of his fellow citizens was embedded in history when a fruit seller named Mohamed Bouazizi immolated himself after a confrontation with the police, setting off the protests that toppled Mr. Ben Ali.
A complete obituary is forthcoming.