Corruption ranking: 59 of 178
The Deal: First Lady isn't just a title for Leila Ben Ali, wife of the president of Tunisia. She and her family have become the economic brokers of the modern Tunisia, the leaked cables claim. In the summer of 2007, for example, the Tunisian government gave Ben Ali the land to build a new international school -- and about $1.5 million to start it. Together with co-owner Suha Arafat, widow of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Ben Ali turned the Carthage International School into a hot spot for the children of the Tunis elite. (It helped when, not long after, the government shut down Carthage's elite rival, the Bouebdelli School.) But just months after Ben Ali and Arafat began their apparently successful partnership, the two had a falling out over the school. The Tunisian government then revoked Arafat's visa while she was away in Malta. Effectively exiled, Arafat called the U.S. Embassy in Tunis to complain, blaming the whole mess on Ben Ali. By mid-2008, Ben Ali had sold the school "for a huge, but undisclosed sum," a cable claims. "[Source] noted any such sale would be pure profit since Ms. Ben Ali received land, infrastructure, and a hefty bonus at no cost."
The Dirt: To do business in Tunisia, you have to be in with "the Family" -- the First Family, that is, according to the Americans. "Whether it's cash, services, land, property, or yes, even your yacht, President Ben Ali's family is rumored to covet it and reportedly gets what it wants," the same 2008 cable notes. But Tunisians don't seem to blame Ben Ali himself for these misdealing; that honor goes to his wife's "Trabelsi clan," which includes the first lady and the families of her 10 siblings.
Whoever's at fault, what's clear is that corruption is getting worse in Tunisia on every level, the cables say. One source joked to the embassy that when inflation rose, even the price of bribes went up. Petty corruption muddies every transaction -- from getting into schools to winning government jobs, the cable explains. And even foreign businesses are taking the hint:
The prime example remains McDonald's failed entry into Tunisia. When McDonald's chose to limit Tunisia to one franchisee not of the GOT's [government of Tunisia] choosing, the whole deal was scuttled by the GOT's refusal to grant the necessary authorization and McDonald's unwillingness to play the game by granting a license to a franchisee with Family connections.
Tunisia has not taken fondly to the allegations reported in the cables, and last week it blocked the website of the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, which had published the cables, the Guardian reported.
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