When Tunisians woke up one historic morning in 1987 to learn of the constitutional accession to the presidency of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, it was the dawn of an era of rapid reform for this ancient but dynamic North African country.
In a historic declaration broadcast on national radio on a day now referred to as the Change of November 7th, Ben Ali called on his fellow citizens to join him in developing an open, democratic society built on progress and equal chances for all.
The country welcomed the change with relief. The new president brought a message the nation had long waited for: A message of confidence and hope. The protracted ordeal of a declining regime was finally over.
Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was born on September 3, 1936 in Hammam-Sousse, to a moderate-income family, which brought him up to respect tradition and imbued him with a sense of dignity, patriotism and respect for others. From his family upbringing he developed a propensity for simplicity, hard work and rigor, as well as a sense of moderation and tolerance.
While still in the Sousse secondary school, Ben Ali responded to the call of patriotic duty. Outraged by colonial oppression, he became active in the nationalist movement, acting as liaison between the regional structures of the Neo-Destour Party and the armed struggle. As a result, he was imprisoned and excluded from all educational establishments in Tunisia.
Yet he did not give up his studies and soon resumed them with enough energy and determination to persevere into higher education after completing secondary school. Recognizing Ben Ali's outstanding qualities, the party sent him abroad to pursue his higher training as part of a group that was to form the nucleus of the future national army.
He first graduated from the Special Interservice School in Saint-Cyr (France), then from equally prestigious schools: the Artillery School in Chalons-sur-Marne (France), and the Senior Intelligence School (Maryland , USA) and the School of Anti-Aircraft Field Artillery
(Texas, USA). He also holds a degree in electronic engineering.