The wives of Arab dictators and despots often have a pet project they attend to (not really much different than Nancy Reagan’s obnoxious “Just Say No” or Barbara Bush’s read-to-children campaign). These projects are supposed to better the image of their tyrannical husbands. In that regard, these women are nothing more than active apologists for repression, torture and often killings.
The projects range from the silly and unoriginal: Queen Rayna of Jordan’s YouTube Q&A to improve the image of Arabs and Muslims all the while her authoritarian King stifles the domestic opposition once again presenting an image of an undemocratic Arab world.
To the hypocritical and pointless: The First Lady of Egypt, Suzanne Mubarak, has a so-called Institute for Peace Studies all the while Hosni Mubarak enforces the “peace of the slave” in Egypt and mercilessly takes part in a collective blockade of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza Stripe (alongside Israel and the United States).
Now do not let me get carried away, not all Arab regime wives are bad. Read my recent profile of the Queen of Qatar:
She has the money to do nothing but travel and buy herself the most luxurious gifts, but, instead, she has dedicated her time to noble causes. And unlike another Arab royal (more on her below), she does not announced a press conference whenever doing anything. She isn’t interested in attracting attention to prove anything to impress anyone, she does good because it is the right thing to do not to be invited to some gathering.
The queen is a special envoy for UNESCO, the UN body dealing with cultural preservation and education, for basic and higher education. And, the whole reason I noticed, she is a strong supporter of the Palestinian people and is trying to inform the world about what the Israeli occupation army did (it deliberately killed over 900 Palestinian civilians of whom over 400 were children) in Gaza.
But most are pure hypocrites. If they wanted to better the world, they should start with the problems in their own country. If one advocats for “peace” or “right” why not start with fundamental rights to free expression in Arab lands? Why give all these nice speeches on Western soil and not speak to one’s fellow citizens and using their influence with their husbands (they have more than you imagine) to bring about a more liberal Arab world? Queen Rayna only wins Western fans with her global travels, all the while Jordanians pay taxes to fund her adventures and then suffer persecution if they dare criticize (or “extend the tongue”) against the aloof King.
The Syrian First Lady – another wanna-be Western star – follows in Rayna’s footsteps. There are problems in Syria: repression, poverty, unemployment, poor educational institutions, ect… Those matter more than a boring speech about “empowering” this or that in London. But they’re concerned with adoring and naive Westerns whom pay accord them uncritical audiences while an Arab audience would call them out on their BS posturing and tell them to stop using public funds to lavish themselves with unearned gifts and tell their husbands to restrain and abolish his secret goons. Alas, they would never show up at a venue.
Of all the Arab wives I deplore, Tunisian First Lady Leila Ben Ali takes home every dishonor imaginable. She was previously a simply salon owner and the mistress to the current president (then prime minister) and upon getting pregnant lied to him and told him it was a boy. Unhappy with his first wife (whom bore him a daughter) and eager for a son, he divorced and brought Leila along for his new career as president (installing himself after dethroning President Bourguiba in a medical coup in which the senior president was declared senile – which was true and constitutional permissible).
Leila Ben Ali
Leila gave birth to a girl, but Ali was president now and divorcing while head of state was unacceptable (though Bourguiba did, but it was a French woman in order to marry a Tunisian woman like any proud Arab nationalist). Leila – raised poor and uneducated – made the most of her new status and brought her equally destitute and unlearned family along. She could have committed herself to education and national well-being, but decided to opt for a life of criminality and selfishness. The Trabelsi family – Leila’s maiden name – quickly became infamous in Tunisia. The head of the family – Leial’s brother Bel Hassan (a high school dropout) – erected his own mafia and benefited handsomely from privatization schemes in the 1990s. Securing “loans” from banks, the family moved to establish their own hotel chain, airline and travel agency (The Karthago Group). And once Ben Ali’s brother passed away, the Trabelsi’s inherited his drug trade. All this is known throughout Tunisia, and the family has a reputation of being thuggish when it doesn’t get its way. They, naturally, behave with impunity. It is a testament to their greed – which knows no bounds – that they are more feared and despised, and have engaged in more daylight theft than they Ben Alis. Imagine a dictatorship where the in-laws make more use of their power than they actual family name. There are too many stores to be told on the family.
And, worse yet, Leila aspires to be president and Ben Ali is apparently ailing (he is nearing 80). Her wishes will probably fall by the waste side, but pity the Tunisians for having to undergo her presence even for a few months more. Leila also has her empty causes: women’s rights and children. No self-respecting woman would seek to emulate her and she could not even properly bring up her daughter (whom became infamous for her youthful drinking and dating and who knows what else) let along “think of the children.”
And people here complain about Laura Bush and Michelle Obama.