Deposed Tunisian strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was handed a third life sentence by a military court on Tuesday. His crimes are long and varied: violent repression of protests, embezzlement, illegal narcotics possession, housing fraud and (unsurprisingly) abuse of power. Alas, like many of his top cronies and family members — notably his favorite son-in-law, who received asylum from the Seychelles earlier this month — Ben Ali is well out of reach of Tunisia’s judiciary. (Not to mention the revolutionaries behind the 2011 rebellion that ousted him, still thirsting for blood.)
The irony that this frustrated thirst for justice — three life sentences! — is playing out against a background of crumbling national stability will not be lost on the ex-dictator, and it is easy to imagine that the politician in him derives satisfaction from watching Tunisia falter in his (now legally necessary) absence. This irony is heightened by the fact that the same factions he suppressed during his regime are now threatening the current Islamist-led government’s survival. But Ben Ali is not the only one watching. Tunisia’s leading secular opposition group Nidaa Tounes — which saw its approval ratings surpass those of the ruling coalition for the first time in March — is already circling: founder Beji Caid Essebsi announced his presidential candidacy on Monday for the upcoming (but as yet unscheduled) national elections.