Leila Trabelsi, wife of ousted Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, told a French publication that the couple was ready to face a trial back home.
Ben Ali, who fled with his wife to Saudi Arabia as popular protests swept Tunisia on January 14, 2011, has already been sentenced in absentia to decades in jail for the death of hundreds of protesters in the central towns where the Arab Spring began.
“I wouldn’t describe them as protests,” Trabelsi told Le Parisien magazine on Sunday in what was claimed as her first interview since she left Tunisia.
“For me it was an orchestrated and planned coup d’état, but I don’t know who led it.”
She said she did not believe “at all” it had been a spontaneous revolution born out of frustration among youth, although she admits that impulsive demonstrators did take to the streets “like everywhere else in the world.”
The newspaper said the interview was carried out via Skype from Ben Ali’s secret location in Saudi Arabia.
Trabelsi denied accusations that her husband had ordered the shootings of over 300 people in last year’s revolution.
When asked if Ben Ali had ordered the firing on protestors, she told Le Parisien: “Never. And to prove it, my husband’s lawyer has asked that recordings of conversations between the president and the interior and defense ministers be made available to judicial authorities.
“Strangely, the transitional government refused this request,” she said, repeating her charge that the popular protests were an orchestrated plot.
“I can only regret the loss of lives and I offer my sincere condolences to those families,” she told the publication.
“I don’t involve myself in politics,” she said. “My daily life is devoted to charity and social work. Apart from that I help my loved ones to live better, that’s true,” she added.
“But I never wanted to harm anyone. If I did, I apologize. ”
Riyadh has declined to comment on Ben Ali’s extradition and there have been consistent rumors about his health.
Le Parisien said the 75-year-old had briefly shown himself behind his veiled wife during the interview wearing a white polo shirt.
Trabelsi, who admits there could have been more political freedom during her husband’s rule, read a message from him saying he regretted Tunisians had forgotten about his contributions in his 23-year rule that improved peoples’ lives.
“I deplore the fact that people have forgotten that over 23 years their lives improved greatly ... and Tunisia became a modern country. I hope that my compatriots will render me justice by remembering the journey we took together,” former president Ben Ali said in the message relayed through his wife.
“I hope that in the twilight of my life I will retain my honor”, he added.
Speaking of events on the day they left the country, Trabelsi said that at no point had they envisaged leaving for good and that her husband had called her suggesting they travel to Saudi Arabia for a pilgrimage to “let things calm down.”
“My husband was already at the airport and (security chief) Ali Seriati did everything to convince him to leave even though he didn’t want to. We had no luggage, money or passports,” she said.
“We are ready to face a trial in our country if it is fair and without excess or favor,” the 55-year-old said. “For the present, there is nothing but hatred and vengeance.”
In a book entitled “My Truth” and released last month, Leila Ben Ali admitted that her family’s role led to their ultimate ouster from power.