“I am the defunct lady; daughter of the defunct regime; I am the leader in the absence of the leader.” These words, from a poem written by Leila Makki, have been echoed in some public demonstrations in the streets of Tunisia, but her poem also attracted a lot of criticism.

“I am the defunct lady; daughter of the defunct regime; I am the leader in the absence of the leader.” These words, from a poem written by Leila Makki, have been echoed in some public demonstrations in the streets of Tunisia, but her poem also attracted a lot of criticism. Some condemned her praise of former president and dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, currently living in exile in Saudi Arabia, while others saw her poem merely as an unknown poet’s attempt to win fame for campaign to nominate Ben Ali for the presidential election in November.

Leila Makki talked about her campaign and her loyalty to Ben Ali and his former ruling party.

By collecting signatures with your campaign “Together towards challenges, Ben Ali is the man of achievement,” do you really aspire to reinstate the former president after the revolution that toppled him in 2011?

My campaign is focused on reinstating the former president to his homeland. I submitted a request to the Interior Ministry to authorize this campaign, because I grew up believing in the principles of the rule of the law and state institutions. I look forward to receiving the approval of Interior Minister Lutfi Ben Jeddo, so I can start my campaign. Should my request be turned down, I would have had the honour of starting that attempt, and making my voice heard by the silent majority that loves the leader Ben Ali.

What is your aim behind choosing the campaign’s slogan, “Together towards challenges,” which was Ben Ali’s campaign slogan in 2009?

I belong to the former Constitutional Democratic Rally [Ben Ali’s party] and I am proud to be an advocate of that party. Therefore my campaign must have a link with the past, and the slogan responds to the old image.

During the revolution, the Tunisian people raised the slogan “Yes for bread and water, no for Ben Ali,” having been subjected to injustice, the restriction of freedoms, and dictatorship from the former regime for more than 23 years. What qualities do you find in Ben Ali as a leader for Tunisia that his people do not see?

Ben Ali brought about social justice, and provided food, security and stability for his people, and these elements have always been essential for a decent quality of life. This, in my view, is the measure of success for any leader. In Ben Ali’s era, Tunisia was the country of security and peace; terrorism did not exist, and could only enter our country after the departure of the country’s honest guardian. Besides, the spirit of Islam prevailed during the reign of Ben Ali through established projects aimed at supporting the poor; something I have not seen during the troika era [Tunisia’s tripartite rule after the 2011 elections].

But don’t you think the worsening security, social, and economic situation today is a result of the failure of the old regime?

No, the former regime did not fail at all, if you look at the evidence we were a state that grew economically and socially. Despite its meagre natural resources, our country invested in human capital to achieve progress and success. Tunisia focused on education, an achievement attributed to Habib Bourguiba, the first Tunisian president, and his successor Ben Ali.

But don’t you consider your campaign a betrayal of the spirit of the revolution, a stab at the martyrs’ families, against the price paid by all Tunisians to get rid of Ben Ali and his regime?

I do not consider it a betrayal. I view it rather as a correction of the course, because the people today have a feeling of remorse. What benefits did they get from the revolution? Their share of it was killings, penetration of terrorism, and a loss of state authority. True, it was a revolution of dignity, but the truth is that Tunisians’ dignity has been hijacked and wasted.

The Tunisian revolution has given the people freedom of expression and laid the foundation for a new democracy. Do you deny that?

Sorry, I reject this type of democracy, which is based on a double-standard. It is a manipulation of young people’s minds, which is sending them off to jihad on the pretext of religion. I reject a democracy that exploits the poor to sell electoral illusions.

Tunisia is full of intellectuals who would be able to lead the country and manage its affairs. Is it reasonable to seek the help of an overthrown and prosecuted person who is viewed by some as an over 70-year-old crook?

During that time, a few people worked with dedication, while the vast majority wreaked havoc on the country. My love for Ben Ali and loyalty to his party are not inconsistent with the criticism I have for the prevailing situation at the time. Everyone in the political arena are crooks except for those who remain faithful to their political beliefs. For example, Beji Caid el Sebsi, who is older than Ben Ali, has been nominated for the presidency. He was a cabinet minister under Ben Ali. Is it reasonable to support branches and abandon the trunk?

To prove your allegiance to Ben Ali, you have written a poem entitled “The Defunct Daughter of the Defunct Regime,” which attracted a lot of criticism, some of which was aimed at you personally. People demanded that you apologise to the Tunisian people.

Yes, that is true and I add that God decides one’s fate. Therefore, I will support what I believe is right. Should I die, I will be a martyr for Ben Ali’s cause and I shall remain loyal to Ben Ali.

Whatever you do, Ben Ali will not return as president; his era is a thing of the past. Will you praise the upcoming president in the future?

Absolutely not. I wrote a poem in praise of Ben Ali because I admired his humanitarian side and I am convinced he could have offered a lot for our country had it not been for his entourage. I also wrote a eulogy for the late leader Habib Bourguiba because he gave a lot for the country. I shall write a whole book about Ben Ali, but I will never write anything about the next president.