The plane carrying him and his family was reported to have originally tried to fly to France. However, French President Nicolas Sarkozy refused to allow him into the country. Other countries were reported to have denied him entry. After over-flying Malta and then refueling in Sardinia, his aircraft flew into Jeddah.
After his arrival the Royal Court in Riyadh put out a statement saying: “The government of Saudi Arabia understands the exceptional situation that the people of Tunisia are facing and hopes that stability and security will return to this beloved Arab and Muslim country.
“On this basis of this and of its support for action that aids the wellbeing of the Tunisian people, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia welcomed President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and his family to the Kingdom.
“Saudi Arabia while also announcing its full backing for the people of Tunisia, hopes for greater cooperation between Tunisians so they can surmount this difficult phase in their history.”
Saudi Arabia has in the past given asylum to political leaders from elsewhere provided they promise to undertake no political activities whatsoever doing their stay in the Kingdom. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif stayed in the Kingdom under the same conditions when he was exiled from Pakistan following the military coup that brought Pervez Musharraf to power in 1999.
Ben Ali’s arrival has had mixed local reaction. A number of Saudi bloggers expressed strong distaste for the former president but hoped that his departure would end violence in Tunisia.
A number of political scientists in Saudi Arabia hoped that violence in the Arab country would die down in the coming days.
Waheed Hashim, professor of political science at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, believed that the violence in the country would disappear gradually, adding that various political parties and NGOs would play their role to cool down the public.
Sadik Al-Malki, another professor in the university, said it would be difficult to get the public back off the streets once they are there, adding that people with vested interests would exploit the situation to fish in troubled waters.