The popular uprising in 2010 that overthrew the 23-year dictatorship of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was fueled by the venality of his family and the relatives of his wife, Leila Trabelsi.
Yet since then the problem of corruption has only worsened. Whereas it used to benefit just a tight circle around the president, it now encompasses a wider circle of thousands.
Over the last several years it has infected large portions of the public sector in what has become known as the “democratization of corruption,” as crime bosses have paid for influence in the media, political parties and the police and judiciary.
Mr. Chahed declared a war on corruption when he took over the government in August, with little evident progress. But now he is casting the problem as a security issue.
“We are persuaded there is a link between smuggling, terrorism financing, cross-border activities and also capital flight,” Mr. Chahed said, promising more arrests ahead.
Already they are piling up. This month, Moncef el Materi, a close associate linked by marriage to the former president and his wife, was arrested in France, apparently at the request of the Tunisian authorities. He had been wanted since 2011.
One of the biggest smuggling barons, Chafik Jarraya, was arrested May 23 and charged with treason and intelligence links to a neighboring country — widely understood to be Libya. He is in military custody and will appear before a military tribunal.
At least nine others have been detained under the country’s state of emergency law. Preliminary charges include smuggling, the illegal registration of real estate and failure to report income, according to news agency reports.
Human Rights Watch, among others, has criticized the government’s use of a military tribunal and state of emergency laws to try civilians, but the prime minister insisted that everything was within the law.
“We are not targeting people…