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UMMA / Ben Ali's son-in-law Sakhr El-Matri: A rising force in Tunisia
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Date of publication at Tlaxcala: 29/12/2010
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TuniLeaks
Ben Ali's son-in-law Sakhr El-Matri: A rising force in Tunisia
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Robert F. Godec

 

 

Sakher El Materi, the son-in-law of President Ben Ali – he married his daughter Nesrine in 2004 – has promptly raised to Tunisia’s richest man. According to some rumours, he could become the successor of the life-time dictator. In these 3 wikileaked cables from 2009, former US Ambassador to Tunis Ambassador Robert F. Godec reported about Sakher El Materi.

Ben Ali's son-in-law Sakhr El-Matri: A rising force in Tunisia

09TUNIS108 Date26/02/2009 01:59 OriginEmbassy Tunis ClassificationSECRET//NOFORN Header
VZCZCXYZ0008

PP RUEHWEB
DE RUEHTU #0108/01 0571359
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 261359Z FEB 09
FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6000
INFO RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
Content
S E C R E T TUNIS 000108
NOFORN
SIPDIS
NEA/FO (HKALMBACH, OBLAIR)
NEA/MAG (SWILLIAMS,JPATTERSON,MHAYES)
INR (TKING)
E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/20/2019
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PINR, TS
SUBJECT: BEN ALI'S SON-IN-LAW SAKHR EL-MATRI: A RISING FORCE IN TUNISIA (C-NE8-01892)
REF: A. 08 STATE 97689
B. 08 TUNIS 847
Classified By: Ambassador Robert F. Godec for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (S/NF) Mohamed Sakhr El-Matri, the President's son-in-law, is viewed by many as a possible successor to President Ben Ali. Ref B reported his election to the ruling Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) party's Central Committee in July 2008. Since his election to the Central Committee, however, he has not played up his political role.
He is also the head of the RCD's local organization in Carthage. Some observers here speculated that the Ben Ali family has instructed him to keep a low profile until after Ben Ali's expected re-election in October 2009. Instead, he has continued to focus on economic issues and expand his business empire, including pursuing opening a religious-themed TV station and a new Islamic bank both named Zeitouna, building on his Quranic radio station.
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Bilateral Relations
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2. (S/NF) The Ambassador met with El-Matri February 2, and found him willing to comment frankly on US-Tunisian relations and other issues. El-Matri said that, although bilateral relations are excellent, there are times when communication could be better. He mentioned that some GOT officials had fixed views that were difficult to change and that it was important for the RCD and the government to bring younger people into the party and the government. He suggested that new channels of communication need to be developed and specifically cited the new RCD Secretary General Mohamed Ghariani. He also acknowledged that Tunisia needs to improve its performance on human rights.
3. (S/NF) On economic and trade issues, El-Matri expressed concern about the economic crisis, saying he was traveling to Dubai to discuss Emirate investment projects in Tunisia.
(Note: SAMA Dubai recently withdrew its Tunisian representative and their real estate development projects are reportedly on hold indefinitely.) He appreciated the work the Embassy had done to promote the US Generalized System of Preferences program and said he would ask the President of the employer's union UTICA to continue to publicize the program and its benefits. El-Matri also expressed interest in opening a McDonalds restaurant franchise. When the Ambassador said US companies needed a franchise law before investing, he responded, "that would not be a problem," and suggested a likely first option would be to open a franchise in the new cruise port he is developing in La Goulette.
El-Matri said he is working with a British bank to secure funding for his port expansion project. He also received permission from the Central Bank at the end of January 2009 to open an Islamic bank.
----------------------
Personality and Family
----------------------
4. (S/NF) Personally, El-Matri presented himself as self-confident, but low-key. This was in marked contrast to his reputation as a flamboyant and aggressive business mogul.
His reputation derives in part from the fact that he drives an Austin Martin and a Hummer among other cars, and rumors that he owns a pet tiger. With the Ambassador, he was equally comfortable talking about political issues and personal issues. He indicated his awareness of his relative youth vis-a-vis his position in the RCD and his business success, but did not seem uncomfortable with that reality.
He also discussed his wife Nesrine's commitment to using only organic products from the food they eat to the paint and varnish in their new mansion.
5. (C) With Tunisians, Sakhr El-Matri gets political credibility from his own family as well as by being the President's son-in-law. His grandfather, Dr. Mahmoud El-Matri, was a famous activist in the nationalist movement of the 1930s. His father was a military officer and was sentenced to life imprisonment for an attempted coup against Bourguiba in 1962. He was later pardoned by Bourguiba and is now a member of the Chamber of Advisors. Sakhr El-Matri and his father recently opened a shelter for cancer patients.
The El-Matri family is also prominent in business.
6. (C) El-Matri asked to work with the Embassy on the conservation of the cliff on which both the Ambassador's residence and his new mansion sit side-by-side. The Ambassador offered to share with him the Embassy's assessment of the cliff's stability.
----------------------------------------
Indicators of Sakhr El-Matri's Influence
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7. (S/NF) Although Sakhr El-Matri holds two political positions as a member of the RCD Central Committee and the head of the RCD local organization in Carthage in the last year, he has not used these positions to raise political issues or his own profile. Given his relative youth and newness to the political game, some say he was put in these positions as a chance to establish his credentials and to build networks rather than to raise his public profile.
Others speculate that his family has told him to keep a low profile until after the 2009 presidential elections. He was given a prominent position on the podium with President Ben Ali during Ben Ali' annual November 7 speech celebrating his takeover from Bourguiba. Only one other of Ben Ali's four sons-in-law was also on the stage, Marouane Mabrouk. The El-Matri family also hosted Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi during his August 2008 visit to Tunisia and it was reported that El-Matri traveled to Libya to meet with al-Qadhafi beforehand. In addition to his Goulette Shipping Cruise line, El-Matri controls under the Princess El-Materi holding company the concessions for Audi, Volkswagen, Porsche, Renault cars and trucks; a pharmaceutical manufacturing company, Societe Adwia; and two real estate companies, Les Hirondelles and Le Marchand de l'Immobilier. (Note: The el-Materi holding company is spelled differently than the family name.)
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Comment
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8. (S/NF) Sakhr El-Matri comes across as someone who is in no rush but who is building his future both within the RCD and directly with the people through his Islamic radio and future bank. Unfortunately, along with his business dealings come a raft of rumors about corruption that make people cynical about his political intentions. At the very least, his business ventures thus far would not have been possible were it not for his close ties to President Ben Ali the First Tunisian family.
Godec
 

Biographic update on Sakher El Matri, genial interlocutor, raising his profile

09TUNIS338 Date03/06/2009 04:35 OriginEmbassy Tunis ClassificationSECRET//NOFORN Header
VZCZCXYZ0000

PP RUEHWEB
DE RUEHTU #0338 1541635
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 031635Z JUN 09
FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6339
INFO RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
Content
S E C R E T TUNIS 000338
NOFORN
SIPDIS
NEA/MAG FOR (MHAYES, JPATTERSON)
AND INR (TKING)
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/02/2019
TAGS: PINR, PGOV, PREL, TS
SUBJECT: BIOGRAPHIC UPDATE ON SAKHR EL-MATRI, GENIAL INTERLOCUTOR, RAISING HIS PROFILE
REF: A. TUNIS 108
B. 08 TUNIS 97689
Classified By: Ambassador Robert F. Godec for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (S/NF) Sakhr El-Matri President Ben Ali's son-in-law attended a reception hosted by the Ambassador May 26. He stayed for two hours talking with a wide variety of the guests, especially the Americans. He made a point of asking who he should know and stay in contact with at the Embassy.
He was a little more reserved with the Tunisian guests, speaking with them but only briefly before moving on. His English was quite good and he clearly enjoyed using it. In general, he presented himself in a low key, genial unassuming manner even though his presence was clearly marked by the guests.
2. (C) El-Matri's profile has been on the rise lately. He was on the cover of the May 25 Jeune Afrique after purchasing Dar Assabah publishing house, which publishes two of Tunisia's main newspapers Assabah and Le Temps, thus adding to his media empire which already includes the Quranic Zeitouna radio. He sat directly behind President Ben Ali during the final soccer match of the Presidential Cup, and he was present when Minister of State and Presidential Advisor Ben Dhia spoke to a gathering of the ruling Democratic Constitutional Rally (RCD) in Sousse April 26 about government's plans for the upcoming Presidential elections.
 
3. (SBU) During the reception El-Matri discussed his plans for Assabah and Le Temps saying he had hired a French firm to revamp the look of the papers and that he had hired Faisal Battout, the AFP Bureau Chief in Doha, to be the new Editor of Assabah. He should arrive in Tunis around 15 June.
(Comment: If Battout, who is well known to PA, is allowed to operate independently this is a good sign for the newspapers.) He also mentioned, in the context of discussing the AMIDEAST program, that he had spoken to the President about the importance of English language instruction.
4. (C) On a personal note: El-Matri revealed that he liked exercising but not running. He said he was trying to lose weight, and he drank Diet Coke at the reception. He also said he was starting a new exercise regime and used that as a reason why he had stopped smoking a water pipe. He went out of his way to ask if his new mansion under construction next to the Residence was blocking the sea view of any of his neighbors. El-Matri visited Canada in May during which his wife gave birth to a daughter and a new Canadian citizen. He also purchased a villa at 70 Place Belvedere, Westmont Canada, previous owner Mrs. Leslie Osmond for approximately 2.5 million Canadian dollars.
5. (S/NF) Comment: By accepting the Ambassador's invitation and by staying as long as he did El-Matri was showing his interest in expanding his contacts with the Embassy. Notably El-Matri also invited the Ambassador out to lunch or dinner, which the Ambassador accepted. The Embassy extended the invitation to Sakhr El-Matri in the context of an event targeted at the Ambassador's neighbors in Sidi Bou Said and with the intent to get to know him better.
Godec
 

 

Tunisia: Dinner With Sakher El Materi

09TUNIS516 2009-07-27 16:04 2010-12-07 21:09 SECRET Embassy Tunis VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB
DE RUEHTU #0516/01 2081609
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 271609Z JUL 09
FM AMEMBASSY TUNIS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6604
INFO RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN PRIORITY 0189
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 1481
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PRIORITY 0371
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA PRIORITY 0251
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS PRIORITY 1963
RUEHRO/AMEMBASSY ROME PRIORITY 0806
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 0175
 
S E C R E T TUNIS 000516
SIPDIS
NEA/MAG; INR/B
EO 12958 DECL: 02/28/2017
TAGS PREL, PTER, PGOV, PINR, ENRG, EAID, TS
SUBJECT: TUNISIA: DINNER WITH SAKHER EL MATERI
REF: TUNIS 338
Classified By: Ambassador Robert F. Godec for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
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Summary
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 1. (S) The Ambassador and his wife had dinner with Mohammad Sakher El Materi and his wife, Nesrine Ben Ali El Materi, at their Hammamet home July 17. During the lavish dinner Al Materi raised the question of the American Cooperative School of Tunis and said he would seek to “fix the problem prior to the Ambassador’s departure” as a gesture to a “friend.” He praised President Obama’s policies and advocated a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. He also expressed interest in opening a McDonald’s franchise and complained about the government’s delay in passing a franchise law. He expressed pride in his Islamic Zaitouna radio and in the interviews with opposition party leaders published in his newly purchased newspaper publishing group. During the evening, El Materi was alternately difficult and kind. He seemed, on occasion, to be seeking approval. He was living, however, in the midst of great wealth and excess, illustrating one reason resentment of President Ben Ali’s in-laws is increasing. End Summary.
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The ACST Situation
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2. (S) Presidential son-in-law and wealthy businessman Mohamed Sakher El Materi, and his wife, Nesrine Ben Ali El Materi hosted the Ambassador and his wife for dinner at their Hammamet beach residence July 17. El Materi raised the American Cooperative School of Tunis (ACST), asking what was happening. The Ambassador explained the situation and emphasized that there is anger and concern in Washington and the English-speaking American/international community in Tunis. He said if the school is closed, there would be serious consequences in our relations. El Materi said he could help and would seek to resolve the situation immediately, i.e., prior to the Ambassador’s departure. He wished, he said, to do so for a “friend.” He noted that he had helped the UK Ambassador secure several appointments (including a lunch with the Prime Minister) for UK Prince Andrew during his recent visit. Before his intervention, El Materi said, the Prince had only one appointment with a single Minister.
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Freedom of Expression
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3. (S) Ambassador raised the need for more freedom of expression and association in Tunisia. El Materi agreed. He complained that, as the new owner of Dar Assaba, the largest private newspaper group in the country, he has been getting calls from the Minister of Communications complaining about articles he has been running (Comment: This is doubtful). He laughed and suggested that sometimes he wants to “give Dar Assaba back.” El Materi noted the interviews his newspapers have been running with opposition leaders (he mentioned FDTL Secretary General Mustapha Ben Jaafar). He was clearly proud of the interviews.
4. (S) El Materi said it was important to help others, noting that was one reason he had adopted a son. The Ambassador mentioned the Embassy’s humanitarian assistance projects, noting they could not get media coverage. El Materi said forcefully they should be covered, that it was important the Embassy seek such coverage. He said it would counteract some of the negative US image. The Ambassador asked if El Materi would send reporters to do stories on the US assistance projects. El Materi said yes, absolutely.
5. (S) El Materi complained at length about Tunisian bureaucracy, saying it is difficult to get things done. He said communication inside the bureaucracy is terrible. He said people often “bring wrong information” to the President implying he had to get involved sometimes to get things corrected.
---------------------------------
On Exterior Politics and Economics
---------------------------------
6. (S) El Materi praised President Barack Obama’s new policies. He said the invasion of Iraq was a very serious US mistake that had strengthened Iran and bred hatred of the United States in the Arab world. He pressed for a two state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and indicated Tunisia needs to accelerate convertibility of the dinar. In general, however, El Materi’s knowledge of and interest in international political and economic issues seemed limited.
7. (S) The Ambassador raised economic liberalization, noting the importance of opening up to franchising. El Materi agreed, noting that he would be pleased to assist McDonald’s to enter Tunisia, suggesting they begin at the new cruise port in La Goulette. He complained about the unhealthy food served by McDonald’s, however, adding it is making Americans fat. He also complained about the GOT’s delay in passing a franchising law.
8. (S) The Ambassador noted he has been asking Tunisians what ideas they have for the new US President and Administration. El Materi commented that Nesrine would like more done on the environment. The Ambassador responded by explaining some of the Administration’s policies on the environment. El Materi said Nesrine is focused on organic products and wants everything (even the paint and varnish) in their new house in Sidi Bou Said (next to the Ambassador’s residence) to be organic.
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Islam
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9. (S) El Materi said he had begun to practice Islam seriously at 17. He repeatedly said he was practicing, and had a strong faith. (NB. He went off to pray at the sunset call to prayer.) He suggested that if you have faith and pray to God, he will help. He emphasized that his religion is personal, and he does not believe it is appropriate to impose his views on others. (Comment. During the evening, El Materi seemed at his most passionate when describing the Koran, his belief in one God, and the importance of Mohamed as the final prophet of God.)
10. (S) El Materi said he was proud of Zeitouna radio, the first and only Tunisian Koranic radio station, and discussed how Zeitouna bank would be opening. He hopes to create a regional version of Zeitouna radio to spread the Malakite school of Islam. He expressed the view that Islamists and extremists pose a great threat to Islam and modernity. He said he follows Islam, but modern Islam.
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El-Materi Unplugged: Home/Personal Life
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 11. (S) El-Materi’s house is spacious, and directly above and along the Hammamet public beach. The compound is large and well guarded by government security. It is close to the center of Hammamet, with a view of the fort and the southern part of the town. The house was recently renovated and includes an infinity pool and a terrace of perhaps 50 meters. While the house is done in a modern style (and largely white), there are ancient artifacts everywhere: Roman columns, frescoes and even a lion’s head from which water pours into the pool. El Materi insisted the pieces are real. He hopes to move into his new (and palatial) house in Sidi Bou Said in eight to ten months.
12. (S) The dinner included perhaps a dozen dishes, including fish, steak, turkey, octopus, fish couscous and much more. The quantity was sufficient for a very large number of guests. Before dinner a wide array of small dishes were served, along with three different juices (including Kiwi juice, not normally available here). After dinner, he served ice cream and frozen yoghurt he brought in by plane from Saint Tropez, along with blueberries and raspberries and fresh fruit and chocolate cake. (NB. El Materi and Nesrine had just returned from Saint Tropez on their private jet after two weeks vacation. El Materi was concerned about his American pilot finding a community here. The Ambassador said he would be pleased to invite the pilot to appropriate American community events.)
13. (S) El Materi has a large tiger (“Pasha”) on his compound, living in a cage. He acquired it when it was a few weeks old. The tiger consumes four chickens a day. (Comment: The situation reminded the Ambassador of Uday Hussein’s lion cage in Baghdad.) El Materi had staff everywhere. There were at least a dozen people, including a butler from Bangladesh and a nanny from South Africa. (NB. This is extraordinarily rare in Tunisia, and very expensive.)
14. (S) They have three children, two girls and a boy. Leila is four and another daughter that is about 10 months. Their boy is adopted and is two years old. The youngest daughter is a Canadian citizen, by virtue of birth in Canada. The family’s favorite vacation destination spot is the Maldives Islands.
15. (S) El Materi said he has begun an exercise and diet regime. He has, he said, recently lost weight (it was visibly true). El Materi said he eats in a “balanced” way. He had just spent an hour on a bike, he claimed. Nesrine said she gets no exercise.
16. (S) Both El Materi and Nesrine speak English, although their vocabulary and grammar are limited. They are clearly eager to strengthen their English. Nesrine said she loves Disney World, but had put off a trip this year because of H1N1 flu. Nesrine has, for sometime, had Tamiflu nearby (even taking it on trips). Originally it was out of fear of bird flu. She packs it for El Materi too when he travels. Nesrine said she has visited several US cities. El Materi had only been to Illinois recently in connection with the purchase of a plane.
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Comment
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17. (S) Throughout the evening, El Materi often struck the Ambassador as demanding, vain and difficult. He is clearly aware of his wealth and power, and his actions reflected little finesse. He repeatedly pointed out the lovely view from his home and frequently corrected his staff, issued orders and barked reprimands. Despite this, El Materi was aware of his affect on the people around him and he showed periodic kindness. He was unusually solicitous and helpful to the Ambassador’s wife, who is disabled. Occasionally, he seemed to be seeking approval. One western Ambassador in Tunis, who knows El Materi, has commented that he has western-style political skills in his willingness to engage with ordinary citizens. It is an uncommon trait here.
18. (S) El Materi, in recent months, has been ever more visible in the local diplomatic community. He has clearly decided (or been told) to serve as a point of contact between the regime and key ambassadors. Nesrine, at age 23, appeared friendly and interested, but nave and clueless. She reflected the very sheltered, privileged and wealthy life she has led. As for the dinner itself, it was similar to what one might experience in a Gulf country, and out of the ordinary for Tunisia.
19. (S) Most striking of all, however, was the opulence with which El Materi and Nesrine live. Their home in Hammamet was impressive, with the tiger adding to the impression of “over the top.” Even more extravagant is their home still under construction in Sidi Bou Said. That residence, from its outward appearance, will be closer to a palace. It dominates the Sidi Bou Said skyline from some vantage points and has been the occasion of many private, critical comments. The opulence with which El Materi and Nesrine live and their behavior make clear why they and other members of Ben Ali’s family are disliked and even hated by some Tunisians. The excesses of the Ben Ali family are growing.

Please visit Embassy Tunis’ Classified Website at: http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/tunis/index.c fm

Godec

 





Courtesy of TuniLeaks
Source: https://tunileaks.appspot.com/?p=18001
Publication date of original article: 01/12/2010
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Tags: TunisiaMaghrebNorth AfricaBen AliBen Ali FamilySakher El MateriRobert F. GodecUS Embassy TunisTuniLeaksWikiLeaksCablegate
 

 
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