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04/01/2013

Something wicked this way comes: Macbeth resonates in Tunisia

Leila Ben Ali
Inspired by Lady Macbeth: Former Tunisian first lady Leila Trabelsi.  (Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images)

She was the greedy puppet-master, the brains behind the throne whose lust for power and money led to the downfall of her husband. And herself.

Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth or the deposed Tunisian president's wife, Leila Trabelsi? Well, both actually. 

Macbeth: Leila and Ben Ali, A Bloody History adapts the Bard's famous play for the 21st century in the Middle East and examines the rise to power of Zein Al Abidine Ben Ali and his wife. The play is proving popular in the capital Tunis.  

In the show, Trabelsi urges Ben Ali to get rid of his predecessor, Habib Bourguiba where in the original play Lady Macbeth convinces her husband to kill King Duncan. 

Post-revolution Tunisia is an uncertain and violent place but Tunisians, largely an urbane and secular people. They are finding creative ways to vent their frustrations over the previous corrupt regime. 

Trabelsi who is in exile in Saudi Arabia was infamous for her lavish lifestyle at the expense of ordinary Tunisians. Stories of her extravance were legendary: she flew ice cream by private jet from St. Tropez and when her husband's reign ended she stole a tonne of gold from the central bank. 

Tunisian director and playwright Lotfi Achour premiered the play at the World Shakespeare Festival last summer. 

 “When reading Shakespeare, it is hard to believe that it is an Englishman from the seventeenth century,” he said, according to Tunisialive. “We have lived this story several times before in Tunisia and the Arab world too. Is it going to be a fatality? Are our societies and collective unconscious only meant to create monsters? We hope that this play triggers an awakening of the conscious lest the history becomes an eternal resumption."

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at the Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than a decade and is author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour 

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