Her first marriage lasted only a couple of years, and Jnifen settled in Italy and in 1990 married lawyer Marco Squatriti, with whom she has a son. She became an unlikely TV star, hosting satirical talk shows and goofy variety programs such as Nonsolomoda, where her quick wit and fierce opinions made it clear she was no ordinary velina—the term for the sexy but often bubble-headed starlets who populate Italian television. Jnifen’s new status as gossip-page fixture sometimes put her self-assurance to the test, particularly after 2001, by which point she had divorced Squatriti and married Tronchetti, the longtime head of Pirelli, who had just engineered a bold takeover that gave him control of the sacred national giant Telecom Italia. The deal came under attack from multiple sides, and Tronchetti was eventually forced to sell; meanwhile, the union of the dashing mogul and the younger former model from North Africa gave rise to all the kinds of sniping you’d expect. (Gossips whispered that Jnifen had grown up dirt-poor and fabricated her diplomat’s-daughter background—and that she was cheating on her husband.) Jnifen’s friends see it as a textbook case of sour grapes, with some ugly racial overtones. “Look,” Hashemi says, “Marco is this classy, wealthy, handsome man with a very important position in Italy. And this Tunisian girl took him away. It’s as simple as that.”
Jnifen had already been publicly denouncing anti-Arab discrimination throughout the 1990s when she heard more and more people spouting vicious generalizations about “a world they didn’t even know,” she says. Enter then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who in the aftermath of 9/11 made one of his worst foreign policy gaffes, declaring in a speech that Western civilization was superior to Islam. Jnifen, who’d never met Berlusconi, lashed out in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, comparing his comments to “a bomb that had been thrown into the Arab world.”
Berlusconi saw the article, got Jnifen’s number, and rang her up. “He told me, ‘There is a lot of misunderstanding—I didn’t mean it!’ ” Jnifen recalls. “And he said, ‘I have a very good relationship with the Arab world.’ I said, ‘Well, not anymore!’ ” In an effort to stanch the tide against him, Berlusconi asked for Jnifen’s help, and she signed on as his adviser, briefing him on Arab culture and coaching him through an interview with Al Jazeera.
“The truth is, Berlusconi is probably a nice person,” she says. “But if you are sitting here with him, he will tell you something you want to hear, and then he will go across the room to another person and say exactly the opposite, just to make the other one happy. This is his specialty. He wants to have everybody happy around him, so he’s saying things that he hasn’t even thought about.”