France: Our Embarrassing Ex Friend, Monsieur Ben Ali

This post is part of our special coverage of Tunisia Revolution 2011.

It has finally dawned. After decades of state amitié (friendship) with the Zeinabidine Ben Ali regime and indifference from French politicians and mainstream media, French bloggers and twitterers are now aware that France has been living in a prolonged state of denial.  The resounding silence of the French government and long complicity with the Ben Ali regime are now questioned at last.

Nicolas Sarkozy and Zinedine Ben Ali during a state visit, on the Tunis tarmac, 2008 (Screen capture of official video)

[All links points to FR sites, unless otherwise mentioned] Late on January 14th, when news broke that ousted president Ben Ali and his family were fleeing Tunisia after massive demonstrations in the capital, Tunis, and a month of bloody repression, the French government issued a statement saying it “acknowledged” this “transition” change and sat back in a silence that has been its strategy for weeks. The French public understood that the Elysée  Palace was facing deep embarrassment. News surfaced first on Twitter that some of Ben Ali's relatives had landed earlier that day in France.

rosselin #mickeys #pathetique RT @mathieuge: une partie de la famille Ben Ali refugiée à Disneyland 

rosselin#Mickeys #pathetic RT @mathieuge : relatives of the Ben Ali family hidden at Disneyland

Ben Ali was then expected to seek asylum in France. It was later revealed that he had indeed tried to seek refuge in France, but was sent on his way (to Saudi Arabia) by his ex friends on account of the “unrest in the Tunisian diaspora” his presence here would cause. A single tweetappeared on the Elysée Palace Twitter account during that night – a sign of deep embarrassment and total diplomatic chaos:

elysee : La France répondra à toutes les demandes des autorités tunisiennes sur les avoirs tunisiens en France

elysee: France will answer any inquiry from Tunisian authorities on Tunisian investments in France.

The Ben Ali plane's route: From La vie en rose on Facebook, via Albab blog

Louis Calvero on Le post now stresses the disastrous management” of the “Tunisian crisis” by French authorities:

On connait l’arrogance de la France, toujours prompte à expliquer l’Amérique à Obama, l’Europe à Barroso, et la vie à n’importe qui. Pourtant là, alors que Washington convoquait l’ambassadeur tunisien et que le monde clamait son inquiétude, Paris se taisait.

We are familiar with France arrogance, always eager to explain what America is to Obama, what Europe is to Barroso, and what life is about to anyone else. In this instance, Washington summoned the Tunisian ambassador in the United States, the world shouted its concern, while Paris just kept silent.

There is worse. As the Tunisian protests  intensified,  French ministers and former ministers, continued to support Ben Ali and his achievements. The French diplomacy made with a hideous statement on January 11th, that will not be forgotten by Tunisians, and which finally shook the French public to pay attention to their government's attitude.

Michèle Alliot-Marie, French foreign minister, Photo Wikimedia

In this video, Michèle Alliot-Marie, Minister of Foreign Affairs, is speaking officially at the National Assembly, stating that France was ready to “offer technical support” and ” the know how of French police to the Tunisian police” .

L'arabe, French blogger of Tunisian origin writing on C'est la gêne, rounded it perfectly the following day:

En gros, vouloir prêter main forte au régime de Ben Ali, c’est comme de dire qu’on va aller filer un coup de main, comme ça, entre voisins, à un tueur en train de dépecer sa victime dans une allée, en bas de l’immeuble.

In short, offering to help the Ben Ali regime is like saying that we are going  to lend a helping hand, as friendly neighbours, to a murderer while he is slaughtering his prey in an alley in front of the building.

Hundreds of outraged comments have cropped since, like this one, on the blog of radio talk show host Jean-Marc Morandini :

Quelle déconnexion inouïe avec la réalité du terrain, à moins que cela ne soit de l’expression d’une incompétence coupable. Ou d’un cynisme incommensurable.

What an incredible lack of perception of reality on ground.Unless it's the expression of an unforgivable  incompetency.Or of an unmeasurable cynicism.

In what is “the day after” the fall of Ben Ali, things are pacing up. French twitterers are now directly challenging \ the Twitter accounts of the Elysee Palace and of  the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which have both  gone silent on Tunisia.

A new  and fast growing Facebook  French group, Ben Ali Wall of Shame , has been created, dedicated to all the French  politicians and personalities who supported Ben Ali, inviting members to post proof (pictures, videos, quotes).  A video of Nicolas Sarkozy's speech during a 2008 state visit in Tunisia can be viewed, while he received honorary citizenship of the capital Tunis:

“Il m'arrive de penser que certains sont bien sévères pour la Tunisie

I sometimes think that some people are too harsh towards Tunisia

Dominique Strauss Kahn, current head of the IMF and a possible candidate to the 2012 French presidential elections, can be heard raving about the glowing economical progress of Tunisia during an interview with Tunisian state TV, in this video cross-posted by Rue89 : posted on YouTube a video of Président Sarkozy's inaugural speech, echoing:

To all the oppressed people of the world, we will stand beside you…”.

Hazem Berrabah, on his Facebook account, posted his own video collage entitled ” We will never forget that France supported Ben Ali right to the last minute“,  where president Sarkozy declares:

I will not support any dictator in the world

Satyrical blog Backchich, an early whistle blower on the Ben Ali's rapacious family, had listed French political or media moguls who backed or free-lanced for the Ben Ali regime and published a book on “Our friend Ben Ali.”  Another early supporter of Tunisian bloggers, Fabrice Epelboin, editor of ReadWriteWeb France rounded up the French tech crowd with his  open letter to French Minister of Culture, Frédéric Mitterrand, who defined earlier in January  the Tunisian regime as “not a dictatorship, strictly speaking”.

French television channels are now interviewing Catherine Graciet to update scant  archives on Franco-Tunisian relations. She is the co-author of a previously little known book on Ben Ali's wife, The Regent of Carthage,  portrayed in 2009 the ransacking of the Tunisian economy by  her relatives [see excerpts in French here], later confirmed on Wikileaks by the secret cable of the American ambassador in Tunisia. [video in arabic]

Cartoonists  Maesterbd and Lindingre are having a field day.

And on Daily Motion, a video featuring Ben Ali and Sarkozy dancing and embracing to the sound of “Endless love” has been posted:

Sarkozy et Ben Ali ” The Endless Love ! “
envoyé par unknown003. – Regardez d'autres vidéos de musique.

While the Jasmine Revolution tag  is fast becoming popular on French MSM,  Olivier reminds editors and columnists  in a comment that it was coined  by Ben Ali when he seized power in 1987. Luc Rosenzweig, on Causeur, also advises French political columnists to calm down with their new catch phrase, “Ceaucescu of the sands” (Ben Ali), after years of silence, in  his post “How sweet it is to trample a defeated man“.

Meanwhile, a number of Tunisian bloggers  living in France wrote moving posts, using for the first time their real names, like Chaker Nouri, in The Carthage Ceaucescu has finally gone . Such was their fear that criticism expressed on the French web could cause problems for their family in Tunisia. Chaker is proud, relieved, but not happy:

Ma joie n’est pas totale. Ce qui me frappe c’est le contraste entre la réaction de la diaspora tunisienne et les Tunisiens du pays. Les premiers célèbrent le départ du despote et les seconds craignent le désordre ambiant.

My joy is not complete. What strikes me is the contrast between the reactions of the Tunisian diaspora (in France) and those in Tunisia. The first celebrate the flight of the despot, while the others fear the ongoing troubles.

Far away in another part of the former French colonial empire, in West Africa, an African blogger engages in wishful thinking:

Bonne nouvelle! On peut rêver la même chose pour notre pauvre pays le congo-B livré au clan de mpila comme l'était le clan ben ali-trabelsi.Bien sûr, c'est gartuit de rêver!
Pourtant le bilan de ben ali est largement superieur à celui de Sassou et son clan!

Wonderful news! We can dream of the same for our pour country, Congo Brazzaville, looted by  the Mpila clan, like the Ben Ali Trabelsi clan did. Of course, dreaming is free! While in fact, the Ben Ali track record is far better than what Sassou and his clan [did for Congo], the independent Tunisian  information site founded in 2004 by dissidents, has had the number of its followers spike from 4000 to 12 000 in just over a week and remains the hot line Tunisians and French bloggers now trust for verified and contextualized updates on the Tunisian situation in French, Arabic, English.

This post is part of our special coverage of Tunisia Revolution 2011.


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