France’s lack of diplomatic involvement in Tunisia

The abolition of former Tunisian President Ben Ali’s despotic regime has galvanized unilateral diplomatic support from the world community, particularly from President Obama who was swift to praise Tunisians for their unwavering courage in the face of tyrannical ruling.

While, Obama’s public support and compassionate words of encouragement were enthusiastically received by the Tunisians, the lack of political involvement from the French government, a close neighbor and ally of Tunisia, galvanized sharp criticisms and indignation on the French home front.

Michèle Alliot-Marie, France’s Foreign Affairs Minister came under heavy criticism for defending a policy of “non-interference” in the political affairs of another state citing sovereignty concerns to circumvent moral obligations.

Paradoxically, the French’s rationale for supporting a non-interference approach raises several discrepancies, which contradict the principles of sovereignty waged by the Sarkozy’s administration. Less than 40 days ago, Sarkozy was quick to urge Ivory Coast’s former president Laurent Gbagbo to relinquish his presidency or risk facing stiff sanctions, clearly violating the sanctity of “non-interference” so fervently defended by Alliot-Marie. Such irregularities threaten the credibility of the Sarkozy administration buried under layers of criticisms propounded by the French left-wing political establishment.

Nevertheless, to truly understand the underlying motivations behind France’s non responsiveness, it is paramount to dig deeper below the surface given the striking parallels between France and Tunisia.

Indeed, similarly to Tunisians, the French North African youth has voiced its growing disenchantment towards out-of-touch, disconnected French elite quick to marginalize them as irrelevant street thugs while hastily dismissing their frustrations. Such complacent attitude on behalf of Sarkozy’s regime has fueled resentment amid an already alienated-youth, an abstract concern for President Sarkozy.

Moreover, to have supported the Tunisian uprising, would have reinforced the old adage that “blood makes the grass grow green”, an unlikely and risky gamble given France’s recent wave of riots triggered by a frustrated marginalized youth, mostly Muslims and of northern-African descents.

To have expressed support for the Tunisian revolution would have been considered hypocritical given France’s mediocre track record in dealing with its own minorities. Instead, Sarkozy’s administration would much rather take a back seat as Obama’s administration assumes center stage in expressing its support for Tunisia. Convenient indeed, as France would much rather engage on politicizing issues of national identity, legislating laws that ban the burka, or introducing legislation that would mandate the deportation of those having committed a felony against a French public servant. While this bill would only target criminals who acquired their French citizenship less than 10 years ago, civil rights organizations fear that such a bill would unfairly target French North African with dual nationalities.

Indeed, Sarkozy’s approach is much more oriented in promoting a climate that harbors division while fostering xenophobic sentiments towards disenfranchised and oppressed minorities. Such policies are not only dangerous and discordant, but given the bleak climate, it is not farfetched to envision cases of self-immolations spreading through the streets of Paris.

If anything is to be learned from Tunisia, it is that dissidence is the strongest voice of democracy. Going forward, rather than adopting a divide and conquer approach, Sarkozy should abide by the republican values he dearly cherishes. Ascending to a role of leadership entails being in touch with the masses, being connected to their concerns, rather than being quick to dismiss them, favoring tolerance rather than spewing bigotry.

What Sarkozy has failed to understand is that France’s strength is its cultural and ethnic diversity; and, failure to understand these principles will further aggravate an already self-combusting climate. Whether or not France finds itself engulfed in flames rests on Sarkozy’s ability to lead his nation with dignity.

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