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Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Boris Boillon hangs on as France's ambassador to Tunisia - but for how long?

Views are split as to whether it could soon be curtains for France's man in Tunisia, Boris Bouillon.

Even though rumours just won't go away that the man dubbed "Sarkoboy" by some in the French media could soon be on his way home, he's still in the job.

And that could be down to Jean-David Levitte, a high-ranking French diplomat and sherpa, or the civil servant who undertakes the preparatory political work prior to summits, to the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Speculation that Boillon would be returning to France surfaced at the beginning of April with a report in France Soir that a replacement had been found for the 41-year-old.

Yves Marek, a career diplomat and "native son" would soon be taking over, the paper assured its readers.

According to the French weekly news magazine Nouvel Observateur, Marek was an "astute choice" to succeed Boillon who had come in for plenty of criticism - not least from those in his new host country - for making as much of a mess of his start to his new post as the French had in their mishandling of Tunisia's "Jasmine revolution".

But as the end of April nears, Boillon is still in his job and, as far as Nouvel Observateur is concerned, that's largely down to the support of Levitte.

Boillon made a mess of things almost immediately after touching down in Tunisia.

During his very first press conference, he appeared dismissive and aggressive towards one journalist and a video of the encounter soon made its way on to the Net.

Not surprisingly it didn't go down well with Tunisians and even though Boillon appeared on national television a day later to apologise, many wanted him out.

(screenshot from Facebook page Boris Boillon Degage)

A Facebook campaign was launched calling for Boillon to be replaced and an online petition was started urging France to appoint another Ambassador who would "meet more closely the expectations of Tunisians as they wrote a new page in their history."

Remember, this is in a country which used social networking tools so effectively to rally support during the revolution.

Not great news then for Boillon and he rather kept his head down during the visit of two members of the French government, the finance minister, Christine Lagarde, and the European affairs minister, Laurent Wauquiez, a couple of weeks later.

Marek's name began circulating as the most likely successor. The 44-year-old's diplomatic credentials were impeccable and he was seen by many Tunisian Internauts as a child of the country's resistance to the former leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

But that was also his undoing, according to Nouvel Observateur, because he was suspected of having been too much in favour of regime change during the Jasmine revolution, and besides, Levitte wanted to protect Boillon - his protégé.

The one person who perhaps could have given Tunisians what they seemed to want more than anything - Boillon out and Marek in - suggested Nouvel Observateur, was the French foreign minister Alain Juppé.

Just before Easter he was on official business in Tunisia to announce €350 million in aid to help, as TF1 reported, "rebuild a relationship undermined by the France's diplomatic faux pas and mishandling of the events during Tunisia's 'Jasmine revolution'."

It could also have been a golden opportunity to announce a change at the embassy, but it didn't happen.

As far as Nouvel Observateur is concerned that's partly because Juppé has inherited staff and advisors from his predecessor in office, Michèle Alliot-Marie, and he is also being "held hostage by a diplomatic service" unwilling to admit it misjudged the Jasmine revolution in the first place and as a consequence unable to come to terms with its mistakes.

So Boillon is to stay and Marek's services will be deployed elsewhere?

Well all is not lost for those in Tunisia who would like to see Sarkoboy sent home.

On Monday BFM TV ran a report once again suggesting France considered his continued presence in Tunisia could be too much of an embarrassment.


Anonymous said...

I understand Boillon speaks Arabic fluently: surely that must be an advantage in his position.

Anonymous said...

The previous commentator misses the point surely. Tunisians think Boillon is a prize jerk and does nothing to improve French relations with the country. He might speak Arabic (as does Marek) but that does not make him a suitable ambassador. Just read the comments on the Facebook page.

Anonymous said...

I think he's the sexiest ambassador I've seen

Anonymous said...

Don't you just wish someone in Paris would call this idiot back home?

Anonymous said...

Quelle honte!

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