Nearly three years after President Sarkozy rolled out the red carpet for Mediterranean leaders, French diplomacy in the region is under intense scrutiny.
After being caught on the hop by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, now come revelations that French ministers recently enjoyed private hospitality in each country that many consider inappropriate.
Yet when Sarkozy launched his pet project the Mediterranean Union, Ben Ali and Mubarak were yet to become the pariahs they are seen as now.
The Canard Enchainé‘s imminent publication prompted the French prime minister to admit that Mubarak had paid for his family’s accommodation and internal flights during a New Year holiday in Egypt.
Francois Fillon says he, his wife and children stayed at Assouane for a week at the invitation of the Egyptian authorities.
The French government says it is not unusual for heads of government to use official accommodation when staying in foreign countries. The holiday also came three weeks before the uprising.
That is an excuse not open to French foreign minister Michèle Alliot-Marie. Her two trips aboard the private jet of a Tunisian entrepreneur came during the country’s revolt.
For some critics, the choice of destination and timing of the holiday by the head of French diplomacy were questionable enough. Being flown about by a family friend said to be close to the Ben Ali clan gave the whole affair a nastier whiff.
Nicolas Sarkozy already stood accused of failing to back pro-democracy movements. His ministers’ choice of holiday pals arguably don’t quite fit the profile of those the newly elected president vowed to support.
“Everywhere in the world, I want the oppressed, martyred women, children imprisoned or condemned to work, to know that there is a country in the world that will be generous with all the persecuted: that’s France,” said Sarkozy on the night of his election in May 2007.
Already criticised for his lack of discretion over his support for the Tunisian and Egyptian governments following his election, Nicolas Sarkozy has now told his ministers to limit their holidays abroad.