On April 22nd France’s voting public will go to the polls to decide whether to keep President Nicolas Sarkozy in the Élysée Palace for a second term or opt for one of his rivals. Like most non-French observers, in the early days of his presidency I was sceptical about his qualities as a statesman.
Then dubbed Monsieur Bling-Bling for his flamboyant style and lavish lifestyle I suspected he might not be successful in keeping his promise to restore his country to the status of a great nation. The surprising thing is that he has; he’s done it. My hope is that French voters will acknowledge that by ticking his name on their ballot papers.
Nicolas Sarkozy has evolved into a great statesman in the mould of President Charles de Gaulle who led the Free French during World War II and, as the first post-war president, sought to elevate his country’s profile on the world stage. Since de Gaulle’s resignation on April 26th 1969, France’s geopolitical influence has been steadily on the wane.
Then along came Sarkozy who’s grown into the job year-upon-year. Remarkably, his courageous decision-making has pushed Paris to the global political forefront on par with Washington and London with which he has worked to cement close relations.
That was far from being an easy task when, if you remember, France’s stance against the 2003 invasion of Iraq resulted in all things French being ridiculed in the US, including the lowly French Fries, re-named ‘Freedom Fries’. Sarkozy didn’t back the Iraq War but he felt his predecessor should have handled his differences with the US and the UK in a more diplomatic fashion.
In recent times, the French leader has shown his mettle by taking the lead on sensitive issues around the world. He’s not content to allow France to continue being a watcher on the sidelines. Today, there are streets and squares named after him throughout Libya because the Libyan people are well aware that it is largely thanks to Sarkozy’s passion that the US and NATO launched a military intervention in the form of a ‘Nofly Zone’. Indeed, Sarkozy made it clear that France would aid the Libyan opposition on its own should that become necessary.
France’s President is just as forthright over the Al-Assad regime’s brutality against the citizens of Syria. He’s announced the closure of France’s embassy in Damascus in protest against Bashar Al-Assad’s “scandalous” repression and warned Syrian officials that they will “be called to account for their crimes before international jurisdictions.”
He is in total solidarity with the aims of the Syrian opposition and showed his respect for two French journalists evacuated from the besieged city of Homs by greeting them at the airport upon their return home. They and their media fellows have suffered a terrible ordeal while getting out the truth.
Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy, injured during the same attack on a media safe house that took the life of war reporter Marie Colvin, painted a chilling picture of the stricken Baba Amra district. “It’s not a war, it’s a massacre,” he told Sky News.
“It is systematic slaughter... Once again the world sits by and watches.” He explained that entire streets have been wiped out by regime forces along with the people who lived there. He says the Free Syrian Army can only offer meagre defence. He says the regime is systematically eradicating anyone who stands in its way including women, children and old men. He compares the killing in Homs to the Srebrenica massacre.
Homs is a city of “rooms full of people waiting to die,” he told the Telegraph. He recounts how someone brought him half a baby, asking “Where’s the help?” and his pain at not being able to come up with an answer. Conroy’s message is one of the most powerful to come out of Syria. “In years to come, we’re going to sit and we’re going to go, ‘How did we let this happen under our nose?”’
I am sure that President Sarkozy learnt of those horrors from the French reporters. I pray that he’s motivated to immediately arm the opposition and reinforce a no-fly zone. Whether out of humanitarian concerns or national interest, he rescued the citizens of oil-rich Libya and there’s no doubt that France would increase its clout in this USdominated region by helping to oust the Al-Assad regime. He’s the only world leader up to the challenge; the others talk without delivering. I would appeal to the French President to take urgent action to halt this example of man’s inhumanity to man.
Somewhat surprisingly, President Sarkozy has also proved to be a staunch advocate of a Palestinian state, unafraid to use harsh words against the Netanyahu government’s expansion of Jewish colonies on the West Bank and the theft of Arab lands in east Jerusalem. In September last year, he proposed a one-year timetable for the establishment of a Palestinian state and, more recently, has implied that France will recognize a unilaterally declared Palestinian state in the event peace talks continue to be stalled. He boldly criticized the US for wielding its veto on Palestine’s UN membership and supports the upgrading of the Palestinians’ status within the United Nations. Last October, he voted for UNESCO’s recognition of a Palestinian state against Washington’s strong objections which shows that he’s very much his own man.
There are, of course, those who believe Sarkozy has presided over anti-Islamic policies such as the headscarf ban in schools and the banning of the burka in public places. He has also criticized Muslims living in Europe for failing to integrate into the society at large. However, his far-right rival the National Front’s Marine Le Pen is attacking him for being too soft on France’s Muslim communities.
Le Pen, whose late father was a notorious anti-Semite, has likened Muslims praying outdoors to the Nazi occupation, a statement that drew condemnation from Sarkozy. Marie Le Pen is currently trailing behind the Socialist Party’s François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy in polls but given that some people are embarrassed to admit any affiliation with a known-racist party to pollsters, she could turn out to be a very real threat – and especially as her controversial father caused a major upset by coming second in the 2002 presidential election.
Sarkozy may not be perfect but he possesses great oratorical skills, personal charisma and the courage of his convictions. He is basically fair-minded and has managed to strike a balance between Arab and Israeli interests over challenging Middle East affairs. Outside France, not much is known about leading contender Hollande’s foreign policy but one indication comes from an umbrella group of French Jewish organizations the CRIF that has congratulated him on his party’s nomination praising Hollande’s commitments to his Jewish faith and his empathy for Israel.
However, the way a candidate intends to conduct foreign affairs is never the biggest vote-getter. Unfortunately for President Sarkozy, like other incumbent leaders, he has had to steer his country through a major global downturn. Sarkozy claims that he saved France from economic catastrophe but with France having lost its triple-A credit rating and burdened with a massive fiscal debt and ten million unemployed, will the voters believe him? I hope they do because unlike Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece, there’s a glimmer of light at the end of France’s tunnel.
Certainly, Sarkozy is a better bet than the untried and unknown Hollande nicknamed “Mr. Normal” and a great improvement on Le Pen whose campaign is based on whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment. All that’s left for me to say is to wish him a hearty ‘Bonne Chance!’