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World

The French Ambassador Upsets the Tunisians

Translated Monday 21 February 2011, by Kristina Wischenkamper and reviewed by Bill Scoble

Boris Boillon on Saturday presented his apologies to the Tunisian people after Thursday’s clash with the press. Five days after taking office as head of the French Embassy in Tunis, "Sarko’s boy" proves that diplomacy Sarko-style doesn’t work.

The new French Ambassador to Tunis, Boris Boillon, presented his "apologies" to the Tunisian people on national television on Saturday after having met the press in a manner considered "aggressive" by Tunisians, of whom hundreds protested demanding his departure. “I apologize to the journalists and to all Tunisians”, said the new ambassador in Arabic “If they considered my responses arrogant, I regret this and I am truly sorry and I offer my apologies to all the Tunisian people ... I have an energy and a desire to promote bilateral relations. I was more spontaneous than I ought to have been. From now on I will have to speak in a more polite manner".

Thursday, the day after presenting his credentials to the Tunisian government, this young (41 years old) ambassador, specialist in Arabic, had invited journalists for a first and very undiplomatic meeting. Eager that his arrival should be seen as a "fresh start" for a "new future" for the two countries, he then refused to answer questions from some journalists, describing them as "moronic" or "nonsense".

Extracts from this meeting were aired on Tunisian television, and on Facebook, which has played a major role in the revolution. A Facebook page has even been created with the title: "Boris Boillon clear off!". On Saturday, about 500 Tunisians demonstrated outside the French embassy to call for his departure, condemning "his lack of diplomacy" and "aggressiveness". "Mr. Boillon, you might hold a diplomatic post but you’re not diplomatic", "Clear off little Sarko!", "Boris clear off!" were some of the banners.

Before the public apology on Saturday evening, the Quay d’Orsay had come to his rescue attempting to extinguish the diplomatic fire. "The dynamism of Mr. Boillon is a guarantee of results at this crucial time when our relations are entering a new stage, are gaining a new momentum, based on a new shared ambition", said the Speaker for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bernard Valero, in response to a question from AFP.

The French Ambassador’s indiscretions follow on from a series of French diplomatic blunders concerning the Jasmine Revolution: offers of support for security forces made by Michèle Alliot-Marie to the Ben Ali regime in mid-social-uprising, delivery of crowd control equipment stopped in extremis, the Foreign Minister’s Christmas holidays in Tunisia, her gratis flight in a jet owned by a businessman close to the Ben Ali clan, her parents’ business dealings with that same businessman ....

Boris Boillon’s arrival was supposed to calm tensions. This former attaché to a very sensitive diplomatic post in Baghdad replaces Pierre Ménat, 60, who carried water for the French diplomatic miscalculations amidst the Tunisian revolution. At 41, he seemed ideal in the role of Nicolas Sarkozy’s little diplomatic prodigy. Above all, his "young" style (see his personal page on "Friends reunited") was supposed to be the new "Sarkozyian" brand of French diplomacy replacing the old fusty one. Cossetted by the president, he was his diplomatic adviser at the Ministry of Interior and then at the Elysée. "Sarko boy", blustering showman like his mentor, just got a dressing down from the Tunisian people.


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