French press review 17 January 2011
Libération looks beyond last Friday's rapid departure of Zine el-Abdine Ben Ali from the Tunisian presidential palace, and wonders which Arab despot will be the next to have to gallop out of town on a turbo-charged camel.
The whole region, from Morocco to Jordan and Syria, is tense, according to Libé's chosen analyst, but most of the other presidents can probaly sleep easily in their gilded palaces because they have oil revenue to ensure the fidelity of the police and other armed forces, and because their respective middle classes know that their own survival depends on the continuation of corrupt, cruel but brutally efficient dictatorships. The domino effect from Tunisia may not topple too many other dominos.
By way of reminding us that realpolitik has nothing to do with reality, Communist l'Humanité quotes some of the things senior French figures said in the not-too-distant past about the former Tunisian dictator.
In 2008, Nicholas Sarkozy praised Ben Ali, saying, "for nearly a quarter of a century, your country has been on the highroad of progress, tolerance and reason." Indeed.
That very same year, Dominique Strauss-Khan, head honcho at the International Monetary Fund, told Ben Ali that his economic policies were a model, adding that they should be imitated by all emerging nations.
And Jacques Chirac famously told the man who left Tunisia on the run last Friday: "You have fought poverty and exclusion, you have created a state which respects individual freedoms, you have consolidated democracy." With friends like these, who needs elections?
Speaking of which, Marine Le Pen was elected at the weekend to succeed her father, Jean-Marie, as leader of the extreme right-wing National Front.
Roughly speaking, the National Front believe that foreigners, especially coloured ones, and homosexuals or jews, of whatever colour, are things that France would be better off without. They don't say it in quite so many words, but that's a fair summary of party policy.
Just as the National Front has gone from the neanderthal stage of jack-booted skin-headism under Jean-Marie Le Pen to generally keeping its collective knuckles from dragging along the ground, it now embarks on a mainstream manifesto with a bright, young leader, whose ideas seem reasonable to an estimated one-fifth of the French electorate.
Far right parties are making gains across the democratic world . . . they always do in times of economic crisis. But the French far right is special in that it has shown itself capable of attracting voters from both sides of the moderate political spectrum.
The current government's stoking of middle-class fears about security and national identity have greatly helped the extremist cause; the total lack of unity and consensus on the Left is another gift to Marine Le Pen and the rest of her luvvies. We'll be hearing more of her.