The French foreign minister’s bad trip

New French Foreign Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, already under fire for suggesting, not so subtly, that France’s riot-hardened police could help Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali put down his country’s uprising last month, is now embroiled in a controversy over a vacation she took in that country shortly after Christmas, while the riots that brought ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images.
ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images.
ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images.

New French Foreign Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, already under fire for suggesting, not so subtly, that France's riot-hardened police could help Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali put down his country's uprising last month, is now embroiled in a controversy over a vacation she took in that country shortly after Christmas, while the riots that brought down Ben Ali were already well under way. In particular, scrutiny has focused on a private jet belonging to a businessman with links to the Ben Ali regime that Alliot-Marie, her partner, and her parents, used twice on their trip. Again, her handling of the controversy has not inspired confidence:

Rather than apologising, her response was combative. "When I'm on holiday, I'm not the foreign minister, I'm Michèle Alliot-Marie," she said.

Less than 24 hours later, she has been forced to retract the statement.

New French Foreign Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, already under fire for suggesting, not so subtly, that France’s riot-hardened police could help Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali put down his country’s uprising last month, is now embroiled in a controversy over a vacation she took in that country shortly after Christmas, while the riots that brought down Ben Ali were already well under way. In particular, scrutiny has focused on a private jet belonging to a businessman with links to the Ben Ali regime that Alliot-Marie, her partner, and her parents, used twice on their trip. Again, her handling of the controversy has not inspired confidence:

Rather than apologising, her response was combative. "When I’m on holiday, I’m not the foreign minister, I’m Michèle Alliot-Marie," she said.

Less than 24 hours later, she has been forced to retract the statement.

Perhaps mindful of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s oft-repeated mantra: "When you’re a minister, you’re a full time minister," Alliot-Marie told Le Parisien newspaper: "Obviously I am a minister 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Even on holiday, I work in constant contact with my colleagues."

On French radio, she said: "I thought a minister had the right to have friends but if that’s the way it is I’ll be very careful. Next time I won’t leave the Dordogne."

Critics say the businessman, Aziz Miled, has close commercial ties to Ben Ali’s brother-in-law, Belhassen Trabelsi. Alliot-Marie says he was actually a "victim" of the regime who was forced to do business with them. Given how many pots the Trabelsis had their fingers in during the final years of the regime, that actually seems plausible. But still, one would think that vacationing in countries undergoing insurrection is a pretty obvious no-no for a foreign minister.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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