French Foreign Affairs Minister Michele Alliot-Marie
French Foreign Affairs Minister Michele Alliot-Marie Reuters

The French Foreign Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie is coming under severe criticism, including demands for her resignation, following her handling of the Tunisian crisis.

Among other things, she is being lambasted (by even members of her own party) for accepting free rides on a private jet owned by an alleged associate of Tunisia’s former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in the days leading up to the revolt in that country which removed Ben Ali from power.

The Ben Ali associate is reported to be Tunisian businessman Aziz Miled, whose name is on a public list of people subject to an assets freeze by Swiss authorities.

For 20 years I have always tried to pay for everything… but in this instance I did not. Was it because I was tired and among friends that I couldn’t see the reaction [the flights] could provoke? Yes, it’s possible that I regret it,” Alliot-Marie said on Monday, regarding the jet ride.

However, she also said she should not be held responsible for political crises that occur when she is on holiday.

“When I am on vacation, I am no longer the foreign affairs minister,” she said.

While conceding some missteps on her part, the foreign minister has refused to step down from her post.

“I’ve done nothing that is politically reprehensible,” she told FRANCE 24.

On January 11, (three days prior to Ben Ali’s forced departure from Tunisia), Alliot-Marie told France’s National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, France could “offer the know-how of [its] security forces to help control” Tunisian protesters agitating for Ben Ali’s resignation.

On January 20, following Ben Ali’s flight into exile in Saudi Arabia, she retracted her earlier statement by telling the National Assembly’s foreign affairs committee: “It is inconceivable to believe that France could lend its security forces to another country.”

The opposition Socialist party is the loudest in demanding her ouster.

Socialist MP Francois Hollande has called on President Nicolas Sarkozy t make a decision on the foreign minister.

Either he defends and keeps Michele Alliot-Marie... or he takes decisions and makes choices about the government line-up,” he said.

She no longer has any place in government and must resign, said Socialist parliamentary leader Jean-Marc Ayrault. For a minister of the republic to spend your holidays in Tunisia, which is under repression, is surreal.

Alliot-Marie is also under fire for what is being viewed as a cover-up of France’s full cooperation with the Tunisian police during the riots.

She must explain herself, said Ayrault. I would like her to explain why she did not tell us the truth about the deliveries of police equipment including the tear gas canisters when people had already been killed in Tunisia.

Even some members of her own Union Pour Un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) party have attacked her.
Valerie Rosso-Debord, member of parliament for the UMP, told Europe 1 radio that Alliot-Marie made “unacceptable” errors in judgment and that her behavior was “becoming annoying.”

Alliot-Marie is a prominent French politician and was the country’s first female defense minister (in 2002) as well as minister of justice.

As for the former president of Tunisia, Ben Ali enjoyed good relations with France for the 23 years of his terms, but when he sought refuge there, he was refused, and went to Saudi Arabia instead.