Amid Tunisia’s Transition, France Walks Fine Line Between Influence and Interference

Amid Tunisia’s Transition, France Walks Fine Line Between Influence and Interference

On Nov. 4, French President Francois Hollande received his Tunisian counterpart, Moncef Marzouki, at the Elysee Palace to discuss bilateral ties as Tunisia continues in its halting democratic transition. The visit coincided with yet another stalemate in recently renewed political talks within Tunisia’s National Constituent Assembly (NCA), the body formed in 2011 to draft the country’s new constitution.

The 2011 Tunisian uprising that resulted in the ouster of former dictator Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali marked a new chapter for French-Tunisian relations, born out of colonial ties and maintained today through economic partnership. Amicable relations with Ben Ali flourished particularly under Hollande’s predecessor, former President Nicolas Sarkozy, from 2007 to 2012. Sarkozy was named an “honorary citizen” during a 2008 visit to Tunis, where he praised Ben Ali for making progress on rights and freedoms. Today, France is Tunisia’s No. 1 partner in commercial exchanges and investments and its primary supplier of goods. In 2011, France announced roughly $475 million of development aid to Tunisia, part of a promise to reallocate a substantial portion of Tunisian debt to development. The countries’ ties are not exclusively economic: Nearly 650,000 Tunisians reside legally in France, and approximately 30,000 French citizens have expatriated to Tunisia.

Ben Ali offered a security partner and guarantor of the secular leadership France so staunchly defends. These biases informed Sarkozy’s decision to wait until after Ben Ali’s fall to announce France’s support for the Tunisian uprising, with French officials claiming they had misjudged the gravity of the situation.

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