Poster of Ben Ali. Photo: "Eikizilla"

Nicolas Sarkozy is on a three-day trip to Tunisia. A former Tunisian judge, suspended for having criticised his president and now under constant police watch, deplores the French head of state for turning a blind eye to the corruption and authoritarianism Ben Ali's "clan". 

Mokhtar Yahyaoui is a former Tunisian judge. In 2001 he drafted a public letter to president Ben Ali condemning the lack of independence of Tunisian magistrates. A few days later, he was suspended and has since been living under police surveillance.

Sarkozy's visit in Tunisia has had a concrete effect on me - my internet connection has been cut. I can't update my online journal, Tunisia Watch, which is already censured in Tunisia, but brings in quite a crowd from outside the country (1000 visits per day). I think it's because the authorities don't want me to raise embarrassing affairs, like the international arrest warrants issued for two members of Ben Ali's family [France issued an international arrest warrant for Imad Trabelsi, nephew of the president's wife, for buying a yacht that had been stolen from a French businessman].

I don't expect anything good to come out of Sarkozy's visit. I think that as far as human rights go, his policies are even worse than Chirac's. Chirac never criticised Ben Ali, but he did keep his distance. After reading an interview with the new French president in one of Tunisia's dailies Al Chourouk, we can only fear the worse. The paper headlined the article "I am coming to express my support and respect for Ben Ali". I would have preferred him to express his support for the Tunisian people rather than their dictator. It's obvious that Tunisia is an essential country for the Sarkozian diplomacy. The French president has already visited Ben Ali twice in one year. However it's not like presidents are in a hurry to come here... the other European heads of state never do.

The reason for the visit is vague. He talks about a "Mediterranean Union". But there are already very strong links between Europe and Tunisia. Our country maintains 70% of our commercial trade with European countries. There's a stronger need for us to develop trade with other north African countries. But France isn't interested in that. The French foreign affairs policy is to continue supporting the authoritarian regimes in the area, in Libya and Egypt, by passing through Tunisia and Morocco, for economic and geopolitical reasons (fighting terrorism etc).

France is ready to abandon its beliefs in democracy and human rights for personal interests. It supports dictators and turns a blind eye to the corruption of these regimes. I can't speak too directly, because I'm being spied on. But French diplomats know that economic agreements singed by France directly profit the president's clan."