The French foreign policy U-turn in the Arab Spring: the case of Tunisia

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Series Details Vol.23, No.2, June 2018, p197-222
Publication Date June 2018
ISSN 1362-9395
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As for many, the Arab uprisings of 2010–11 came as a surprise for France. After initial inactivity, followed by last minute support of the Tunisian regime, President Sarkozy took a U-turn by spearheading the military intervention in Libya and both Sarkozy and his successor Hollande announced a re-launch in the Franco-Tunisian relations.

Starting from the assumption that France’s drastic foreign policy changes cannot be sufficiently explained by presidential change, we draw upon social-constructivist discourse-bound identity theory and provide a model for discursive legitimations of foreign policy changes. When the “permissive consensus” between the three discursive formations of the French foreign policy identity breaks up, drastic foreign policy turns may occur.

By analysing the French policy actions and rhetoric towards Tunisia between 2007 and 2015, we show, however, that the sudden change tends to be rather ephemeral and that French foreign policy seems to be gradually returning to its pre-revolution approach.

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