By Mathieu Galtier.
Tripoli 18 March 2013:
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrives in Tripoli for a one-day visit tomorrow, Tuesday. He has been invited by the head of Tripoli Local Council, Sadat Elbadri, to celebrate the second anniversary of the entry of France in the war alongside the revolutionaries.
On 19 March 2011, two days after the adoption of the UN Security Council resolution 1973 imposing a no fly zone over Libya, Sarkozy told the Paris Summit for the Support of the Libyan People that France and the allied countries would stand with the rebels and protect Benghazi. Shortly afterwards, French fighter planes destroyed a Qaddafi regime tank column that was about to attack Benghazi.
The leader of Benghazi Local Council, Mahmoud Burazeiza, will be in Tripoli to welcome the former French president.
Sarkozy will be received by Sadat Elbadri at the city council building in Algeria Square in the morning. He will then have lunch with the Prime Minister, Ali Zeidan. After that he is scheduled to address members of the General National Congress. There are no plans, however, for him to go walkabouts in Martyrs Square and talk to the public as did British Prime Minister David Cameron on 31 January.
An Interior Ministry offiical told the Libya Herald that there were fears that both the Congress building and the Prime Minsitry could be attacked tomorrow.
“The 19th of March should be a day of remembrance. Without your [Sarkozy’s] help, nothing would have been possible in Libya,” Elbadri wrote to Sarkozy in his official letter of invitation. “We want to show that we are thankful to Mr Sarkozy for what he did for the success of the revolution in Libya.”
The visit is seen are consolidating Libyan-French bonds. “Beyond this anniversary, the visit of Mr Sarkozy strengthens the links between Tripoli and France”, the director of strategy and international relations of Tripoli Local Council, Khaled Ghellali, said.
The Tripoli authorities say they will receive Sarkozy with the same honours as would be according any head of state.
They also want to show the world that the city is now safe. Sarkozy had been invited by Tripoli Local Council for the second anniversary celebrations of the 17 February Revolution. But it was cancelled because of concerns about tothe lack of security. “Now, everything is going globally well in Tripoli”, Ghellali stressed.
Sarkozy remains still extremely popular with Libyans because of his and France’s decisive role in standing alongside the revolution and helping free the country. But back in France, Libya has become something of a sensitive issue for him.
“Mr Sakozy is coming in Libya to tell to the world Qaddafi never gave him money for his electoral campaign in 2007. It is an obvious communication plan”, one top official Libyan civil servant suggested to the Libya Herald with an an obvious note of sarcasm.
French justice is investigating possible illegal funding of Sarkozy’s presidential campaign in 2007 by the Qaddafi regime. On 27 February, French police searched Claude Guéant’s private home in the context of this investigation. Guéant is France’s former Interior Minister and a very close friend to Sarkozy.
In an interview with Euronews on 18 March 2011, Saif El-Islam accused Sarkozy of using Libyan money for his presidential campaign. The former president has consistently and strongly denied the allegation and calling accusations “grotesque”. The issue of Qaddafi’s money is thought more than likely to be on the menu during the lunch in talks between Ali Zeidan and Sarkozy.
Tomorrow’s visit is thought in France to have another goal — to restore his international prestige for a possible domestic political comeback. The former president gave a long interview to the French magazine Valeurs Actuelles on 7 March about himself and his ideas – his first since losing the presidential elections last May. Since then, many political analysts have bet on his candidacy in the 2017 presidential campaign . Very unpopular after his electoral defeat, the key role played by him in the liberation of Libya is one of his successes recognised by the French public and most of his political opponents. The recent military victory of his successor, François Hollande, in Mali is another reason for Sarkozy wanting to remind his “own victory” in Libya.
According to Financial Times, Qatar has recently asked Nicolas Sarkozy to head a €500-million sovereign-wealth fund. His entourage neither confirms nor denies this offer.
It had been suggested earlier that the philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who played a significant role in initially getting France to support the rebels during the revolution, would accompany Sarkozy tomorrow. He will not be coming.
Alain Juppé, who was French Foreign Minister during the revolution, is part of the delegation. He is also Mayor of Bordeaux which is in the process of twinning with Tripoli . Also in the delegation is the former French Minister of Justice, Dominique Perben. He owns a law firm in Tripoli and comes regularly to the Libyan capital.