By Salama A Salama
French President Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to Luxor in the company of his singer- model girlfriend Carla Bruni proved as surprising to Europeans as it was to Egyptians. Chased by an army of media personnel, the couple dressed and acted a little too casually for diplomatic norms, which as far as Europe is concerned, at least, have continued to provide for a certain respectable distance. Then again, this was a private vacation; yet Sarkozy's pragmatic, American-flavoured attitude does not go down so well with everyone. The European public may be used to such an image by now; it is rather the fact that Sarkozy's overseas vacations -- whether to Malta, America or Luxor -- are funded by his billionaire friend Vincent Bollore that has solicited the most serious censure.
Surprising as it is to Egyptians, however, Sarkozy's new look makes up an important side of his presidential approach; and the dynamic it has given way to typifies a new generation of Western politicians; certainly, the approach is fast invading the horizons of French foreign policy, and Sarkozy has employed it directly to manage international crises: in the attempt to save the day in Lebanon by opening up to Syria; or, again, when with the help of his ex-wife Cecilia, he managed to secure the release of the Bulgarian nurses from Libya and invited Colonel Gaddafi to France, paying no heed to the criticism this incurred based on Libya's human rights and terrorism record, his response being that he received Gaddafi to secure billions of euros worth of deals for the benefit of the French economy.
Used as it is to its presidents and senior officials travelling in the most luxurious style, whether at the expense of the state or friendly princes and millionaires, the Egyptian public cannot have stopped at Bollore's money or Sarkozy's style of crisis management. It was rather his bringing along a girlfriend that drove one MP, in an unprecedented step, to present the People's Assembly with an urgent statement questioning the nature of the visit and asking who is covering its expenses, even though traditions of hospitality throughout the Arab world have very seldom distinguished private from state funds.
In this context we are all for Sarkozy embodying a different style of political leadership in Europe, one that doesn't let taboo or caution reduce the momentum with which he seeks his goals, and throwing away many of the prejudices that hindered his predecessors; more importantly, Sarkozy envisages for France a European and international role that makes it a bridge between east and west. Indeed, in his meeting with businessmen, intellectuals and journalists at the embassy in Cairo he managed to present himself as a European liberated of complexes and myths. True, he is a friend of Washington's and committed to the security of Israel, but he does not hesitate to express himself or defend the right of Palestinians to their own state -- an aspect, he says, of said security.
Sarkozy thinks and moves fast, perhaps too fast for the facts on the ground, in the conviction that tolerance -- meaning dialogue and respect for difference -- is enough to solve problems. Diversity is more important than democracy, he believes, the preconditions of which must develop over time. Egypt is important because it is an example of a tolerant state, even though leading 76 million is no mean feat. The remarkable thing about Sarkozy is how much he already knows what he thinks, and whether or not the French have warmed to his contradictions, he certainly holds the key to a different and perhaps promising style of leadership.