The Family Values Of The French Presidential Election

Nicolas Sarkozy has children from three different women. His challenger for France's presidency, François Hollande had four kids with a former candidate, but they never wed, then split. Struggling with monogamy, disdaining hypocrisy, reveling in

Hollande/Royal (2007), Bruni/Sarkozy (2009)
Hollande/Royal (2007), Bruni/Sarkozy (2009)
Joëlle Kuntz

PARIS - When François Hollande delivered his victory speech following his win in last Sunday's first round French presidential election, his new partner, Valerie Trierweiler, was there to support him. But on France's TV stations, there was another important woman in his life supporting him: Segolene Royal, his partner for nearly 30 years and the mother of his children.

It's been said that despite her numerous marriages, Liz Taylor only had one real love of her life: Richard Burton. Segolene and François may be heading down that same road. The two French politicians seem to be stuck with each other no matter what they do. And what they do is hardly ordinary: they've now each made the runoff as the Socialist candidate for the French presidency: Royal in 2007 and Hollande this time around. For their four kids, the Elysee palace is close. Their mother came very close to moving there in 2007 before losing to Nicolas Sarkozy. Their father may take up residence in the Elysee very soon.

There's something particularly French about this political partnership between a former non-married couple in which both partners were candidates to the presidency, as well as rivals in the same presidential race. Indeed, it's hard to imagine seeing this kind of spectacle elsewhere. In Great Britain, marriage and the picture of a united and happy family are prerequisites for political success. And in the United States, where marital hypocrisy is established as a system? Such a peculiar partnership would be unthinkable.

But in France, neither Royal nor Hollande believed their parental status could be seen as a liability for their presidential ambitions. As long as leaders meet a basic level of moral decency, their personal lives attract neither praise nor criticism. Being a good husband or a good father, qualities put forward by both Tony Blair and David Cameron in the United Kingdom, wouldn't bring any political benefit in France. Recently, France's incumbent, President Nicolas Sarkozy, actually addressed his failure at keeping his now ex-wife Cecilia by his side during the 2007 campaign.

Not trying to be role models

In France, matters of the heart – and the body – are either a secret or a show. They only become a scandal when they cross the implicit limits of a mostly liberal code. In France's presidential runoff, both candidates have been wounded by love, and then cured – by the likes of Valerie and Carla. They aren't trying to be role models. Instead, they are building step by step life solutions that fit their needs – all under the watchful gaze of the French public.

If François Hollande becomes president, First Lady Valerie won't have the same last name. Another French exception. Her three children from a previous marriage will be part of the family dinners at the Elysee palace, along with Hollande's four with Royal.

Likewise, when Sarkozy was sworn in back in 2007, what the public saw was a modern family. His two sons from his first marriage were standing side-by-side with the two daughters Cecilia has from her marriage. The son they had together, Louis, stood with Cecilia. In 2012, Louis is now playing with Carla Bruni's son from a previous marriage and with the baby girl she had with Sarkozy.

France's presidential clan is no longer afraid to show that it's just like any other family: complicated, with wounds to heal, joy to share, and always struggling to make things work better.

Read more from Le Temps in French

Photo - Marie-Lan Nguyen / Pete Souza

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Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3


LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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