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Sarkozy Agonistes

“Why do they hate us?” asked the Americans of the Islamic fundamentalists after 9/11. “Why do they not like me?” could be the question asked by Nicolas Sarkozy to the French after more than one year in power.

Sarkozy is omnipresent both domestically and internationally. On July 13, the leaders of more than 40 countries attended the first gathering of the “Union for the Mediterranean” in Paris. France is back in the world and in Europe. Domestically, an ambitious and difficult program of long-awaited reforms, which a majority of French citizens recognize are inevitable, has begun, with some early results in the field of labor law and education. Sarkozy’s energy, willpower, and activism are nothing short of spectacular.

And yet he is the least popular of the Fifth Republic’s presidents, the one whose “fall from grace” with the French has been the most spectacular, rapid, and durable, to the point where political experts, and his friends and foes alike, wonder whether he can rebound.

What went wrong?