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Strauss-Kahn's Political Fortunes in France Rise as Rape Case Unravels

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, right, former head of the IMF leaves his house, accompanied by his wife, Anne Sinclair, left, for the first time after the judge changed the terms of his house arrest, Friday, July 1, 2011 in New York.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, right, former head of the IMF leaves his house, accompanied by his wife, Anne Sinclair, left, for the first time after the judge changed the terms of his house arrest, Friday, July 1, 2011 in New York.
Lisa Bryant

Reports that a New York sexual assault case may be unraveling against former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn has thrown French politics into turmoil. Strauss-Kahn's case also lays bare sharp divides over matters of sexuality and power in France.

Just a week ago, most analysts and ordinary French considered Dominique Strauss-Kahn a political has-been.  Many once considered the Socialist politician a strong candidate to be France's next president.  But that changed in May, when a New York hotel maid filed sexual assault charges against him.

Strauss-Kahn was placed under house arrest and quit his job as head of the International Monetary Fund.  

Now, questions are mounting about the accuser's credibility.  And two new polls find French split over whether Strauss-Kahn should return to politics if the charges are withdrawn.

On the streets of Paris, some like 19-year-old David Mourjan are in favor of a comeback.

"He is going to come back in France and he will be welcomed as a hero because he was a victim of a plot ...  I think he is the one with the more chances to be the new president in France, even if we know the events," he said.

A number of Socialist Party politicians are similarly upbeat.  But Strauss-Kahn's case and his reputation as a womanizer have also unleashed a passionate debate in France about machoism and sexuality in politics.

Researcher Nicole Bacharan, of the Paris-based Foundation of Political Sciences, says while she sees Strauss-Kahn's male supporters elated at his potential comeback, women are shocked his past behavior might be forgotten.

"If Dominique Strauss-Kahn did not rape this woman, he should walk free.  No question.  However, I think this whole mess will make it more difficult for women anywhere to come forward anywhere and say they have been raped.  That is not very good news," Bacharan said.

American University of Paris Political Science Professor Steven Ekovich believes that whatever Strauss-Kahn's future, his case has offered a civics lesson for many French.

"This is the presumed Socialist candidate for president ... and the Socialist stand in principle for the downtrodden, the poor, those who have not had privileges in life.  And the roles have of course been completely reversed in this particular situation.  So as typical of a political scandal, a political sex scandal even, the question of hypocrisy comes into play.  And here we have a glaring example of hypocrisy," he said.

Strauss-Kahn's worries are far from over.  According to news reports, a young writer plans on filing sexual assault charges against him Tuesday in France.

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