Former head of the International Monetary Fund Dominique Strauss-Kahn… (Daniel Barry/Getty Images )
Reporting from Paris — In the space of just six weeks, Dominique Strauss-Kahn has gone through several metamorphoses in the eyes of his compatriots in France.
As head of the International Monetary Fund, he had been considered a "Washington exile" in French political circles.
Charged with sexually assaulting a New York hotel housekeeper, he became the "Sofitel Accused" and then the "Rikers Island Prisoner."
Today, he has been reincarnated as the "Phoenix of New York."
Before his arrest in May, Strauss-Kahn was widely predicted by polls as able to beat President Nicolas Sarkozy in next year's election.
Stunned supporters of Strauss-Kahn, who had written off his political career, now are planning his comeback after news that the sexual assault case against him may be falling apart.
There was a sense that his Socialist Party had come almost full circle: from hopes of Strauss-Kahn winning next May's election, to shock at his arrest, to despair at his ordeal, back to shock, and now to new hope after claims that the woman who accused him of attempted rape may have lied.
Although newspapers and media commentators took care to emphasize that the veteran politician known as DSK had not been cleared, friends and allies have opened the door to suggestions that he could make a comeback.
On Friday, the daily newspaper Le Figaro asked, "What is the former champion of the opinion polls going to do if he is cleared?"
The general conclusion: Who knows?
Philippe Goulliaud, head of the political team at Le Figaro, said the Socialist Party was now in a difficult position.
"Already DSK supporters had turned the page and decided things had been settled. Now the Strauss Kahnians are saying his return is possible," he said. "It is difficult to know if it's possible or to know what DSK wants. Having seen images of this man tied and handcuffed, he might be like the Count of Monte Cristo and want to have revenge on those who have sullied his name."
Socialist lawmaker Jean-Marie Le Guen said it was "the end of the nightmare" for Strauss-Kahn, who he said would now "be present in the presidential campaign."
Socialist minister Michele Sabban called on the party to delay the primary process for its presidential candidate.
"If Dominique Strauss-Kahn is cleared, I ask the Socialist Party to suspend the primary process," she told journalists Friday.
"Nobody knows what frame of mind he is in," one of Strauss-Kahn's friends told Le Figaro. "It's hard to speculate. He'll need time to work it out himself. We can't say to him, 'Go on then, get back on the horse,' because he's been hit badly by this."
Willsher is a special correspondent.