By Francois Burgat
French researcher says France has been hit hard diplomatically in Libya.
A crucial page in regional and global diplomacy is being written in Libya. Without of course prejudging what will happen next, and the reactions to come from the losers of the moment. The setbacks inflicted on warlord Khalifa Haftar affect all the Arab and Western sponsors of the Arab counter-revolution.
But even more, these setbacks mark an inexorable decline in western diplomacy in general. That of President Emmanuel Macron’s France in particular, who explicitly supported the putschist general, militarily a little and even more diplomatically, by receiving him in Paris as an alter ego of legal government.
This decline will undoubtedly be a milestone in the 21st century’s history. A black page for French diplomacy. It is important to stress that Haftar’s military debacle will probably not be considered as such by the main stakeholders — the Libyans — who are its primary recipients. And this is where the rub of the Paris strategy hurts in this case.
This turning point is first of all the expression of a historical dynamic as banal as it is structural: That of the re-emergence of the so-called “secondary” actors such as the colonial page (and its corollary the collapse of the Ottoman Empire) had a time reduced to the rank of spectators, even direct or indirect victims of the expansionist colonial ambitions then imperial of Europe and the US. Reiterating what happened in Syria, Turkey and Russia agree on the Libyan question to find common ground for their differences, the important point is that it hits the pawn of European diplomats who are completely excluded.
Against this development, France can not do much. It still has two options: put up with it and clearly choose sides; or try to blindly counter it. France chose the second, and pays the price. France’s “Libyan defeat” not only reflects the irresistible advance in the history of decolonization, it also expresses the failure of a strategy that was by no means the only possible one.
By involving in the fall of late ruler Muammar Gaddafi, it was for reasons imbued with the scents of oil finance more than those of the promotion of democracy, Paris had all the same been associated a few years ago with the popular victory which ousted the authoritarian from Libya.
For this reason, in whole sections of the population, the image of France, admittedly blurred in the region, was far from being only negative. By suddenly adopting the counter-revolutionary agenda of the Emiratis and the Saudis, Macron, however, chose to squander this capital. Nothing forced him to.
Nothing, except first of all the attraction of a patronage relationship with these rich oil monarchies. Nothing, then, except the renewed attraction to the shortcuts — so prized by his electorate — of the “struggle against political Islam”. These shortcuts are particularly dangerous, not just for Libyans.
When Abu Dhabi, which funds the French far right of the National Rally and, like Macron, comes to terms with his ideas, cultivates ignorance and rides on the fears of Europeans, it is at the risk of cultivating the worst xenophobic drifts.
The Emirati princes, however, have undertaken to distill, through interposed mercenaries influencers, an Islamophobia that they intend to convert to discredit their main opponents. It is also their way of attacking their regional rivals, Turkey and Qatar in the lead, accused of not sufficiently suppressing their “Islamist” opponents.
Thus France chose Haftar’s side, not only for the restoration of the worst model of authoritarianism, but also for its ideological corollary, the old software that eradicates the “struggle against political Islam”. And too bad if it was necessary — as a way out of the crisis — to bring Libya back through the hut of this dictatorship that was at the origin.
Was it also necessary, for Macron, to make this incredible display of bad faith, by pointing out in others the faults that he practiced much more heavily than them?
Why, when the French president accuses Turkey of military interference, does he forget to mention the unlimited funding granted by Abu Dhabi to recruit and arm the sectarian militias which constitute the main body of Haftar?
Why does he omit to mention the presence on Libyan ground of Sudanese mercenaries recruited through an Israeli intermediary? Or that of Chadian and Syrian fighters imported by mercenaries … Russian?
Why does he omit to mention the repeated incursions of the Egyptian and Emirati air forces?
And, last but not least, why does he hide the direct interference of France itself, through the attested presence of the DGSE [Directorate-General for External Security] and special forces alongside the putschist marshal?
What remains is a fundamental question: can we send back the legalist camp and its aggressors?
In the Libyan crisis, an authoritarian counter-revolution modeled on the sinister model of Abdelfattah al-Sisi clashes with a government which — whatever its weaknesses and contradictions, that no one denies — has remained to this day a multilateral dynamic resulting from the revolutionary movement which put an end to the Jamahiryan dictatorship.
Behind the scenes of the assault on Tripoli, one thing seems to be obvious, which permeates the entire sequence: flouting UN multilateralism does not weigh the same whether one is the heir to the colonial powers or one of the “southern” nations! And how then to dare — as Macron does — reproach Washington for showing unilateralism with regard to Tehran?
The almost systematic French opposition to Turkey dates from the coming to power of [the incumbent ruling] Justice and Development (AK) Party and of a management team which, while respecting the Atlantic military alliance, stopped making the various diplomatic concessions to Europeans to which their predecessors had accustomed them.
France and Europe have since multiplied bad manners against Turkey. First, there were the repeated rebuffs on EU membership, dramatized by [former President Nicolas] Sarkozy, but which were initiated by his predecessors and which were never contradicted by his successors.
Added to this was the complacent hypocrisy of Paris towards the authors of the failed July 2016 coup [in Turkey] and, more generally, a hostility “in principle”, aligned with that of Tel Aviv, to the regard to the party which brought [incumbent Turkish President] Recep Tayyip Erdogan to power.
France thus systematically denounces to Ankara violations of the rights of opponents that passed over in silence before the AK Party came to power and that it forgets just as much when, otherwise more serious, they are the act of its allies in Cairo.
Then came, to fight Daesh[/ISIS], the assumed choice of the West to arm the Syrian wing of this Kurdish separatist PKK that Turkey has always fought with some reason. After the maritime incident of June 10 this year, the French version of which was dramatically disowned by a majority of NATO members, there is sufficient evidence of the continuing dishonesty that Paris shows towards Turkey.
The bad faith that flowed from the entire French ruling class after the episode of Saint Sophia’s return to the 5th century of her Muslim trajectory only confirms it.
On the Libyan ground, on July 25, the distressing episode of the “mediation” attempted by “the revolutionary” Bernard-Henri Levy, of which no member of the Government of National Accord has forgotten that he unreservedly supported Macron in favor of Haftar’s counterrevolution unsurprisingly deceived no one.
Where is this leading France’s regional diplomacy? More effective, as perhaps those who implement it think? Or rather to a programmed dead end, the terms of which, using the lexicon of confrontation, are becoming more precise day after day?
Francois Burgat is a researcher at the Institute for Research and Study on the Arab and Muslim World, located in Aix-en-Provence, France.