More Clever than the Enemy (French Diplomacy in the Middle East and Africa)

Posted by John Rosenthal

Jacques Chirac’s proposed plan for donors – first and foremost, the European Union – to continue financing the Palestinian Authority via a World Bank fund has received some coverage in the English-language media. (See, for instance, here from the AP.) Thankfully, since otherwise, it seems that the World Bank might not have known about it. (See the comment of World Bank spokesperson Dina El Naggar here.) However, the full political rationale behind the French plan has not necessarily been explained. The following from a report in last weekend’s edition (29-30 April) of Le Figaro [link in French]:

Having won the election, Hamas has been left in quarantine because of its refusal to recognize Israel, to condemn terrorism, and to adhere to the Oslo Accords. In Paris, however, it is said that one wants to take distance from the "erroneous wager of certain actors" – namely, of the Americans – that aims at "seeing the creation of chaos in the Palestinian territories such that the responsibility will be attributed to Hamas".


Thus in the words of an unnamed "high-level French diplomat", America’s refusal to subsidize a government headed by a group that both the US and the EU classify as a terrorist group becomes a clever – well-nigh diabolical – calculation. Note too Le Figaro’s own affirmation that Hamas has refused "to condemn [condamner] terrorism": a formula that suggests that Hamas is not, after all, a terrorist entity, since otherwise it would need to renounce terrorism, not "condemn" it.


With its excellent connections in Gaullist circles, Le Figaro makes a very regular practice of citing anonymous sources close to President Jacques Chirac or within other governmental institutions. The citing of anonymous government sources in the pages of Le Figaro, however, serves a very different function than it does, say, in the New York Times. Whereas in the New York Times, the citing of anonymous sources from the American government typically serves to attack or undermine American policy, in Le Figaro the citing of anonymous sources from the French government typically serves to attack or undermine… also American policy. At any rate, not French policy.


Nonetheless, the comments are often revealing in their frankness. Thus the same edition of Le Figaro carries an article on France’s unwavering support for Chadian President Idriss Déby. Déby is running, in elections being held today, for a third consecutive term in office. This despite a provision of the Chadian constitution that is supposed to have limited Presidents to two terms. In light of the irregularities involved and an opposition boycott of the elections, the United States is reported by Le Figaro to have favored a postponement of the elections. This proposal has been indignantly rejected by France: "there is no legitimate reason, nor any moral reason to postpone the election," an unnamed diplomat is quoted as saying. Yet another unnamed diplomatic "actor" explains the underlying reasons for the indignation:

Déby is the last bastion of "Francophonie" in face of the "Anglophonie" of Sudan and Arabism [sic.: l'arabité]. Everyone is terrified that Chad might fall.

[Note: For background to these last remarks, see "'Francophonie' versus 'Anglo-saxonia'".]


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