Sarkozy's Different Stances towards Islamic Countries

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Pirooz Izadi
06 February 2012

During the past five years, Sarkozy has led France's foreign policy somehow in a different manner compared to his predecessors. This is quite evident with regard to France's stances towards Islamic countries. These stances have lacked any consistency and have been to some extent controversial. This essay tries to answer the question that what has been the main driving force of his behavior in terms of foreign policy? By looking to some instances of his stances and actions in this regard, which took place in recent times; we can observe that they were kinds of personal adventurism, mostly adopted to promote his popularity.
First, Elysee's reaction to developments in the Arab world, which now called the "Arab Spring", was totally passive at the beginning. The French diplomatic apparatus was surprised by the uprising of Tunisian people and reacted not in a proper manner. The worst became apparent in Tunisia and later in Egypt when some in his cabinet including Mrs Alliot- Marie, then French interior minister advised Tunisian security officials how to efficiently oppress the demonstrations. Later her close association with Ben Ali family was revealed. Then, it was divulged that Prime Minister Fillon's had a private visit to Egypt as Mubarak's special guest. This situation proved to be very troublesome for the French government which has protected Ben Ali for long years in light of its francafrique policy consisting of supporting African dictators to keep its influence in the black continent; it was contrary to ideals of freedom and democracy defended by the Republic of France.
Following the revolt of Libyan people against Gaddafi and the ratification of UNSC resolution 1973 in March 2011to create a no fly zone over Libya and to protect the lives of civilians, France along with Britain began air raids against some military targets in Libya to rehabilitate his lost reputation. By doing this, he faced other Western countries and NATO with fait accompli that was initially opposed by Germany and Turkey.
In another development, the French Parliament ratified a law under which any denial of Armenian genocide would be recognized to be a crime; the law initiated by one of the members of governing party (UMP), instigated the anger of Turkish officials who suspended all relations with France. Given the extensive political, economic, and cultural ties between the two countries, the law was against the national interests of France. According to some Turkish and French experts, the only justification for this law is to attract the vote of French Armenians (estimated to be 500 000) in the next presidential election. Given France's opposition to Turkey's membership in the EU, some experts interpret this action in the larger context of Islamophobia.
With regard to Afghanistan and NATO's involvement in that country, the killing of four French soldiers in Afghanistan in January 2012, Sarkozy declared that "from now on, all the operations of training and combat help by the French army are suspended, and if the conditions of security are not clearly restored, then the question of an early withdrawal of the French army would arise." This statement was made by considering the opposition of the French public opinion to casualties suffered by French citizens in missions abroad as well as promoting the popularity of Sarkozy in the upcoming presidential election. However, it is contrary to France's engagements in the framework of NATO, struggling against terrorism and strengthening Afghan government to establish its sovereignty all over the country.
As for Iran, Sarkozy in his new year's greetings to French diplomatic corps said: "Time is running out. France will do everything to avoid a military intervention. A military intervention will not solve the problem, but it will unleash war and chaos in the Middle East." In fact, he tried to evoke the prospect of war to convince Russia and China to join the West in its efforts to impose heavier sanctions on Iran. Here, he intended to enhance his position by pioneering in exerting more pressure on Iran through promoting Iranophobia.
Regarding recent developments in Syria, it seems that Paris wants to play a leading role in dealing with Damascus, probably in the framework of a Libya intervention formula, despite the differences between Turkey and France; they can find a common ground in this regard. Previously, Sarkozy tried to forge closer relations with Bashar Assad to convince him to take distance from Hezbollah, and even invited him as his special guest in Bastille Day ceremony, but he did not succeed. Now with the internal unrest in this country, he wants once again to exploit the situation in his favor.
Given the above, it becomes clear that Sarkozy does not pursue a positive foreign policy towards the Islamic countries to ensure France's national interests and tries to boost his profile by exerting to political adventurism and ostentatious actions. Meanwhile, he exploits the anti-immigrant sentiments of some sections of French society who are fearful of Muslim immigrants to enlarge his constituency. It can be said that stances taken by Sarkozy towards Islamic countries influenced by its unbalanced and incoherent foreign policy, have undermined the status enjoyed previously by France among Islamic countries.