French political scientist Francois Burgat, in an interview with Anadolu Agency, demanded French President Emmanuel Macron to “end the atmosphere of confrontation” in the eastern Mediterranean and stop his “stigmatization of Muslim Turkey” for electoral purposes.
Referring to foreign interference in Lebanon and other issues in Middle Eastern countries, Burgat — also the research director at France-based Institute of Research and Study on the Arab and Muslim Worlds — recalled the historical role of France that led to the worsening political situation in the Lebanese capital Beirut.
Burgat analyzed France’s relations with Saudi Arabia and its position vis-a-vis regional actors such as Iran, the UAE, Egypt, and Israel.
The political scientist then questioned Macron’s “hostile attitude” towards Turkey. Burgat believes Macron’s anti-Turkish policy — which he uses for political purposes — is based particularly on a form of Islamophobia which has divided the French society.
Finally, Burgat called on the French president to take into account Turkey’s maritime demands to help peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean.
AA: How do you analyze Macron’s Middle East policy, particularly in Lebanon and Libya, in light of the recent events?
FB: In theory, President Macron’s invasion of Lebanon does appear to be outright foreign interference. However, a realistic reading of the regional configuration requires a more nuanced assessment. Foreign interference is in fact an integral part of the Lebanese political reality.
They were first of all done by the French of course, with their founding role in the creation of the country in 1920 to then prevail the political representation of the Christians. But then, they were made by the Syrians, the Saudis and the Iranians without forgetting of course the Israelis. They have all, over the past decades, hijacked entire parts of the sovereignty of Lebanon, including through a direct military presence.
In addition, all of them have foreign interference, and therefore worsened these sectarian divisions which are today at the heart of the dramatic situation of the Lebanese state. Macron, therefore, does neither more nor less than what other regional actors are doing. For France, non-interference means letting other regional actors trample it rather than a disrespect to the Lebanese sovereignty.
From 2012, some have justified the refusal of France to seriously help (alongside Turkey) the Syrian opposition against Bashar Al-Assad by the principle of “non-interference” which then ended in leaving the field free to other interventions — much more decisive — from Iran and then from Russia.
Today, the question of the legitimacy of the French intervention in Lebanon is less important. From my point of view, the question should focus on what we know about Macron’s regional and global agenda in the Middle East. This is where the problem lies.
AA: What is Macron’s real goal according to you? Is France really contributing to the formation of peace in these countries?
FB: In Beirut, Macron actually called for a reform of a system that his predecessors helped to create and maintain and from which they benefited throughout the past decades. France, in reality, had nothing to reproach with this system as long as it was exercised for the benefit of that Christian component of the population which was so closely associated with it.
Paris then came to terms with the transfer of power that took place for the benefit of the Sunni community. France then agreed to share “tutelage” over Lebanon with its Saudi ally, which then stayed by its side, notably through the Hariri family. For Paris (and for Riyadh) the drawbacks of the system began to gain the upper hand when it was towards the Shiite community and its Iranian sponsor that caused power to shift.
We know the brutality with which Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman tried to regain control by exerting very physical pressure on Prime Minister Saad Hariri and how, in this context, Macron took the lead by going to Riyadh to slow down the ardor of his young Saudi partner.
What France therefore wants today is the end of the denominational system that it created, but only because it has now eluded him. This reformist ambition and the condemnation of the political class which has been the instrument and the beneficiary of the sectarian partition are now widely accepted.
Here again, it is therefore not opportune to stand out from those – including Emmanuel Macron – who are asking for his transformation. The essential is in fact elsewhere: it is important to know that France’s local and regional reformist agenda – which does not pose a problem as such – is currently being mobilized.
AA: Which local and regional order is the French reformist agenda currently mobilized for?
FB: To answer this question, we must recall what we know about President Macron’s Middle East agenda. Over the past three years, it has shown enough sides to it that one can — without prejudging of course its eventual ability to correct its mistakes — legitimately express serious reservations.
By including Hezbollah in the discussion process, despite protests from pro-Israel circles, Macron has undoubtedly taken a step in the right direction. The fact is that, beyond this first signal, we know that his Middle Eastern plan is very closely modeled on this Emirati-Saudi-Israeli axis with which he is himself closely associated with. This axis, with official recognition by the Emirates and Israeli participation has just been clarified, is the one that identifies with the formidable apparatus of the Arab counter-revolution.
Much like the one in Tel Aviv and despite the few nuances opposed to US President Donald Trump in the nuclear deal episode, Macron’s agenda is therefore first and foremost viscerally opposed to Iran. It is therefore in principle in tension with the quasi-majority political component of the Lebanese arena.
But much more seriously, it is above all de facto associated with the Emirati and Egyptian struggle against any dynamic of democratic opening in the region. So Macron is beset with his adherence to the pernicious creed of the relentless struggle against political Islam, advocated and implemented by the Emiratis and the Saudis with millions of dollars.That is to say, in reality, against the most essential players in overcoming authoritarianism in the region.
It is at least partly for this reason that Macron’s agenda also encompasses hostility in principle towards countries — including Qatar and even more so Turkey — that do not fight the political forces radically enough, which, however, emerged in the lead (in Egypt and Tunisia in particular, but not only) from the free ballot boxes of the Arab Spring.
AA: France, a human rights defender, supports leaders such as Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Is this not a position contradicting his stated principles?
FB: This face of France is unfortunately not new. It was indeed expressed in the quasi-blind guarantee granted to el-Sisi in Egypt but also, with a certain hypocrisy to [the warlord] Khalifa Haftar in Libya, which Paris, despite its denials, supported in multiple ways.
High tensions in E.Med
AA: The clashes between Greece and Turkey are eminent. France took the Greek side, it sent two Rafale-type fighter jets, two warships and the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the Eastern Mediterranean and reinforced its military presence, which further raise the tension. What are your comments? What is France aiming to do in the Eastern Mediterranean? Why is France angry with Turkey?
FB: The recent crisis over the redefinition of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) in the Mediterranean, following the agreement between Tripoli and Ankara, confirmed this French position to oppose Turkey’s return to the court of major regional powers.
As Paris’s constant rejection of EU membership has shown this issue unfortunately has much deeper and older historical roots than the Libyan crisis.
Knowing that Turkey has the longest maritime frontage of all countries bordering the Mediterranean, reading the maps establishing the area of its EEZ in relation to that of Greece clearly shows the need to renegotiate this part of international law to which Turkey has quite logically refused to adhere.
AA: What should Macron do to get out of this confrontational atmosphere?
FB: In his recent intervention at a seminar in Lugano [in southern Switzerland] intended for a Middle East audience, the French president outlined a reading of the energy issues of the Mediterranean which was a little less unilaterally hostile to Turkey’s demands. Indisputably, the France’s diplomacy should be heading in the direction of a realistic renegotiation of the rules defining the EEZ of the hundreds of Greek islets.
Unfortunately, the stigmatization of Turkey now seems to be part of this president’s electoral agenda where the exploitation of all facets of the Islamophobic bent which is tearing the French society apart holds a lamentably central place.
It is hoped that the shortcuts of electoralism will not once again take precedence over reason and over the well-understood interests of France and Turkey on the one hand but also of all the other Mediterranean countries.
* Writing by Felix Tih in Ankara
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