A Matter of History, Diasporas, Diplomacy and Security: French Foreign Policy Drivers in MENA

French decisionmaking in Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Syria, and other regional states is shaped by an adaptive but strategically consistent mix of security interests, economic relations, diplomatic activism, and cultural outreach.

The French imperial legacy has created a complex human net between France and North African countries or Lebanon, from which derives a number of social, economic, security and political dimensions. Binational citizens and French citizens personally connected to these countries are the backbone of a large spectrum of bilateral relations in the field of science, trade, and culture. The network of schools and cultural institutions is also a central feature of this human connection. In 2017-2018, 39% of French schools in the world were in North Africa and the Middle East, with almost 136,000 pupils in 128 schools. Cultural exchanges and projects, like the Louvre Abou Dhabi, further strengthen bilateral relations. The Middle East and North Africa is a key area for French exports and industrial expansion. French carmakers or metro companies cooperate with North African companies on strategic projects in Tanger or Oran.

Lebanon is a good example where these dimensions interact with a burning geopolitical scene. France is home to a large and vibrant community of French-Lebanese binationals, creating a constituency that expects France to care about Lebanon. Moreover, French foreign policy circles see Lebanon as key to the regional balance. Macron’s visits in Lebanon following the August 4th blast in Beirut thus built on traditional French policies, including the push for economic reforms through the 2018 CEDRE Conference or the French dual approach to Hezbollah, to bring a renewed diplomatic push to avoid a Lebanese economic collapse and support the protest movement.

While Arab and Jewish binational communities are essential parts of French connections to the Middle East and North Africa, it makes the French society particularly sensitive to the situation in the region. France was directly affected by the civil war in Algeria in the 1990s, for instance through a series of terrorist attacks planned by the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in 1995. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains another element of polarization within French society. These domestic dimensions make the issue of stability in the region a key security interest for France.

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Πηγή: washingtoninstitute.org

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