CAIRO – 17 July 2017: France has witnessed more than 15 terrorist acts in the past five years. French official statistics announced the death of more than 600 people in these terrorist attacks from several nationalities.
Islam is the second-most widely professed religion in France. With an estimated total of 7 to 9 percent of the national population, France has the largest number of Muslims in Western Europe. However, French authorities for the first time closed three mosques in the aftermath of November’s attacks in Paris.
Freedom or discrimination?
Some observers believe that France’s discrimination against its Muslim nationals has contributed to increasing hatred towards the French administration and liberal community.
On January 14, 2015 it was reported that 26 mosques in France had been subject to attack since the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris, according to the Independent newspaper.
On June 29, 2017, a man attempted to ram his vehicle into a crowd of worshipers exiting a mosque in Créteil, a suburb of Paris, though no one was injured. Le Parisien cites an informed source in claiming the suspect, who is of Armenian origin, wanting to "avenge the Bataclan and Champs-Elysées" attacks.
The wearing of hijab in France has been a very controversial issue since 1989. In December 2003, President Chirac decided that the law should prohibit the wearing of visible religious signs in schools, according to laïcité requirements. The law was approved by Parliament in March 2004. Items prohibited by this law include Muslim hijabs, Jewish yarmulkes or large Christian crosses.
On January 25, 2010 it was announced that the parliamentary committee, having concluded its study, would recommend that a ban on veils covering the face in public locations such as hospitals and schools be enacted, but not in private buildings or on the street.
Terrorist attacks on France since 2012
A French parliamentary investigation into terrorist attacks occurred in 2015 on Paris highlighted a “global failure” of French intelligence and called for the creation of a single national counterterrorism agency.
“Without the multiple intelligence failings, the Bataclan attack, which killed 90, could have been prevented”, former member of the parliament Georges Fenech said to the Guardian.
Only in 2015, more than a total of 147 people were killed in France, according to the parliamentary commission set up to assess the failure of the French security order.
The role of France in fighting terrorism and engaging in military and armed conflicts is undoubted. Its secular liberalism boosted its economy and enriched its culture and civilization, but it may be a reason for attracting terrorists and extremists.
Extremists see the United States as a source of moral decadence and economic exploitation, but France is seen as an atheist power which tries to impose its secular ideologies on the Islamic world, according to testimonies by Islamic State (IS) terrorist group returnees to the French police.
Targeting France by terrorists began before the capture of Mosul city in Iraq and even the declaration of the Islamic caliphate by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014.
The first big militant attack in France in recent years came earlier however, in 2012, and targeted soldiers and the Jewish community. The next major attack was against the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine which had published controversial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, deemed insulting by many Muslims. Then came November’s IS attacks against a concert hall, bars and a football stadium and an attack on Bastille Day in 2016 when at least 84 people were killed.
In 2017, about six terrorist attacks took place in France. Most of them did not leave many victims as it may reflect a progress in the security performance in the past year.
The most recent attack was in June when a man rammed a police car and died in the Champs- -Élysées.
In many statements issued by IS, the military presence of France in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Mali was the reason behind targeting France.
France’s military presence overseas
In Syria, France is an influential country in the U.S.-led alliance which has launched many airstrikes on Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad dominated regions. French President Emmanuel Macron said that the “removal of Al-Assad is not a priority at this exact time.” The French airstrikes over Syria started at the end of September 2015.
In Iraq, Opération Chammal is the name of the French military operation which is currently ongoing in Iraq and Syria in an attempt to contain the expansion of IS and to support the Iraqi Army. Airstrikes over Iraq started in September 2014.
On November 14 2015, ISIS claimed that the attacks that took place in Paris the previous day were in retaliation for Opération Chammal. In response, French forces increased their attacks against IS in Syria.
In Mali, France, the former colonial power, had deployed about 4,000 soldiers in the region to fight extremists as part of its Barkhane military operation.
On August 1, 2014, France launched a military operation in Mali to drive militants out of key northern cities they had seized, but violence in its southern neighbor, Burkina Faso, began to intensify last year with an attack in the capital that killed dozens.
The French military operation in Mali is welcomed by several countries such as Germany, the U.S. and the UAE. Between 600 and 1000 militants were killed, while 9 French soldiers were killed.
In Libya, a multi-state NATO-led coalition began a military intervention in Libya on March 19, 2011 to oust former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. French jets launched air strikes against Libyan Army tanks and vehicles.
Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy pushed for the European Union (EU) to pass sanctions against Gaddafi (freezing Gaddafi family funds abroad) and demand he stop attacks against civilians. In March 2011, French forces began the military intervention in Libya.
Saif-al-Islam Gaddafi claimed in March 2011 that his father's regime had financed Sarkozy's 2007 presidential campaign, claims which Sarkozy denied but were repeated by former Libyan Prime Minister Baghdadi Mahmudi in October 2011. Investigative website Mediapart subsequently published several documents appearing to prove a payment of €50 million.
Libya’s Gaddafi and France’s Sarkozy had a controversial relationship. Gaddafi used to threaten France and other European countries against illegal migrants’ card. In return, French and European leaders accepted the Libyan financial probes and strengthened their ties with Gaddafi.
French-Egyptian cooperation to counterterrorism
France has been under a state of emergency since November 2015, when 130 people were slaughtered in a wave of coordinated violence across Paris. The French anti-terrorism campaign coincided with Egypt's intensive fight against terror groups since the ousting of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
The bloody attacks forced France to strengthen its foreign policy in the Middle East, with priority given to besieging networks of foreign militants in Syria, Libya and Iraq.
Egypt has a particularly key role for France regarding Libya. The French administration believes that Egypt is the number one key to resolving the Libyan crisis, as well as an important player in Syria too.
France’s stance on the Arab-Qatari crisis
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with the oil-rich state of Qatar on June 5 on charges of funding extremists and terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, IS and the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group.
The Arab quartet demanded Qatar to stop its support of terrorism and rejoin the Arab sphere against terrorism and extremism which damages the entire world, not only the Arab nations.
France has suffered a lot from the Qatari-funded terrorism so it’s better to take a serious stance towards the ongoing crisis.
French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian is visiting Gulf states including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates to settle the Qatari crisis.
President Emmanuel Macron will visit Egypt in the upcoming months to meet with President Sisi to discuss bilateral issues most importantly the Libyan and Palestinian files.
France supports Egypt in its fight against terrorism and works to enhance bilateral cooperation to combat extremism, French Ambassador to Cairo, Stephane Routier, said in press statements on Wednesday.
Since the beginning of the Arab-Qatari rift, France has welcomed the Kuwaiti mediation and called for talks to settle the crisis. It did not support or criticize any party involved in the crisis.
Political observers believe that France has to abandon its neutral stance and call on Qatar to abide by the Arab demands to stop funding terrorism. France’s right wing leader Marie Le Pen called many times to launch a campaign to fight against extremism.
In 2015, Le Pen, leader of the National Front (FN) party, called for suing Qatar on charges of funding terrorists. She added “make the trial of Qatar" and "demonstrate that it is a power that has financed Islamic fundamentalists.”
In return, Qatar sued FN’s vice president Florian Philippot. "Mr Philippot has repeatedly and publicly implied a link between these terrorist acts and the State of Qatar, affecting the reputation of Qatar and all its citizens," the Gulf state said in a statement distributed by its Paris embassy.
Philippot accused Qatar of "funding an Islamism that kills" during a radio interview aired on January 9, two days after gunmen killed 12 during an attack on the Charlie Hebdo weekly known for its caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad.
France’s Macron has to leave the grey diplomatic zone and join the Arab stance which fights against terrorism and counter extremism which France has suffered from in recent years.