On his plane from Paris to Abu Dhabi, François Hollande was confident that the decision he took on Friday, to military intervene in Mali, was an indispensable one. The French forces that started out as 1,500 troops, have prevented Mali from falling into the hands of terrorists from the Sahel region. Their aim is who to turn the French ally into a safe-haven for terror and use it to prepare terrorist attacks against French interests in Africa and the European nation itself.
François Hollande told the journalists who accompanied him on the trip to Abu Dhabi – among which was al-Hayat newspaper’s correspondent – that he took the decision on Friday, and not before. He added that he called the Algerian President, Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika, who informed Hollande that he had closed the borders and given permission for flights over Algerian airspace. Hollande also called Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and discussed the Malian issue in his meetings with leaders in the UAE, mainly in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
France’s political opposition and the media supported Hollande’s decision, although there are eight French hostages being held by jihadists in the Sahel region. The legitimacy of the French move is bolstered by Mali’s request for French intervention, and the green light that was given by the United Nations Security Council.
Hollande is aware of the dangers of this war, and the possibility that there will be casualties, as well as the probability that the hostages may be killed. However, the operation was deemed necessary because the progress of jihadists in the Sahel would have toppled the regime in Bamako, where there is a French community of 6,000 people. The military operation is complicated and difficult, because the jihadists are using non-traditional means of warfare, namely terror methods; this is frightening. Hollande knows this and he has taken a courageous decision despite the risk and deteriorating conditions. His decision is better than seeing France’s neighbors remain a haven for terrorist jihadists controlling a weak country like Mali. Hollande’s choice to intervene has also elevated him in the eyes of the public that has been, since the beginning of his presidency, criticizing and blaming him for a perceived lack of decisiveness when it comes to government actions. With this move, the French president exposed a his decision making authority surprising many of his critics.
There is no doubt that Hollande is aware that many Arabs and Muslims will see this intervention as colonialism by the French, especially among the ranks of Salafist-jihadist groups in North Africa that belong to al-Qaeda. A large number of these people are Algerian jihadists who fought their country’s regime, and were then expelled by the Algerian authorities to Mali; some others are jihadists who were able to get weapons from Libya.
France is alone in this war, even though Britain and the United States have offered symbolic assistance to their ally. Although the Nigerian chief of staff of the African forces is now based in Bamako, this is clearly a French war, and a decisive one in the struggle against terrorism. But what is disappointing, is to see this war in Africa rule out any possibility of another foreign intervention to save the Syrian people from their own regime. The Security Council is helpless in Syria, and the USA is not trying to help either.
Those who are familiar with the Syrian crisis say that Iran is the biggest impediment, over Russia, when it comes to the departure of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Military intervention is unlikely to take place in Syria, although the situation in this country threatens the Middle East and the world. Syria is definitely not Mali; its situation and interests are different, but the regime’s terror in Syria has killed 60,000 people and led to the displacement of half a million Syrians, while no one has acted to stop this disaster. The excuse that the situation in Mali is not like the Syrian one is insufficient: the ongoing bloodshed, along with the destruction of the country without anyone working to oppose these two issues, is unacceptable, regardless of the excuses. The prompt interventions in some places, while in other places like Syria, they allow killing and oppression by a regime supported by Iran and Russia to continue. All that provokes observers to believe that the world and its leading powers have no ability to end the situation in Syria.
*This article was published on al-Hayat newspaper on Jan. 16, 2013. Link: http://alhayat.com/OpinionsDetails/472890
Randa Takieddine is a Lebanese writer and the director of Al-Hayat newspaper office in Paris.