What does the snap French election mean for the Maghreb?

What does the snap French election mean for the Maghreb?
Mark Seddon

With the United States increasingly isolated both at the United Nations and throughout a World where public opinion increasingly matters, some European countries have begun to shift their position over Israel, its bloody war in Gaza and the whole future of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In recent years, for instance, it has been difficult to find mainstream politicians in the West refer to the continuing occupation of Palestinian territory, still less any call for the Israelis to end their occupation. But in recent weeks, Norway, Spain and Belgium broke with the US and recognised the State of Palestine. In Britain, and where voters will go to the polls on 4th July, the main Opposition party -- which is odds on favourite to win -- has promised to do the same. 

But if the United States, and her most loyal ally, Britain, are losing influence in the World, so is France. This isn’t because President Macron has been supporting the US and Israel at each turn in Gaza, for it hasn’t. Other factors are in play here and Macron, who has just promised a snap election in an attempt, possibly doomed to fail, to ward off the far Right, is in no real position to do much about it. 

From the Pacific, a traditional zone of French influence, where an indigenous Kanak rebellion wracks what is effectively the colonial outpost of New Caledonia, to the shrinking African Francophone, France is in sharp retreat. Take Rwanda for instance; formerly with French as an official language and now replaced by English, Rwanda has joined the Commonwealth. As have two other countries which used to be under direct French rule, namely Gabon and Togo. Elsewhere, France has been obliged to withdraw its military from Niger as popular protest forced Macron’s hand. In central and equatorial Africa, France is on the retreat – and this comes over 60 years since the French flag was officially hauled down in many African countries.

The relationship between countries in the Maghreb also once ruled by France such as Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia has historically been even more complicated. The French military were so aggrieved at the 75% vote in Metropolitan France and Algeria for withdrawal in 1961, it launched an attempted coup against President De Gaulle. The bitter, violence of the Algerian resistance and the French response is etched in popular memory. Morocco’s independence from France in 1956 was less traumatic, and yet the relationship with France remains tinged with a degree of mutual suspicion. As what looks like a forced French retreat from its traditional zones of influence continues, the question may well be; what if anything comes to replace it?  


*Mark Seddon is a former Speechwriter to UN Secretary-General Ban ki moon & former Adviser to the Office of the President of the UN General Assembly

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