France and Qatar Discuss Conflicting Views on Malian Conflict

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. Photo: Flickr.com/Mypouss

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. Photo: Flickr.com/Mypouss

French Minister of Defense Jean-Yves Le Drian visited Qatar February 10 for a brief visit of less than twenty-four hours, just a week after President Hollande visited Mali. France’s recent and heightened military intervention in Mali has drawn criticism from Qatar, and Le Drian met with the Crown Prince Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on behalf of President Hollande to discuss the conflict.

One of the products of the meeting is “Falcon Gulf 2013,” an agreement whereby French military from every branch will journey to Qatar for a joint exercise, which began this past Saturday and will run through the first week of March. According to the French Defense website, “the objectives of integration are ambitious, as all the levels (operational and tactical)” will participate. This joint exercise symbolizes a reinforcement of the relationship between the nations.

The exercise comes at a tenuous time in the French-Qatar relationship. Suspicions arose as early as June of last year of Qatar’s ties with the Islamic rebels, and there were accusations of Qatar supplying funds to Algerian rebels. The shared border along the north of Mali enabled the trafficking of arms and other military activity in this unstable region for almost a year.

Qatar never supported violence or military intervention in the Mali conflict, a stance constantly reiterated by numerous leaders who instead called for peaceful diplomatic talks. This response was met with skepticism and indignation on the part of the French. Among those who spoke out, Marine Le Pen, president of the right wing National Front, declared, “we are allies with Qatar, a country who has armed all the Islamists of the world in every circumstance.” Qatari representatives denied any such involvement.

At the end of January, just before French and Malian forces conquered Kidal, a key northern city in Mali, the Prime Minister of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani, insisted that Qatar is “totally impartial” and also wishes “to reestablish peace and normalcy in Mali.” He did not comment on military intervention, a cause that France spearheaded on the international scene with over 2,500 French soldiers deployed to Mali and approximately 50 million euros spent on the conflict.

Accusations of Qatari involvement with Islamists endanger the delicate relationship between France and Qatar. Although not a former colony of France, Qatar has become one of France’s strongest allies in the region. Qatar experienced little of the political unrest that has plagued the Middle East and West Africa over the past few years, a stability attributable to its great wealth derived from oil reserves.

Currently, Qatar holds significant investments in many of the top French companies.  In spite of the strain the Malian conflict has caused the past few months, the “Falcon Gulf 2013” exercise and Le Drian’s visit could serve to reinforce the economic and political alliance between the two nations.

Comments

  1. Reblogged this on The More Things Change and commented:
    From my friends over at La Jeune Politique – very interesting article on the French-Qatar relationship and how Qatar may be supporting Islamists in Mali, all the while conducting joint military exercises with France.

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