Hollande Isolated on Syria While Domestic Opposition Grows Stronger

Hollande is facing increased domestic pressure to avoid a military intervention in Syria. Translation: "NO to the war in Syria." Photo: Morganmamaria for flickr.

Hollande is facing increased domestic pressure to avoid a military intervention in Syria. Translation: “NO to the war in Syria.” Photo: Morganmamaria for flickr.

The French government is now moving to reenter the conversation on military intervention in Syria, after the focus had shifted to the United States and Russia after a bilateral agreement was reached on Syrian chemical weapons. The September 14 agreement represents a unified front from the two governments, whose recent discussions on Syria had been less than amicable, and demands that President al-Assad account for his chemical weapon stockpile and allow international inspectors into the country.

On September 17, the five members of the UN Security Council discussed a resolution regarding the dismantling of Syria’s chemical arsenal. France’s stance remains clear: as French President François Hollande stated on Sunday, September 15, the so-called Kerry-Lavrov agreement, negotiated between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, is “an important step, but not the final purpose.” It is important, Hollande continued, to “foresee the possibility of sanctions in case the agreement was not applied.”

Hollande made clear his view that the “the military option must remain on the table, otherwise they will be no constraint.” Nevertheless, no agreement was reached among the five powers, and a new meeting will occur on Wednesday, September 18.

The military option is, for now, firmly rejected by Russia, which remains committed to avoiding “a military scenario.” The Russian government has reminded the US and its allies that “nothing has been said either about the use of force, or about automatic sanctions.”

Lavrov asserted, “Any violation will have to be approved by the Security Council,” a provision that would allow Russia to use its veto in the Council and would render any military intervention sanctioned by the UN unlikely.

The entire debate revolves around an important detail ­– Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which makes possible the use of force to punish a visible break of the agreement. The Russian scenario clearly rejects that picture, while the French government is struggling to reposition a military intervention to the core of the debate.

It seems to have become a matter of consistency for the French commander-in-chief, who has been accused of neglecting his own public opinion, while Barrack Obama decided to consult the U.S. Congress and British Parliament rejected any kind of military intervention. The IFOP research institute revealed in early September how the opposition of the French public to any intervention seemed to have been strengthened by the recent developments.

Photo: morganmamaria for flickr.

Photo: morganmamaria for flickr.

As indicated by the poll, only 36% of the French public is in favor of an intervention, while 64% is opposed to it. According to the same institute, it is an important shift compared with June 2012, when 52% of the French supported an intervention, while 48% rejected the idea.

Not advocating for the fall of Bachar al-Assad’s regime, provoked by a military intervention if necessary, would perhaps be too obvious a reversal for the French president. From the beginning of the conflict, and specifically since French recognition of the rebels as the true representatives of the Syrian people, the French government has made a point of assering French influence on the international stage. Some have likened such a positioning to the French response during the Libyan conflict, with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy taking the international lead.

Meanwhile, despite their majority opposition to an intervention, most of the French public hasn’t voiced strong concerns, with many adopting almost a resigned attitude regarding the event of a French military commitment. Nevertheless, in the past few weeks, a strong opposition movement has begun, directly attacking Hollande’s policy.

On September 3, following a call from the Parti Chrétien Démocrate (PCD), a group of opponents gathered at the Trocadéro to protest against an intervention. Beyond their concerns for the security of the Christian community in Syria, who are mostly in favor of Assad’s regime, they criticized the tendency of the French government to “align itself systematically with the US and Qatar,” pleading for an independent and sovereign policy. They also question the legitimacy of the rebels, asserting that many of them are jihadist terrorists.

La Jeune Politique interviewed RMM, a 26-year-old Franco-Syrian student currently living in Paris, who asked to remain anonymous. He is not himself a member of the PCD but is a strong opponent to current French policy.

RMM considers Hollande’s stance on Syria to be a reversal from France’s tradition policy. According to him, “France has always implemented a foreign policy that was protective of Christians in the Middle East,” but now “the same France is turning in the Syrian Christians to their persecutors, supporting Islamist jihadists.”

To RMM, the French government appears to be the victim of a strange “amnesia” in forgetting the importance of the Syrian mediation with Iran to free French student Clotilde Reiss, who was charged with spying by Teheran, and Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Syria to inaugurate the Charles-de-Gaulle French High School in Damascas. He went on to cite President al-Assad’s invitation to the July 14 parade in 2008.

The reason for this shift is clear to RMM – it is nothing but “blind conformity with American policy,” and is a consequence of the desire to “enjoy, incidentally, the non-negligible wealth of Syria.

“Neither Mr. Sarkozy, nor Mr. Hollande had any valid reason to justify any intrusion in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state such as Syria,” RMM argued.

He believes that France hasn’t learned its lesson yet, citing that France had to “send troops in Mali against its own weapons, shipped a little while ago to the Libyan rebels.”

From RMM’s point of view, the actions of the Syrian government and al-Assad are merely a matter of “national security,” to defend the country against terrorists groups. He discussed the 2012 identification of a body in Alep, belonging to a man who was part of a group responsible for a series of terrorist attacks in Turkey in 2003. It seems to him natural that a government would move to prevent these kinds of “groups from being formed on its national soil.”

A man displaying the Syrian flag near the Eiffel Tower. Photo: morganmamaria for flickr.

A man displaying the Syrian flag near the Eiffel Tower. Photo: morganmamaria for flickr.

Nevertheless, acknowledging the need for political solutions, RMM pointed to two main issues that seem connected: the lack of information and the absence of foreign diplomats in Syria. He denounced the use of the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), an information office opposed to al-Assad’s government, based in the United Kingdom. The group has been accused of biased reporting.

He called the SOHR a “phanthom organization, with no office, no staff nor any expertise,” which became “the source of information of the European diplomats, since the White House convinced them to remove their diplomatic personnel from Syria.” Sending diplomats back into the country would be, according to him, a first positive step to “remind them of the existence of international law.”

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