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"Vive la République, Vive la France": Macron's Foreign Policy in Muslim and Middle Eastern World

JURIST Guest Columnist Mohamed Arafa of Indiana University discusses the new French president, Emmanuel Macron's foreign policy in Muslim and Middle Eastern world ...

Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old and the ex-minister of economics, is now the France's new president after crushing his bitter rival the far-right wing Marine Le Pen in the fight for the presidency and real democracy. This election represents the major win in the entire West of 2017, especially after the win of the United States' current President, Donald Trump. Macron won by around 66% of the polls in France's presidential runoff meaning that the politics of brazen, explicit and unhinged Islamophobia, xenophobia should be soundly defeated. He said that France had occasionally made mistakes in unethically targeting Muslims, signifying the country could be less rigorous in applying its values on secularism. In the same vein, he said "no religion is a problem in France . . . If the state should be neutral, which is at the heart of secularism, we have a duty to let everybody practice their religion with dignity."

The world observing eagerly after the results of the elections given their consequences on the future of the European Union ("EU") and France's foreign policy in the Arab Muslim World. During his campaign, he emphasized some hints on the policy he might adopt regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Syria civil war, security and combating terrorism and jihadism internally and externally, especially with major alteration within the relation with Qatar and Saudi Arabia as his agenda seemed like preceding policies but with some adjustments. It is generally well-known that the French President enjoys an essential position in designing the defensive and foreign policy. This is why some argued that the identity of the Eighth president of the republic will have a conclusive outcome on Paris political and diplomatic choices, specifically that Macron lacks experience in the field of international relations. On the Syrian status quo, Macron wants to "arrange the priorities" and the top one of them is battling the Islamic State ("ISIS/da'esh"). Concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict, Macron's attitude differs from the others since he considers that a rapid acknowledgement of Palestine as a state is unsuccessful. Also, on Turkey, he felt deeply upset and totally disprove the route that Turkey is taking, as he affirmed that he will protect democrats everywhere once he enters Élysée Palace. President Macron situated himself as a "centrist" endorsing himself as "neither left nor right" after forming his own political movement: En Marche (Forward)! While Le Pen positioned herself as anti-Islam, anti-immigration, anti-European Union, he has taken a faithfully different view. With France's historic and sustained contribution through the Arab world, Macron's perception bears substantial weight on regional issues. In this regard, the Arab leaders have taken to social media to praise and congratulate Macron for winning France's presidential election. For instance, the Moroccan King, Mohammed VI said this was the "high-point" of Macron's political task. Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, congratulated Macron on his win and spoke of "strong French-Egyptian relations and that he looked forward to working with [him] on "enhancing and developing the close and existing co-operation of the two nations." Also, Macron has previously called France's colonial history in Algeria as a "crime against humanity" and promised to apologize to the country and President Bouteflika, praised his comments and said that this "pioneering attitude" would permit for a reconciliation between France and Algeria. Also, the Tunisian leader congratulated him and said, "the victory reflected the sincerity of the French to its traditional values: liberty, equality, fraternity." A deep look at where Macron stands on the vital matters and strategies relevant to the MENA will be helpful at the current political and historic moment.

On Islam - as the second-largest religion in France today - and recently the troublesome issue of France's brand of secularism, laïcité, is debated. Macron explained that there is no need to amend the law of 1905 which lays down the French secularism basics, even its interpretation is argumentative, the practices are much more peaceful. In this regard, he added that "The Republic must allow citizens to fully uphold their convictions, so long as they do not interfere with the beliefs of others or with the rules to which everyone is bound." He will never ever call for shutting down Muslims from entering France or mosques (other Islamic institutions) to fight what President Trump called "radical Islamic terrorism", as he mentioned during his campaign that "Islam hates us" and he "called for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States . . ." So, probably Macron will adopt the same path adopted by the same young leader of Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as he always saying that we are standing for all Muslims [Canadians or not] as an essential part of the Canadian community. Two courses of action Macron will take place on that: first to train imams (religious leaders) in France according to values reliable with the Republic, and within the flexible [moderate] interpretation of Islamic law (Sharie'a spirit) and the main maqasid (objectives) and secondly to fight against the spread of any extreme ideology whether "jihadist" or other, comprising by closing down any worship's place which promotes it. For example, he said on banning of flashy religious symbols in school, given ". . . the law should be maintained, . . . it should not, however, be extended . . . students are adults who are responsible for their actions." On another sensitive issue, which is the burkini prohibition, he argued that it may be justified in some places, for public order's values, as it is important to carry out a political and ideological fights, by expressing that this piece of cloth is opposing the western notion of civility and gender equality, but it is critical to stand up for personal freedoms, especially on freedom of religion if some people select to dress in a certain way, as a sign of tolerance as well of all divine faiths. Macron said, "It's a terrible failure to see police officers on a beach asking a woman, in the name of secularism, to stop wearing a burkini."

Regarding immigration policies and refugee's crisis, Macron underscored that closing national borders would not advance European security or stability. However, he does believe that border security should be increased and intelligence standards should be prioritized and making sure that immigration laws are balanced and well-framed. Moreover, he sees immigration, particularly the welcoming of foreign scholars and students from the MENA region among others, as "a source of good fortune and pride," as he makes no indication of amending the current legislation and anticipates endorsing better settings for integrating foreigners. On admitting refugees, he claimed that France needs to bear its responsibility and places the issue at the heart of a collective European effort and calls for "tighter and more efficient border controls" along with "the combatting of terrorist organizations and criminal networks", [with a] balance and sensible allocation of refugees among the EU countries, as asylum reform - on his agenda - is intended to "speeding up" the process. He praised Germany's open arms policy toward refugees, as it kept Europe's joint and united dignity, as he strongly defended Chancellor Angela Merkel - who he met recently in Berlin as a first official visit after his inauguration - against criticism echoing, "Nothing is more wrong than (the) abject simplifications" made by folks who say that "by opening the borders to migrants, the chancellor exposed Europe to severe dangers."

On terrorism, and the fight against the radical network organizations, Macron said that ISIS and al-Q'aeda represent the strategic challenge for France. Thus, it is important to understand why there are 'breeding grounds' in France, and why we are responsible for them." Therefore, the query of terrorism is placed at the crossroads of a political, economic, social, cultural, and religious fight. Terrorism hence is not only seen as an external threat but as an issue imposing the country to confront the fact that our community, our economy has produced anomie, a sense of segregation, individual fates that have pushed certain individuals to commit those atrocities, and that Islamist fanatical ideology would not have such a hold on young French people if the Republic had not left some of its young behind. In other words, focusing on the problem's roots instead of its symptoms (security and policy failures).

On the Syrian conflict, and after the alleged chemical attack in Syria, Macron called for international military intervention against Syrian dictator al-Assad, if it is proven that his government was responsible for that attack and that intrusion should be under the auspices of the United Nations - where Russia holds the Veto power. He affirms that "the veto right must be framed with precision for cases concerning verified risks of mass crimes." Generally, he believes that ousting the Assad's regime should not be "a prerequisite for every decision," and totally refusing to allow America and Russia, which are deeply polarized on the issue, decide the Syrian's fate, so his middle-of-the-road policy would suddenly contrast with Hollande's open support of the rebellion as well as the call for national dialogue. On the collaboration with the Gulf Cooperation Council ("GCC"), one possibility is that Macron's pro-business and pro-globalization plans will benefit GCC countries. His presidency questions the French and Saudi relations, unlike the foreign policy of his predecessors, as he states that France should involve talks with [both] Iran and Saudi Arabia without interfering in their power games. Neglecting Iran's national policies would be "an error" which would destabilize France's power, so it would be a mistake to show unnecessary support by advocating thoughtful dialogue with the two regional powers. Of course, this comprise taking a rough stand on Iran's nuclear non-proliferation and Iran should respect the 2015 nuclear agreement and guarantees regional stability. Also, when it comes to Saudi Arabia, which should be accountable, sanction's strategies should be imposed if violence and terrorist attacks endorsed by the kingdom. Also, he says France will continue supporting Lebanon, as a historic protectorate of France. He said nothing about Egypt, but within colonialism and Algeria, he called France's - as a defender of humanism - that colonial actions in Algeria "genuinely barbaric and constitute a part of France's past, that needs to be confronted and apologized for."

Concerning Turkey, Macron pointed out that within the current situation, the basics for Turkey to join the EU have noticeably not been met, and current changes in the country do not stand well for positive consequences, without shutting the door on Turkey. As for Libya, he will work on fixing the refugee crisis, with Europe, and to curb the human, drug, and weapon trafficking that is triggering such intolerable catastrophes throughout the Mediterranean. On Israel-Palestine's dispute, mostly he will stick to the principle of a two-state solution, and would not unilaterally recognize Palestine as a state, as this may cause harm and instability to the French Israeli relations and would serve nothing. So, his government and diplomatic efforts will focus on that Israel's security is a fixed principle as is the legitimacy of the Palestinian state and will look for conditions for a permanent peace and stability to allow the two states to exist in a peaceful manner. President Macron's explicit foreign policy views are still largely unidentified, but his realism, pragmatism and pro-European and globalization attitudes would result in a productive, constructive, and responsible Middle Eastern policy. It is not too far, let's watch and see!

Professor 'Arafa is an Assistant Professor of Law at Alexandria University Faculty of Law (Egypt); Adjunct Professor of Law at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law (USA). His SJD from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney Law School; LL.M. from University of Connecticut School of Law; LL.B. from Alexandria University Law School. Currently, he is a Visiting Professor of Law at the University of Brasília School of Law (UnB). He is the Managing Editor of the Arab Law Quarterly Journal in London. His teaching and scholarship focuses on criminal law, white collar crimes, human rights law, Islamic law, Islamic criminal law, and transitional justice.

Suggested citation: Mohamed 'Arafa, "Vive la République, Vive la France": Macron's Foreign Policy in Muslim and Middle Eastern World, JURIST - Academic, June. 22, 2017, http://jurist.org/forum/2017/06/Mohamed-Arafa-vive-la-republique.php

This article was prepared for publication by Henna Bagga, an Assistant Editor for JURIST Commentary. Please direct any questions or comments to her at commentary@jurist.org

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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