Experts warn Paris of risks over 'parallel'Muslim help for hostages

7th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Sept 7 (AFP) - Winning the support of Muslim religious and community leaders could prove to be an effective but dangerous way for Paris to secure the release of two journalists held hostage in Iraq, experts say.

PARIS, Sept 7 (AFP) - Winning the support of Muslim religious and community leaders could prove to be an effective but dangerous way for Paris to secure the release of two journalists held hostage in Iraq, experts say.  

Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, who criss-crossed the Middle East last week in a bid to save the two newsmen, helped mobilise unprecedented support in the Arab world, from Al-Jazeera television to Iraq's senior Sunni Muslim scholars.  

But Bertrand Badie, an expert on international relations at the Institute for Political Studies in Paris, said courting such "non-state actors" could backfire, as they were until now "not really considered to be the sort of people one can associate with."  

A French diplomat said earning the support of top Muslim clerics allowed Paris to "hope that new channels, closed off up until now, could be opened" in the race to secure the release of Radio France correspondent Christian Chesnot and Le Figaro reporter Georges Malbrunot, in captivity since August 20.  

But Badie countered that such an initiative created "a precedent that could weigh heavily" on French policy in the future, as it represented a "change in diplomatic style and technique".  

"We're looking for diplomatic support from people who were sidelined before," he said.  

By welcoming the trip to Baghdad by a delegation from France's officially recognised Muslim body, the French Council for the Muslim Religion (CFCM), Paris also took the risk of looking like it needs to delegate, Badie said.  

"This co-management of the situation without a doubt marks the decline of the centralised republican model," he said.  

"The Muslim community in France comes out substantially stronger, and makes itself into a sort of substitute for the French foreign ministry."  

Paris must also tackle the even more difficult position it has been put into by winning the support of radical Palestinian movements Hamas and the Islamic Jihad - both considered to be terrorist groups by the European Union.  

Antoine Basbous, who heads the Observatory of Arab Countries, pointed out that even groups like the radical Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, which took French nationals hostage in the 1980s, came out in support of Paris.  

"France cannot be seen to be benefitting from the support of people who are just too embarrassing," said Jean Marcou, who heads the Francophone political sciences department at the University of Cairo.  

Dominique Moisi, deputy director of the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI), noted: "France's policy in the Arab world definitely played a role here."  

"But France's pro-Arab policy is also something from which it has wanted to extricate itself for more than 10 years, in order to show that it is not politically committed on the side of radical Arabs," Moisi added, warning such a move would now be more difficult.  

Despite the setbacks it has seen in gaining the release of the two men - described several times over the past two weeks as 'imminent' - France is still hoping for a resolution to the crisis that will see it come out on top.  

"If the hostages are freed safe and sound in the coming days, we'll be able to say that France played its cards well, that it devoted itself to seeing the hostages released, as opposed to Italy, and that everything happened peacefully, as opposed to what took place in Russia," Moisi said.  

But he warned: "If the hostage crisis drags on forever, the outcome for France will be much less convincing."

© AFP

 

Subject: French News

 

 

 

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