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The European leadership is changing, at least in terms of specific roles. Historically speaking, Britain was the most influential as a leading state, but it was extremely “cautious” when the European Union was established, particularly with regards to the financial aspects, and hence it opted to maintain its national currency and declined to join the Euro. This in turn provided Germany and France with exceptional leverage. As time passed, France began to play a series of notable roles that were markedly different from its traditional European counterparts, whereby it distanced itself from Germany and Britain’s political lines. It sought to adopt “progressive”, adventurous and daring political roles in order to restore some of its former glories, when France was an international power of great influence.

These endeavors manifested in various forms in Lebanon and in parts of Africa including, but not limited to, Mali, Niger and the Ivory Coast. Then the French stance and intention to overthrow the Gaddafi regime served as a pretext and example for the rest of world to pattern after. Ultimately, this prompted NATO to decide to immediately intervene and put an end to the Libyan regime. Now, albeit in a different manner, France is seeking to play a leading role in championing the Syrian revolution against the criminal Bashar al-Assad regime.

The Syrian regime’s media was overjoyed when news broke out of Sarkozy’s defeat in the recent French presidential elections, believing that this would mark an end to France’s “unjust campaign” against Syria. However, the new French President has even greater zeal and a deeper conviction regarding the necessity to overthrow the al-Assad regime immediately. He quickly called upon greater support for the rebels and set about restructuring the Syrian opposition by providing it with political support and recognizing its ambassador, urging all European states to act likewise.

France and its new leader are seeking to play a new role in the Middle East. The country is eager to extend its economic ties with the region and is exporting various technologies through infrastructure projects pertaining to railways, power plants, nuclear plants, arms, aviation systems and so on. At the same time, however, France is seeking to promote greater coordination and security in the politics of the Arab world. Today, Paris fears that extremist groups will reach the center of Europe, namely France, through the gateway of North Africa. Therefore, it is seeking to establish closer contact and to ensure coordination with prominent Arab states with a history of fighting and combating terrorism. President Hollande is also facing an enormous challenge, and the Arab world is watching him attentively, because he intends to vote in favor of Palestine becoming a UN member state.

France now faces a serious test to prove its sincere will towards the Arabs and the Arab world, having long been a voice defending rights and championing weaker nations. Today, its slogans and objectives must be manifest on the ground. Will France be able to overcome the impact of influential Jewish pressure groups upon Western decisions? Will it remain committed to its principles and maintain its firm objectives?

Personally, I believe that France will be somewhat reserved and will refrain from voting [in favor of a Palestinian state], in order to avoid embarrassing itself with the Arab world. Of course, this would not be a principled, honorable stance that France could boast of, especially considering that the French Revolution itself was based on the principles of justice, fraternity, equality and freedom. The Palestinian people have been severely deprived of these principles throughout the prolonged occupation that still continues today. So France must now adopt stances that can compensate for its colonial and imperial history and it must apply the ethics and values it has long championed; this is the real test. The French stance in favor of Libya and Syria must also extend to the Palestinians. We will see.

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi

Hussein Shobokshi is a businessman and prominent columnist. Mr. Shobokshi hosts the weekly current affairs program Al-Takreer on Al-Arabiya, and in 1995 he was chosen as one of the "Global Leaders for Tomorrow" by the World Economic Forum. He received his BA in Political Science and Management from the University of Tulsa.

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