The Parisian show of Kadhafi

Article published on Dec. 30, 2007
Article published on Dec. 30, 2007
12-10-07, Orly airport Dark spectacles, waxed hair, and a figure suddenly gets out from the private jet that has just landed. Behind this ballet of bodyguards, one can hardly see the man diving into a long white limo.
A face that has no age, swollen with botox injections, dark hair; however, it is not an old and tired singer but Mouammar Kadhafi, Chief of the Libyan revolution, coming for an official visit to Paris.

Kadhafi, surfing on the political and media storm

Not only had he set his tent in the gardens of the Marigny palace that Colonel Kadhafi had already blown a wind of panic within the French government.

The statements made by the young Secretary of State for human rights, Rama Yade, to the press to welcome his arrival, were sensational as she said that France was not “a doormat on which a leader, terrorist or not, could wipe his feet clean of the blood of his crimes”. Just like the Ministry of foreign affairs, Bernard Kouchner, who thanked the “happy chance” that had kept him in Brussels the evening of the welcome reception organized for the Chief.

Such statements feed the polemic and transcend the right/left division of the French political landscape. A polemic that reflects quite well the uncomfortable feeling of French people (80% of the population declares it shares Rama Yade’s opinion) in front of such debauchery, pomp and honours addressed by the Republic to a leader who, yesterday, was public enemy number one.

During his journey to Paris, Kadhafi terrorises the protocol keeper of the Elysée with his 1001 whims, accuses France to ill treat his immigrants in front of a flabbergasted UNESCO audience, and denies having ever spoken with Nicolas Sarkozy about Human Rights, implying that the President would have lied. Contrary to Libyan jails, incoherence and ridicule don’t kill. He is France’s guest and intends to extend the pleasure : fly boat, visit of the Louvre and of the Glass Gallery in Versailles. The government seems to count the days left until his departure.

About France’s realpolitik…

Should we have received Colonel Kadhafi? This visit, snatched during the negotiation process for the release of the Bulgarian nurses last summer, raises hundreds of indignations in the “land of Human rights”. However, acting like a repented dictator absolved by his peers is always the same old refrain. President Mitterrand, who had, himself, met Kadhafi in 1984 in Crete, used to say, “If we only received democrats and people we liked, we would be very lonely”.

The policy of friendly cooperation firmly defended by Sarkozy, towards someone who “finally takes the lead of democracy”, is laudable. Michel Charasse, senior counsellor under François Mitterrand argued in favour of President Sarkozy’s behaviour, declaring that “the most important things in foreign policy are the small steps towards liberty”.

Would France have more difficulties than the others to accept the rules of diplomacy? Kadhafi’s visit to Spain this week didn’t provoke any wave of protestation. Why should French people find it a bitter pill to swallow then?

First, because the fairness of the so-called democratic step taken by the Guide in a country where there is no political party, no election, and where violence against immigrants have been denounced by Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International for years (Libya has not signed the Geneva convention of 1951 on refugees), is hard to trust. The checks signed to the victims of the DC10 and the Lockerbie attacks won’t be sufficient to convince.  

Moreover, the French reactions are characteristic of an instinct of self-defence towards N. Sarkozy’s great reversal to implement a pragmatic foreign policy in which results are more important than means (the release of the Bulgarian nurses, the billons of euros of trade contract signed, the construction of a Mediterranean Union, ect.). The concept is not new, but Nicolas Sarkozy’s Realpolitik is so natural that it becomes embarrassing. Welcoming Kadhafi is ok, but we certainly should have left the red carpet aside. Between handling a friendly hand and welcoming a dictator like a friend with all the honours of a Republic, there is a difference which is not only symbolic.

… and of Libya’s !

If we look closer, the European journey of Kadhafi has been the occasion to highlight the Libyan Guide’s willingness to get closer to occidental democracies, without giving the impression to band over. Since the attacks of 9/11, Kadhafi has understood that the first danger he would have to face on his own land was the rise of Islamism. He opted for a real change in strategy, collaborating in the fight against terrorism and stopping its program of weapons of mass destruction.

Good resolutions that should not get free of tangible proofs. The coming months will be crucial to determine weather France was right or not to “bet” on the positive evolution of the Libyan regime, as B. Kouchner said.

If not, the French will have to live for a very long time with a bitter taste.

Laura Sevenier

Translation : Sophie Helbert