Perhaps many politicians, actors, and those interested in what is happening in the Sahel-Saharan region, They talk about developments in the international competition to take over the region. Mostly they only talk about the new American, Russian and Chinese presence, and you do not find anyone talking about France. And if he speaks, he is talking about its exodus from Mali and Burkina. And she was defeated and lost the battle, But if we pay a little attention, we paused, We find that France did not actually leave the countries from which it was said to have been expelled. Indeed, it has not emerged from the economic and political competition with America, China and Russia. It did not lose sight of its strategic enemy in the region. Which is Türkiye.
Reality and data on the ground as a whole prove that France is still present, strong and effective at the same time. For example, it is still present in Mali through two military bases “Tesalt and Gao”, Through its currency, the Siva, Through intellectuals, politicians, the military, and supporters of the general public, Who view France as freedom, mother, democracy, past, present and future.
It is also present in all other Sahel and Sahara countries through economics and politics. And through the military force stationed in it, which is represented in its military bases, which are in fact a strategic strip that connects the coastal border countries “Niger, Chad with a presence in the south of Libya “, In order to secure resources in the region such as Niger’s oil and uranium, Mali gold, As well as the Libyan oil and gas fields of the famous French company “Total” in the Al-Jufra region in Libya, extending to the Mediterranean and from there to Europe. And it has tried more than once to exclude its competitor countries in Africa, specifically “America _ Russia _ China _ Britain _ Turkey”, Its many attempts were to seek to build agreements and alliances with North Africa. It is also trying to forge a European consensus and alliance in order to defend its interests with Egypt-Tunisia-Algeria. In addition to trying to neutralize Turkey so as not to make Libya a base for launching its influence south towards the Sahel and Sahara countries and the rest of Africa, And also limit the launch of competing American companies, It is striving with all force to support its allies in the countries of the Sahel and the Sahara, with vigorous attempts to win over Algeria in the midst of its confrontations with the Turkish influence.
France and the Libyan role
No one disagrees that France has been trying for a long time to regain its former influence in southern Libya. And that it is looking for a package of its interests that stems from its strategic vision for its influence and presence in Africa. It is well known that during World War II, France was able to push its forces from northern Chad to southern Libya, in coordination with some of its local allies. and expelled the Italian forces, And the occupation of the city of Murzuq in the Fezzan on January 16, 1943. Her presence at the time in the Fezzan was not welcome. Rather, the population dealt with it as an occupier similar to the Italian colonialism, and perhaps a witness to the memory of the battle of the castle in Sebha confirms that Where about 50 people were martyred from the citizens who came from several regions of Fezzan and united with each other under the leadership of Abdul Qadir Masoud Al-Fujiji. Their blood spilled the land of the castle after they managed to liberate it. The region remained under French military control until 1951. When the state of Fezzan then became part of the United Kingdom of Libya, After the people of Fezzan rejected any project aimed at fragmenting the state and voted in favor of the survival of a unified Libyan state, The people of Fezzan still remember the influence of the French colonial era on Algeria. and the massacres committed, Perhaps the news and impact of the nuclear explosions in the Algerian desert are still stuck in the memory of its people. Where more than 17 bombings took place, The writer “Abed Al-Fitouri” Ibn Fezzan mentioned that his father and many residents of Fezzan died as a result of the effects of those nuclear tests that occurred in the period from 1960 to 1964. They still see the anniversary of Libya’s independence in 1952. It contributed to the expulsion of the French from the Fezzan. It also contributed to avoiding the Fezzan being a landfill and a field for nuclear tests. As a result of what happened in the Algerian desert, according to the writer, “many people in the Fezzan were afflicted with respiratory and eye diseases in 1960. an acute infection spread among them, To the point of naming this year the “Year of the Eyes”.
This was followed by the Year of Smallpox and the Year of the Yellow Wind. And the people of Fezzan began to get cancer in greater numbers. acid rain fell, And the earth was afflicted with it, according to the narration of Al-Fitouri. All these phenomena date back to the date of February 13 of the same year, when France’s first nuclear test was in “Reggan”, It is an oasis in southern Algeria. At that time, the French army detonated the first nuclear bomb, whose explosive power exceeded four times the bomb dropped by the United States of America on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The first bomb marked the beginning of a long series of nuclear tests, which numbered 57, during which 17 nuclear bombs were detonated. Four of them were in the air and they were very polluted, And then 13 underground bombs in the middle of the mountains, As France was forced to do this kind of experiment after international pressure and fear that the experiments would contradict the path to success, and the financial and human costs would be high. While a French parliamentary report confirms that four explosions in the Algerian desert “were not fully contained or their effects were contained.”
Relations between Libya and France have witnessed various fluctuations since Gaddafi came to power in 1969. It was the beginning of strong and interactive relations. The seventies witnessed a period of revival. In which France sold to Libya a deal for 50 Mirage aircraft, Exchange of visits by leaders of the two countries and high diplomatic relations. Then came the 1980s, which witnessed Gaddafi’s push towards Chad. Gaddafi’s adventure caused the deterioration of relations with France. In the second millennium, relations witnessed a significant return with Sarkozy’s visit to Tripoli. Then Gaddafi exchanged his visit to France, shortly after the first visit.
In the events of the February 17 revolution, France had a prominent role in making the revolution a success. It pushed, with its diplomatic and military presence, for the success of the revolution. Sarkozy and his military advisors were counting on the operations in Libya to rebuild the reputation of the French military force. which was also damaged because of some of its positions, Including its negative attitude, which was recorded against it by some Western countries in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. And it aspired for the Libyan station to be a real turning point to highlight France as a military power. to achieve its political and economic goals and aspirations.
After the February Revolution, it tried to take the initiative to approach the southern files. And to live the role that it delineates for itself through hegemony and influence over the Libyan south, In 2012, the French ambassador to Libya visited the city of Murzuq in southern Libya. This visit, which was described as mysterious, suspicious, and doubtful in its objectives, and which some believe that its contents were behind the outbreak of wars in the southern region. Especially since everyone realizes that it is setting its eyes on more influence in southern Libya and countries south of the Sahara, extending to the African depth.
It is noteworthy that at that time some advocated the application of the federal system to the Fezzan region. Where a sea port is obtained by annexing Sirte to it, It allows opening promising commercial and economic horizons linking Europe with Africa, The French bases shall be real focal points for the protection of this project. However, this idea was met with great rejection at the time. Sensing the difficulty of passing this project, the voice of those calling for it receded.
Soon after and from a profit and loss perspective, France is now feeling that its interests, which it was seeking after the overthrow of Gaddafi, are at stake. that national and national value, And the religious passion that exists among the Libyan people is very possible to take the state to spaces that do not respond to its aspirations. It began working to rearrange its interaction and presence in a way that achieves its strategic interests in the region.
I found in Haftar’s ambitions to lead a military project to rule the state a quick and effective way, and a real channel that summed up a lot. So I started with some regional and international parties, Egypt, the Emirates and Russia are laying the building blocks of a military rule project in Libya. The French role, though not apparent, was However, he was working with an action plan based on a field and practical reality. represented in supplying Haftar and his forces with weapons, intelligence information, In addition to assistance through special forces in training, security and military areas under the umbrella of combating terrorism, And the reports that spoke of the death of three French soldiers in a helicopter crash in Libya in 2016, Confirms the reality of the undeclared French presence in Libya under the pretext of leading operations against terrorism at the time. On July 13, 2014, France announced its military operation, which it called “Barkhane”, which aims, as stated, to combat terrorism at the regional level. The number of its members at its peak reached more than five thousand soldiers. The operation requires military deployment on the African coast and coverage of the Sahara regions. France was aware that Libya was suffering from a severe security vacuum and a state of real chaos, and that it had become a suitable environment for some terrorist and armed groups. And that the “Barkhane” operation that it launched made it necessary for it to expand its scope of work to include the southern Libyan region, which represents the gateway to the regions of the Sahel and Sahara countries. to achieve two goals, The first is to ensure the success of the military operation. The second is to simplify the way to return to the areas of its former influence, Therefore, I was keen to activate the “Madama” base in the far north of Niger, near the border with Libya. Which was held in the “Madama” castle, which was built by the French colonialists in 1931 AD. It has been restored and provided with a military airport to turn into a base for helicopters to keep pace with Operation Barkhane, which makes the Libyan south a top priority.
France, which hosts many activists and leaders of the Chadian opposition deployed on Libyan soil, It is aware that it is holding an important card that it can adapt and direct in the direction that serves its interests. Perhaps the participation of some Chadian armed factions in the fighting with Field Marshal Haftar in the battle of the attack on Tripoli is the best evidence of that. As is known, It was clear the role that France played in 2019 during the attack launched by Haftar on Tripoli. And its role in being present in western Libya through its participation in the Gharyan operations room, And how was the escape of French personnel and experts secured and their arrival in Tunisia, After the battles raged in Gharyan and the then National Accord Government took control of the city.
New French maneuvers
It has become clear to observers and observers of the developments in the Libyan scene with its various dimensions that there is a level of seriousness in the French moves recently. What is remarkable here is France’s perseverance and its eagerness to regain influence and to have a new foothold in the Libyan south. Having temporarily lost its positions in Mali and Central Africa.
She is also aware that the chances of success in this seem difficult and not easy. Because of the widespread rejection of the foreign presence on Libyan soil, Because of the bad history she left during her previous presence, It is also remarkable here that these intensive French moves in Libya come after France officially announced on November 9, 2022, The completion of the Barkhane anti-terrorist operation in the Sahel region. France relied on it a lot to highlight its vital role in its traditional areas of influence. However, in the outcome of its evaluation of the operation, it found that it contributed to fueling popular anger. And caused an increase in hostility to the presence of the French forces, It was also a factor in the occurrence of a number of coups in directions that do not serve France. As happened in Mali and Burkina Faso, This prompted some military and political leaders in Paris to question its effectiveness. openly describing this strategy as a “losing strategy”, Where Aurelien Tashe described, Member of the Defense Committee of the National Assembly, French intervention in countries in order to confront what he called the “Islamic threat” was a “losing strategy”.
On June 8, 2022, the President of the Presidential Council, Muhammad Al-Manfi, received Special Envoy of the French President for Libya Paul Soller, To discuss the latest political developments, And ways to strengthen the relationship of cooperation and promote lasting stability in Libya. In reference to the level of French interest in the Libyan file, The statement of the French President’s Special Envoy to Libya, Paul Soler, emerged. In mid-October 2022, “France will play a positive role in stabilizing Libya, in order to reach an agreement and a political solution,” It lies in achieving simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections based on a consensual constitutional framework.
And with the middle of 2022, there was an increase in the activity of the French movements to be present again in the Libyan file, over which the international powers are competing. Where the “Libya Press” website quoted an unnamed military source, He said that a group of French soldiers had arrived at the “Al-Wig” military base in southern Libya. for the purpose of viewing it, and rehabilitation, and put it back into service, Although Haftar’s forces did not confirm the arrival of French military experts, However, this news came immediately after the meeting between Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. the French envoy to Libya, Which left questions about the relationship of this visit to the planned French military presence in southern Libya. Especially if we know that some sources mention that the meeting of the (5 + 5) committee, which was scheduled to be held in the city of Sebha, was postponed due to what the sources described as a French role, which caused the postponement of the meeting scheduled for early May.
And in early May 2023, Press sources talked about France’s endeavor to hold an expanded security meeting in Paris, in which it aims to reach an agreement between the Libyan parties and discuss the various security issues raised. As the issue of forming a joint security force, issues of securing the next elections, And that the French special envoy to Libya, Paul Soler, is working hard to prepare for it. It is not excluded that France will work to involve some security and military leaders from the Fezzan.
All these moves are the result of France’s revisions to its strategy towards Africa. And its sense of the intensity of the unprecedented international competition towards achieving influence and expansion in the brown continent between the major countries, In which it can no longer bear more losses on the level of this file, which made it lose leadership and implementation in some countries that were forced to withdraw from it in favor of the growing Russian and Chinese expansion.
France’s calculations are related to the circle of its strategic interests centered on the economic, security, military and political dimensions. And the circle of its fears about the loss of its influence and the decline in the level and strength of its influence in the region, which it considered as its traditional areas of influence.
On the economic level, we find that France has many interests inside Libya, and perhaps the issue of reconstruction is one of the justifications for its active participation in overthrowing the Gaddafi regime in February 2011, which some Western sources estimated at the time would exceed 300 billion dollars, which means that the numbers It may multiply greatly in light of the recent situation in the eastern and western region as a result of military operations, and the great destruction it caused in Benghazi in particular, and some areas of the Tripoli cordon, as well as the Al-Bunyan Al-Marsous war in Sirte, and on top of it also comes the opportunities to develop huge investments that are estimated billions of dollars by Total in the oil and gas sectors in Libya, as French reports indicate that Total is now acquiring 30% of the Sharara field in southern Libya, and 24% of the Qaa Murzuq field, as well as its share 16 % of the Waha field, and Total obtained 16.33% of the Waha Company, which is the most important oil company in Libya.
It is also well aware that Libya is the fifth in the Arab world in terms of oil reserves. According to periodic reports issued by OPEC, Its reserves amount to about 50 billion barrels. And that the size of the declared and confirmed gas reserves in Libya in general exceed 80 trillion cubic feet.
Also, the gold reserves are today of great interest to France. As Libya ranks third among the countries with the most gold reserves after Algeria and South Africa in the continent, According to a classification of the German Statista platform, which specializes in global statistics for market and consumer data, Where reports indicate that Libya possesses no less than 117 tons of gold, It is worth mentioning that China’s concern with economic expansion in North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the field of energy and infrastructure, It is one of the circles of interest of the French decision-maker.
As for the military aspect, it is concerned with securing its military bases in the Sahel and Sahara region. is a strategic goal, It does not hesitate to exert all its endeavors in order to expand the scope of work of its bases located in some African countries, such as: Madama-Aguilil Air Base, Niger. And the base of Abeche – Faya (N’Djamena) – Chad. And the presence of forces on the borders of Burkina Faso, Likewise in the areas of Boua – (Cote Divoa) in Ivory Coast, It is also located in the Atar region – Mauritania.
The importance of these bases comes in preserving the French role and influence on the African continent. And from which it seeks to gain a foothold in the Libyan south, It achieves the equation of securing its oil interests first, And work to link it to its bases in the south to expand the circle of security and military influence to the African depth Secondly, In addition, any French military presence in southern Libya means reducing the sphere of influence of any other military force that may be present in the region. It also contributes to enhancing the level of security in southern Europe and the Mediterranean, through what some European officials say that the security of southern Europe is similar to the security of southern Libya.
As for the political level, The issue of its interest in confronting the rising influence of Turkey and the consequent possibility of expanding its sphere of influence within the Libyan lands to head south emerges. She is aware that Türkiye is historically not new to the environment. Realizing the importance of reaching the capital of the Great Desert, Sebha, The French-Turkish divergence is very clear on many international issues. In addition to the fact that there is a historical French-Turkish rivalry in which the political, religious and geopolitical dimensions are mixed, Especially if we know that at the beginning of this year, a diplomatic rapprochement emerged between Turkey and Italy, the former country of influence in the Libyan north, regarding the Libyan crisis. It was translated on the ground by a series of talks and bilateral meetings hosted by Ankara and Rome in mutual visits between a number of officials from the two countries. dealt with the issues of the influx of illegal immigrants, holding elections in Libya, and other important files, According to statements issued by the two countries, While France views these meetings as understandings and an exchange of interests over its historical spheres of influence.
It is not missing here to evoke the reality of the French-Italian rivalry. France fears the Italian steps to expand in the field of energy. Here, the fierce competition over investments in the energy sector emerges between the Italian company Eni and the French Total. They are the two economic fronts for the influence that the two countries seek in Libya. Italy has recently signed new investment contracts in the field of energy with the Government of National Unity. Then, soon after, Rome recently hosted Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Accompanied by a delegation from his military command, I discussed a number of issues with him. including securing the southern border, prevent the flow of more immigrants, As a result of these Italian moves and seeking to perpetuate its presence and not exclude it, Paris is preparing to host a summit that includes some military and security leaders and the (5 + 5) committee. He was also nominated by some French media.
As well as to work to limit Russian expansion in the region, which has become an inevitable reality, I thought that Wagner’s presence on Libyan soil had become a real disturbance to France. Especially if we know that Wagner now has focal points in southern Libya. He went to expand in the direction of the former French Enclave in the south of the Sahara. This is what France considers another challenge to it in its areas of influence.
And it seems that the recent French moves at the level of Libya and work to confront the Russian expansion in it, It angered the Russians and made its foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, accuse France of supporting terrorism in Libya, in a remarkable verbal escalation that reflects the influence struggle between Moscow and Paris over Libya. The French did not hesitate to respond to that. “These accusations are shameful lies,” said a spokeswoman for her State Department, “Anne Claire Legendre.” She is aware that these statements by the Russian minister reflect her fears of a reversal of the United States’ move. Which classified the Russian Wagner Organization as a terrorist group after its strong entry into the battlefield in Ukraine and the fear of its impact on Russia’s expansion in Africa. It is also undoubtedly following with interest the assessment of the impact of the recent announced US strategy towards Libya. And the contents it bears related to the Libyan south, the place of its former sphere of influence, And what appeared recently of special accounts of the French administration in its management of its international files, It expresses the French tendency not to surrender its traditional spheres of influence to the newcomers, Therefore, it believes that the increasing American interest in the Libyan file could very well weaken France’s ability to maneuver politically with the parties to the political conflict in the country. It further confuses its calculations regarding the files of the Saharan countries. This forces it to rearrange its strategic priorities towards North Africa and the Sahara countries.
The rapid pace of French diplomacy regarding the Libyan file is an indication that it senses many threats that are working to pull the rug out from its areas of influence. The Fezzan region has a sea outlet in the city of Sirte on the Mediterranean, with a federal system of government or in any form with an independent content. is one of France’s aspirations, And one of the aspirations of many who are in harmony with the French project to link the Libyan south with the countries of the desert regions, Convinced of the need to leave the tutelage of the North over the South and their miscalculation of its importance, And in appreciation of the possibility of developing and renaissance Fezzan with the hands of its sons who have been deserted by the country’s partners, The French state and its allies in the region are trying to invest this betrayal in passing their plan, which is now convincing many of the people of the south.
Also, the strong French relationship with Muhammad Boazum, President of Niger, is one of the employment points through which it seeks to exploit his social connection with his cousins from the Awlad Suliman tribe in Sebha. In favor of re-extending France in southern Libya, In addition to the prospects for a clear relationship with Field Marshal Haftar, it is a very important key in the security and military access to the Libyan south. France is also seeking to work on linking the French bases in Chad and Niger with a base project in southern Libya, which is considered a French dream to be arranged.
France exploits like other international players, The state of marginalization felt by the residents of the south by the north, She works to amplify this feeling by highlighting it in her informal meetings with political activists from the region. In the French profit calculations, it is still betting through its previous influence in the Libyan south on the depth of its previous alliances with local parties. And that this factor can be used to prevent the expansion and spread of countries such as Turkey, Italy and Russia in southern Libya.
The presence of the franc currency is one of the most important and powerful trump cards that enhance French influence in Africa and the region, to reach its extent to the Libyan south, The French currency may become one of the currencies commonly used in southern Libya. For the existence of a suitable ground for this, Through the demographic change coming from countries that trade the currency of the franc, And the markets of active trade and smuggling along the areas of Sebha, Qatroun and the border areas.
French bases in Libya’s southern neighbors Chad and Niger, It is one of the pillars of France on which it relies in the industry of the expansion it seeks. In addition to the Chadian opposition paper, France’s infiltration of some of its factions is one of the important cards for France to influence the Libyan scene. It also considers its relationship and affiliation with some components in the south as gain points that other international parties lack.
In the field of profit and gains, France will also remain present through language. and educational and cultural linkages and through the deep state, As a result, it is working to be ready to restore and renew what might be lost spaces by exploiting and employing those factors.
- The handling of officials in the Libyan state with the reality of French ambitions, It still lacks the strategic dimension that results from an equal relationship that expresses circles of common interests. France’s ambitions in Libya go beyond the stage of aspirations and desires. Rather, it is a reality that France has begun to weave with remarkable speed.
- The game of strategic balance that the national interest may require in dealing with international actors regarding the Libyan file, It requires not to take harsh and extremist positions towards it. Rather, it must be invested in more national gains. Especially in the transitional situation that the Libyan state is going through.
- The government of national unity should open direct dialogue with the French state through direct negotiations to find common ground for managing mutual interests and issues between the two countries, In order to prevent any French employment or exploitation of some local parties in the mobilization of some interests that do not serve the Libyan state, As happened with the Italian organization Arapache.
- Monitoring the local authorities and institutions through which some countries seek to increase their influence and expand their interests at the expense of the Libyan state. And put an end to the communication of these non-official bodies and institutions with foreign countries, Because it basically does not reflect the state, It may lead the Libyan state to react as a result of uncalculated actions.
- Perhaps it would be very beneficial for the Libyan authorities to follow up the issue of the effects of the nuclear explosions in the Algerian desert with the Algerian authorities, who are still following up on this issue with the French authorities. and continues to abstain from any procedures related to compensation, Therefore, this paper is of great importance to be included in the agenda of the Libyan Foreign Ministry. And work quickly to document its local evidence in the Libyan south, Especially since the age group that experienced this incident has begun to become extinct. And the effort exerted by national leaders and personalities to achieve the unity and independence of the Libyan state in 1952, The consequences of avoiding the use of the Libyan south as a field for nuclear tests and a stepping stone for France’s entry into the nuclear club must be highlighted by the concerned authorities for the new generations and highlighted in order to contribute to upholding the national value.
May 25 , 2023
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