French Foreign Policy and the Arab World, a Grim History

Article excerpt


In his latest book, "Betrayal," David Pryce-Jones states that not only has France betrayed its Jewish citizens but also itself. There has long been a stratum of French society that has never quite accepted the French revolution but maintained an exclusive sense of French superiority. Members of this group considered the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (the Quai d'Orsay) their natural home and not until the 1950s were Jews and Protestants even considered for appointment.

It made for a rather ingrown, highly literate, but not very effective instrument for foreign policy. The establishment had a romantic attachment to the Holy Land (Palestine) dating from the Crusades, and schools with instruction in French proliferated throughout the Turkish and Arab Near East.

From the time of Napoleon III, government figures would occasionally describe France as "une puissance musalmane" or Islamic power, presumably because of the Arab addiction to the French language and to French culture, strengthened by the French political and military presence in North Africa. When France along with its army was obliged to withdraw from North Africa the never very powerful "puissance musalmane" also disappeared, but the determined French cultivation of the Arab world continued.

Gen. Charles de Gaulle told the British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, after freezing all military sales to Israel during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, that some day the West would thank him as from then on France would be the only Western power to have any influence with the Arab governments. What this influence has come to through the years, other than the procurement of an occasional fat military contract, such as the building of an atomic reactor for Iraq, has yet to be shown.

The French and British had been at war with each other for far more hundreds of years than they have been allies and this inherited French resentment, particularly among the elite, manifested itself on various occasions during World War II. It eventually included Americans, the other "Anglo-Saxons." French diplomatic efforts in the postwar Middle East, other than the Suez debacle, seemed based on the belief that what was bad for the Anglo-Saxons was good for the French, regardless of the particulars of any event.

The author takes up the case of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who had been a thorn in the British side in Palestine before fleeing to the Nazis. He collaborated with them in recruiting Muslims in Bosnia and elsewhere to serve in the German military.

When it became clear that Germany had lost the war he fled to Switzerland, but the Swiss didn't want him. Somehow he came under the custody of the French who housed this self-professed Nazi sympathizer in a villa in a Paris suburb complete with two secretaries and an Arab cook. …