Newly-appointed French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé paid his first official ministerial visit abroad to Egypt on Sunday to lend French support to the nation during the current transitional period and its aftermath.
Nominated to the position on 27 January after the resignation of Michele Alliot-Marie, a result of the disclosure of a scandal involving her relationship with the deposed Tunisian regime, Juppé is now considered the second foremost strong man of the French Government.
The one-day official visit was punctuated by various meetings, first with some French entrepreneurs early this morning, followed by a meeting at “Bon Appétit” Coffee Shop downtown with about 10 members of the January 25 Youth Coalition. Juppé then had lunch with the Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, to “discuss major regional issues.”
Juppé proceeded to meet with Marshal Hussein Tantawy to assure him of French trust in the ability of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to conduct a democratic transition. Finally, he gave a press conference before an audience of French and Egyptian journalists at the Fairmont Hotel in Heliopolis.
Juppé initiated his speech by stressing France’s solidarity with the Egyptian and the Arab people, “whose admirable conduct has honored them.”
“Egypt has had a long political tradition; it has been home to the Arab renaissance at a certain stage in history, and this is what is has become again,” he stressed.
The foreign minister during the press conference insisted France is eager to accompany Egypt on its path to democracy and human rights “by being present and by the Egyptian people.”
“This attitude does not mean that France intends to interfere in Egypt’s decisions because the Egyptian people will be the ones deciding who they want to elect for the next elections and how to change the Constitution,” he vowed. “France has not come to Egypt to offer ready-made recipes and advices to the people of Egypt. France came only to reaffirm our availability and our support, mostly economical and social.”
When questioned about the concrete steps France is ready to make to accompany Egypt on its path to democracy, Juppé said the Agence Française pour le Developpement (AFD) is willing to “increase its efforts for Egypt’s SMEs, the main employers in the country.” He mentioned EU financial aid to help Egypt restore its economy but refrained from disclosing any figures.
Juppé also discussed bilateral and legal aid, and offered France’s “expertise” on the topic of democracy and human rights.
The foreign minister concluded the event by insisting on the restoration of the Union for the Mediterranean (UPM), which, according to Juppé, is “a great idea of increased solidarity between the North and the South of the Mediterranean.” Created in July 2008 with a French-Egyptian co-presidency, the UPM is considered an empty shell after the Israeli “Cast Lead operation,” the assault on Gaza on the 27 December 2008, lead to an internal deadlock in the international body.
Discussion of reviving the UPM when most countries located on the southern banks of the Mediterranean are in the midst of revolution, or visible political dissent, seems slightly bizarre.
Juppé, who refers to the Mediterranean as “our common sea,” seems confident that the UPM is one of the keys to “a common destiny that we have to work on together.”
On Libya, Juppé reaffirmed French condemnation of the Libyan regime and, primarily, President Muammar Gaddafi, “who entered a spiral of violence and is committing crimes against his population.”
“Gaddafi has lost all legitimacy. He needs to leave,” he added firmly.
Libya is France’s main preoccupation right now, according to the foreign minister. “We are observing the unfolding of the events there hourly,” he pledged.
Although France is ready to implement the sanctions prescribed by the UN Security Council, in accordance with the US, the Arab League and the African Union, it is not in favor of military intervention.
“The situation on the ground is extremely volatile," explained Juppé, "and a military intervention seems counterproductive. Also, no military intervention can be considered without a UN mandate and the support of the African Union and the Arab League.”
Should the violence continue to increase in Libya, he declared France is in agreement with a no-fly zone over Libyan territory.
“What has happened in the Arab World is the biggest change that the international scene has witnessed for a very long time,” Juppé declared in conclusion to the 45-minutes press conference.