As the French-led assault on al-Qaeda-linked Islamist forces in northern Mali continues for a third straight day, the French government has requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the escalating situation, Arab dailies report.
Since it began its air strikes on positions controlled by rebels near the northern towns of Timbuktu and Gao, the French government has experienced no problems enlisting neighboring West African countries in its effort to stop their advance. According to the leading story in the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi, “France calls for a meeting of the Security Council and the continued bombardment of rebel strongholds in Mali,” Senegal, Niger, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso have all agreed to commit troops and logistical support within days.
The main rebel group in control of northern Mali, Ansar Dine, which has ties to al-Qaeda affiliated groups in Somalia, Yemen, and north Africa, routed the Malian government back in April and has threatened to storm Bamako, the capital. The group is seeking to establish an Islamist state in west Africa based on extremely rigid interpretations of Islam. Since its rise to power, all music and dancing have been banned and public executions have been carried out to dissuade local residents from challenging their rule.
France chose to intervene after Francois Hollande, the French president, “determined the need to eliminate these terrorists who threaten the financial security” of all of Europe. Thus far, 500 French troops have arrived in Mali and “have been searching houses [in the country’s north] for weapons or Islamists in hiding.”
Still, many observers in the region are skeptical of the French government’s chances of ousting the rebels. Northern Mali is a sparsely populated desert region roughly the size of France. Even Algeria, which has agreed to allow French warplanes to fly over its territory, is nervous about France’s chances and is preparing for a bitter war of attrition.
Abdelmalek Sellal, Algeria’s prime minister, is worried that the French intervention “gives justification to jihadists to march to the region under the pretext of resisting foreign invaders,” A-Sharq Al-Awsat reports.
Algerian sources told the Saudi-owned daily that “Algeria does not oppose the request for assistance by its ally [France]… but does not want it to wage a war it cannot end.”
The Algerian government fears that if the war continues, it will bear the brunt of a humanitarian crisis involving hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, including many Islamist rebels. Nevertheless, as the Cairo-based Al-Masry Al-Youm emphasizes, “Algeria is allowing France to fly over its territory without any conditions.”
Despite the French-Algerian cooperation, many commentators in the Arab world remain cynical of the motives of the French office, including Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor-in-chief of Al-Quds Al-Arabi.
In a piece entitled “War in Mali, Algeria is the goal,” Atwan writes, “What is happening now [in Mali] is a return to old colonialism… Oil is the reason for every Western military intervention in Muslim lands and Mali is not an exception. It is true that Mali is poor in oil, but it is adjacent to the largest oil and gas fields in Africa in Nigeria and Algeria, plus the rest of the region is stocked with uranium and other minerals.”
“A revolution failed to explode in Algeria,” he continues, “because the Algerian people lost 200,000 people in a civil war nearly 10 years ago. . . Now outside intervention comes to them anyway on its southern doorstep. . . France will now face the same fate faced by America in Iraq and Afghanistan. Africa’s Sahel region will now turn into bloody chaos.”
Arab foreign ministers meet to discuss Syrian refugees
Most Arab foreign ministers and delegates of the Arab League attended an emergency meeting in Cairo to discuss the status of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, the Saudi pan-Arab news channel Al-Arabiya reports.
The meeting came at the request of Adnan Mansour, Lebanon’s minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, who loudly proclaimed that “Lebanon is unable to afford the requirements of these displaced people alone.” Of the 500,000 displaced Syrian refugees, 200,000 have fled to Lebanon of which 75% are women and children.
Nabil Elaraby, the Arab League Secretary General, criticized the Syrian regime for “ignoring the depths of the popular movement, which still faces violence,” and called for a “comprehensive political solution.”
An Al-Quds Al-Arabi editorial criticized the attendees of the meeting, noting that “the Syrian people opened their hearts wide for all Arab peoples. It received more than a million Iraqis and tens of thousands of Lebanese, as well as tens of thousands of Palestinians. Its people do not deserve the denial by the Arab countries and the degrading treatment in the refugees camps.”