France’s Bastille Day: Macron puts arms deals before human rights by honouring Modi
France’s Bastille Day celebrations on 14 July, has once again served as a key platform autocrats. For this year’s ceremony, Macron invited none other than the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, a move that has raised eyebrows.
The latter’s role in the mass killing of Muslims in the Gujarat in 2002, current orchestration of a Hindu supremacist agenda, nationwide persecution of Muslims, a deeply divisive citizenship law, crackdown on journalists, on civil society, political opponents and turning India into a “Hindu-fascist enterprise”, were all clearly not a cause for concern when he was invited to the most iconic celebration of the French Republic.
However, all things being equal, Emmanuel Macron cannot claim to necessarily stand in opposition to what Modi represents – he certainly didn’t vocalise any criticisms during the Indian PM’s trip. In fact, each in their own way has shown disdain for particular democratic values, has put forward illiberal policies that target minorities, and adopted a growingly repressive agenda against political opponents.
''France’s 14th July military parade, with all the prestige it represents, has for years been an opportunity to whitewash foreign autocrats’ crimes – at least those that the French government has an interest in keeping close. In 2008 for example, some of the most brutal dictators from across the Arab world were invited. Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Egypt’s Mubarak and Syria’s Bachar Al Assad were all guests to the ceremony. The 2023 celebration must therefore be seen as a continuation of this ‘tradition’.''
Ever since the French president came to power in 2017, controversies surrounding the subject of Muslims in French society has not ceased. From their racist portrayal as migrants stealing jobs and burdening social services, to the security threat they pose, Muslims have remained at the centre of public debates.
Furthermore, repression against journalists, the bloody crackdown on the Yellow Vest movement and the protests against pension reforms, haven’t exactly demonstrated that France is a bastion of human rights. The anti-separatism law of 2020 eroded the freedom of assembly in France and led to the shutting down of several Muslim NGO’s, which was soon followed by the state dissolution of the environmentalist collective Les Soulèvements de la Terre.
For the mainstream French press to express any surprise that a political leader who espouses anti-Muslim hate is invited onto their territory, whilst they played a role in demonising dissidents opposing racism, police violence, neoliberal reforms, and defending civil liberties, is hypocritical to say the least.
In reality, France’s 14th July military parade, with all the prestige it represents, has for years been an opportunity to whitewash foreign autocrats’ crimes – at least those that the French government has an interest in keeping close. In 2008 for example, some of the most brutal dictators from across the Arab world were invited. Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Egypt’s Mubarak and Syria’s Bachar Al Assad were all guests to the ceremony. The 2023 celebration must therefore be seen as a continuation of this ‘tradition’.
As long as foreign dictators keep plundering their people’s wealth by buying French weapons, they stand a chance in being honoured by the French Republic. Just look at Egyptian president Mohammed Al Sissi who overthrew the country’s first democratically elected president and who oversaw the systemic killing of his critics culminating in the Rabat massacre in 2013. He is described as a “precious client” for France.
As the former French president Charles De Gaulle put it: “the state has no friends but only interests”.
Defenders of Macron and professional political commentators would speak of realpolitik or pragmatism, but it should be more appropriately named ‘arms deals foreign policy’.
This approach by Macron is, however, short-sighted. To narrow France’s interests to those of its military industrial complex is already a losing bet. France is about to become the world’s second largest arms manufacturer, yet it has been losing influence on the international stage from Africa to the MENA. Serving as one of the largest weapons suppliers to dictatorial regimes in the Middle East doesn’t exactly qualify France for a leading role in the region.
If French diplomacy keeps being aligned with the narrow interests of the arms industry’s shareholders, the country will indeed have nothing left but to use its symbols of the past to legitimise autocrats.
Indeed, there is a huge contrast between what French Republic claims as its values, and what stands for in practice. It has to be said that it is an old ongoing myth that France is the country that stands for and defends human rights. Slavery, colonisation, the punishment of Haiti for declaring independence, neo-colonial foreign policy, support to dictatorships even for those who rule was crumbling, support to Shah of Iran and to the apartheid regime in South Africa, as well as Israel’s continued occupation of Palestine, all contradict the Republic’s so-called values when it comes to foreign policy.
Hell is not just other people, it can also be what's in the mirror. The difference with Modi when compared with Macron, is that he does not sugar-coat his racist, authoritarian policies.
Ultimately, Bastille Day will continue serving the same purpose until the French people put an end to it. And there just might be some hope on this front. During the president’s 14th July parade on the Champs Élysées, which followed a week of uprisings that had erupted after the killing of unarmed 17-year-old Nahel, people shouted at him to resign, which commentators were forced to acknowledge during the live streaming of the event.
The French state would be better to dedicate Bastille Day to honouring French people contributing to democracy, peace, and the liberation of all, rather than autocracy and war.
Yasser Louati is a French political analyst and head of the Committee for Justice & Liberties (CJL). He hosts a hit podcast called "Le Breakdown with Yasser Louati" in English and "Les Idées Libres" in French.
Follow him on Twitter: @yasserlouati
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