Published On: Tue, Oct 29th, 2013

France ex-Prime Minister:There’s a risk of further destabilization for nearby Arabia

On October  29th ,  Bahrain Centre for Strategic and International Studies and Energy (Derasat) organised the Gulf Strategic Conference addressing strategic issues of concern to the GCC states and the Arab World.

Dominique Marie François René Galouzeau de Villepin who is a French politician who served as the Prime Minister of France from 31 May 2005 to 17 May 2007, was one of the participants.

Dominique Marie François René Galouzeau de Villepin speech started with; I’m honored to have the opportunity to open today this Gulf Strategic Conference. I’m looking forward to hearing the thoughts of such eminent thinkers and enactors as the Secretary General of the Arab League and the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, who will address the crucial question of the regional order in the Arab world after 2011.

I think we are speaking here and now with some gravity. Because we all know the security issues, the stability issues, the democracy issues we are talking about are very directly felt here.

We are gathered here in Bahrain in a land of tolerance with a spirit of moderation appreciated in all the region.

We are gathered, we know it too, in one of the epicenters of the political earthquake brought about since 2011.

  • Because there are political divisions here concerning constitutional rights and civil liberties, that are also oppositions between communities, Shi’as and Sunnis. And I do hope that the dialogue process launched in the spring will be successful and set an example for the region.
  • Because we are very near to Iran, which remains the key to regional peace, and very near to Saudi Arabia, which is in my view the second key for the future of the region.
  • Because we have here in Manama an American military base that is a symbol of the difficulties of the American policy in the Middle East.

What’s happening in the Middle east is terribly simple : we are heading from one crisis to the other, and with more and more violence :

  • In the winter 2010-2011 we had the uprisings in North Africa, in Tunisia, in Egypt that led to real political transitions, with limited violence. This was the fall of authoritarian regimes that had been unable to evolve with the demands of their populations, despite early signs, like the strikes in Gafsa in Tunisia and the kefaya movement in Egypt, both in 2008.
  •  In the spring of 2011, we had a new kind of situation with Libya. A much less mature political body and a much stronger dictator. This led to immediate threats of a bloody repression in Benghazi. For the first time, the international community agreed to its responsibility to protect the Libyan people from the crimes of the regime. But that’s when the international situation changed dramatically. The objective of the operation under resolution 1973 was diverted from the original motive. It was now about regime change and no more only about a no-fly-zone to protect civilians. What were the consequences :
    • A large scale conflict that  led to the massive dissemination of weapons in the Sahara and the Sahel, creating the situation for the Islamist moves in Mali, a year later.
    • Another consequence was the loss of legitimacy and the division of the international community. Russians and Chinese, but also other emerging countries that have a strong vision of sovereignty and a personal experience in this regard, are now convinced that the responsibility to protect is nothing more than a pretext for meddling in a sovereign states affairs.

  • In the second half of 2011 and the whole of 2012, the repression of the Syrian democratic movements led to a large scale Civil war that has been responsible since then for the death of over 120,000 Syrians and 2 million refugees abroad, 4 million within the Syrian borders.
    • The international situation is in a deadlock because of the strong implications of international and regional actors on both sides. The regime receives direct support from Russia, Iran and the Hezbollah. The opposition is financed and equipped by competing regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Qatar and politically supported by the USA and the European Union.
    • The domestic situation has changed. It’s no more a conflict between persons, opinions, ideologies. It’s a question of identities, which is always the most dangerous kind of war, because it knows no limits and no rules and because the only outcome is radicalization and hate. Today, terror is the rule. The Assad regime systematically bombs hospitals or schools, for instance.
    • In the summer of 2013, Egypt, after two years of political turmoil has entered a time of major political danger with the coup of Marshall al Sissi. This is a turnabout in the Arab Spring, because it seems to be a dilemma between going back to the authoritarian regimes before 2011 or entering a destructive civil war like in Algeria in the 1990es.
      • There’s a risk of further destabilization for nearby Arabia
      • There’s a risk of a spiral of violence in the largest population of the region.

Facing the challenges of political stability, there are temptations, there are illusions that have to be resisted because they are creating even greater perils.

  • The first temptation, the first illusion is to obtain security through force.

We have seen this temptation become more and more important in the past years. Since the end of the Cold War, there has been growing frustration about the wars, the violence, the oppression around the world. That’s how some believed that there were shortcuts to democracy, that there were shortcuts to stability and that this meant using force. That’s the bottomline of neoconservatism, in America but also around the world.

But force only creates the need of more force. It’s the beginning of a vicious circle that no one can break afterwards.

  • The second temptation is to obtain security through technology.

Today, some strategists think you just have to invest more money and to develop more innovations and that, this way, you will get rid of all threats? It’s the belief that you can overcome resisting forces definitely. That’s what’s happening in America since the Obama Administration took over the wars of the Bush era. Their public opinion couldn’t endure human losses in these long wars. Since 2008, drones have taken over the missions of soldiers. 3000 drone strikes have led to 30 000 killed persons, not all of them direct targets. The same temptation exists to control borders, with the belief that this way you will control violent threats. That’s how desert borders became hypertechnological fences, with very high costs, but in fact limited profit in terms of security.

The truth is you can only contain threats, you can control them, you can learn to live with them, but you can not make them disappear only through force.

  • There’s a third temptation, it’s to obtain security through repression

In countries with high risks of divisions, with high risks of political instability, some think the best way to create stability is to deny the right to express contradictions. This way, you can believe these contradictions don ‘t exist.

But these contradictions are only repressed and they will come up even harder the next time, more radical, more violent. The truth is there’s no long term political stability without a strong and free opposition.

Believing we are in the middle of a security crisis would be a mistake; because the truth of today’s crisis in the Middle east is that it’s a political crisis. And a political crisis needs a political response.

  • We need to have a broader look at the events in the Middle East to understand what is happening. It’s a forty year war that is, I hope, drawing to an end.
    • The first conflict is between secularization and Islamism has been raging since the Iranian revolution in 1979.
      • A military djihadism has been fueled by revolts and guerillas worldwide, in Afghanistan, in Sudan, in Somalia, in South East Asia, in Algeria.
      • A political Islamism was nurtured by the failure of secularized elites and by the shortcomings of economic development, in rural areas all around the Muslim world for example.
      • A cultural rigorist Islam developed in reaction to the growing influences of Western culture, through the television, the movies or Internet. People in the Muslim world felt compelled to define and demonstrate their identities to the world. The experience of emigration sometimes increased this feeling of differentiation.
  • There has also been a second conflict between authoritarian regimes and democracy.
    • With decolonization, the independence leaders inherited an aspiration for national sovereignty at the same time as a desire for selfdetermination of the people. It was the core of the legitimacy of the new republican regimes.
    • But with time, because of aging leaders and elites and because of the weakness of the new states, many countries came under the rule of a dictatorial power. The ideals of the time of independence gradually disappeared.
  • The third conflict between Shi’a and Sunni Moslems has also come out of control with the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and then with the Iraq war in 2003.
    • We all know that there have been centuries long conflicts among the different confessions within Islam. We all know also that there are many more differences, that need more subtle approach.
    • But with the complex histories of the nation states since the independence, majorities and minorities have been entangled in national power relations. That has been the case in Syria after 1946, in Lebanon, in Iraq. This made the situation between Shi’a and Sunni more complicated.
    • Today the conflict between Shi’a and Sunni is even more complex because it’s at the same time a conflict between nations for regional hegemony. That’s the whole question of the Iranian proliferation, more than the conflict between Iran and Israel.
  • There’s a last conflict to be mentioned in this forty years, it’s the conflict concerning Western implication or Western withdrawal.
    • First there has been the question of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 1979, the Camp David agreements created a new situation. The war between nations yielded way to a conflict between communities and identities, a conflict that developed violence and terrorism.
    • During the same time, the American presence in the region rose to its peak level, because of the hostages in Iran and later because of the two Gulf wars. It created needs for more military bases in the region.
    • Such a massive historical process, such a perfect storm, as the Americans put it, has become possible because of several strings of causes :
      • There were local causes,
        • they were a crisis in the sharing of wealth,
        • they were major corruption scandals,
        • they were local cases of social despair, like Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia who put himself on fire to protest against police abuse in 2011


  • There were also regional causes.
    • Let’s think only of the tensions between Saudi Arabia and Qatar
    • Let’s think of the tensions between Morocco and Algeria in the Maghreb.
  • Last of all there were global causes to this major transformation,
    • The worldwide fight against Islamist terrorism, for instance.
    • But also the information age, with the access of the youth to the Internet and to the social media which created the feeling of a common destiny of a whole generation.
    • But also globalization, that led to rising middle classes in emerging countries that were asking for their share of power and prosperity.



  • My conviction is that there’s a particular event that has triggered the tragedy of the region and that has unleashed the destructive forces in the region : it’s the war in Iraq.
    • The War in Iraq has weakened the credibility of democracy in the region.
    • The War in Iraq has changed the balance in the conflict between Sunni and Shi’a. In fact, the truth is that parts of Iraq are now controlled by Iranian interests.
    • The War in Iraq has ruined the legitimacy of Western diplomacies to weigh on the possibility of a peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Today, the Middle East is at a crossroads. Let’s face it. There are three scenarios for the future in the coming years

  • The Islamist winter is the first scenario. We see more and more radical and djihadist groups crossing borders. They consider this is a fight for a new Middle East under a single rule. A Middle East with no place for religious minorities. A Middle East at war with the rest of the world. This scenario would be a catastrophe.
  • The second scenario does not look much brighter. It would be the breakup of the nation states and the subsequent balkanization of the Middle East, with the rivalry of ethnical, religious, and confessional minorities. This is by no means an improbable scenario. Just look at what happened in Iraq after the war of 2003 : the Iraqi state is not much more than an empty shell with three quasi-autonomous territories, the Kurds, the Sunni and the Shi’a. Look at Libya, divided in three semi-autonomous parts – Fezzan, Cyrenaïca and Tripolitana- and in fact split up in a mosaic of smaller tribe-led territories. Look at what is happening right now in Syria. Communities are entrenching territories and emptying them of their minorities through terror. Soon there will be whatever the outcome of the civil war a Kurdish Syria in the North-east, An Alawite Syria in the mountains near the shore of the Mediterranean and a Sunni Syria
  • There’s a third scenario, that would be much preferable. It’s the scenario of a negociated transition towards modernization of the Middle East. The economic, demographic, educational changes of the last decades have changed the way people of the Middle East look at the world and at their future. The stake is not to resist modernity – and the West- through a traditional islam. It’s on the contrary to insert Islam in the global modernity, as the culture of dialogue, peace and openness it was in the past. This means diversity within Islam at a time where everyone – even the non-Muslims- seem each to have their view on what a good Muslim should be. There are many ways to wisdom and there’s spiritual fortune among the learning of the Sufis, as well as in a secularized Islam or as, for those who choose it, a more litteral interpretation of Islam.

What is needed in a Middle East tired of forty years of wars to choose stability and development is simple :

  • It’s dialogue. There’s an opportunity today for a peaceful settlement of the different crisis through a political and diplomatic process, as has been shown by the recent debates about the destruction of chemical weapons under the control of the UN in Syria. We should seize this opportunity for a comprehensive regional appeasement.
  • Change is needed. Stability can not be status quo in a region that is changing fast, in which the population is changing, in which the economy is changing, in which the culture is changing. There have been positive examples in the last years of evolutions without violence, like in Morocco since the february 20th movement.
  • What is needed is stability. That’s why regional cooperation organizations are particularly necessary to help each country find the best path. Because they can promote negotiation and mediation.
  • Economic growth is crucially needed.
    • This means today developing infrastructure projects to open up the countries to each other. Look at the situation in Maghreb, between Algeria and Morocco for instance, where the lack of cooperation creates a loss of growth that can represent 2% of the countries’ output.
    • This means today economic and trade partnerships, particularly with Europe, because we have to remember that we have a common destiny.
    • This means economic and social reforms to develop entrepreneurship and setting free the economic energies. I think in this regard the sovereign funds of the Gulf have the ability to shape a part of a sustainable future for the whole region by supporting innovative projects, by fostering clusters of industries in precise zones around the region.

It is our common responsibility today to take politically meaningful initiatives.

  • We will need strong regional organizations, like the Arab League, and strong security organizations like the Gulf Cooperation Council even more to accompany comprehensive political solutions. Because security must create the conditions of dialogue, and these are today, in Libya, in Syria, but also in the Arabic Peninsula, the protection of civilians, the containment of conflicts, the demilitarization of armed militias and the prevention of terrorism.
  • We will need pragmatic political solutions. Take the case of Syria, which is the main emergency. Today a peaceful negotiation in Geneva is impossible. There are no partners for peace and it’s the responsibility of the international community to create the conditions of a thorough negotiation. How?
    • By working on a cease-fire based on territorial safehavens for all communities, for the Alawites, for the Christians.
    • By working on constitutional guarantees for minorities in regions where populations are very mixed, like around Damascus.
    • We will need solid states and we need to strengthen them today. That’s true in particular in Tunisia, in Libya, in Iraq, but basically it’s true everywhere in the region.
      • This means strengthening Rule of law according to international standards, through more independence in the judiciary systems in many countries of the region.
      • Efficient public administration
      • Efficient fight against corruption
      • Cooperation against terrorist organizations
      • We will need more open political systems. Egypt is on the verge of Civil war. We can’t let this happen.
        • Today there’s a responsibility for all regional actors, and particularly for Saudi Arabia who gives strong support to the new military regime since the coup, to work on solutions based on two principles : negotiation and transition.
        • Today there’s also a responsibility of the military regime to understand its long term interest of opening channels of discussion with the Muslim brotherhood. It’s in nobody’s interest to choose terrorism, violence and civil war, because today’s actors will then be replaced by more radical actors, like the salafist djihadist waiting for their time to come.
        • In countries where political divisions are brutal and radical, democracy needs to be strengthened by a protection of the rights of the opposition, as well as by a protection of the persons coming out of office in case of a change of majority.
        • We need ideas and propositions and that is the role of a Forum like this one. I hope very much that in the future, this organization will be able to make propositions, to alert on the dangers.

He ended by saying, this is a difficult time for the Middle East. It’s in many ways a time of despair, when we see the grieving families in Syria, when we are condemned to count the victims.

But it’s also a time of responsibility, a time of initiative, a time of possibility. There’s no fate for war and instability.

Every institution, every nation has to face its choices and to choose a role for the future. It’s true for the nations, for the Arab monarchies or for the republics of Northern Africa, but it’s even more true for old and new political and security organizations like the Arab League or the Gulf Cooperation Council. They can choose initiative over defense of a fragile stability, to reach an even higher stability tomorrow.

I trust in the ability of the leaders of this region to find a way for reason and for prudence. And forum like this one today can only increase this awareness of the need of stability in the Middle East. Security is possible. It’s possible with change. It’s possible with growth. It’s possible with dialogue and diplomacy.