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POLITICS

French Muslim groups deal blow to Macron’s anti-extremism charter

Three Muslim groups refused on Wednesday to back an anti-extremism charter pushed by French officials following a spate of jihadist-inspired attacks, dealing a blow to a flagship initiative of President Emmanuel Macron's government.

French Muslim groups deal blow to Macron's anti-extremism charter
The Great Mosque of Paris. Photo: AFP

The charter rejects “instrumentalising” Islam for political ends and affirms equality between men and women, while denouncing practices such as female circumcisions, forced marriages or “virginity certificates” for brides.

French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), a body set up almost 20 years ago to enable dialogue between the government and the Muslim community, broadly welcomed the charter and five of its eight federations signed on Sunday.

READ ALSO: French Muslim groups draw up charter to reject 'political Islam'

However, the other three groups said on Wednesday they could not join their colleagues.

“We believe that certain passages and formulations in the text submitted are likely to weaken the bonds of trust between the Muslims of France and the nation,” the three groups said in a statement.

“Furthermore, some statements are prejudicial to the honour of Muslims, with an accusatory and marginalising tone.”

Macron had railed against the promotion of “political Islam” in France in November last year after a teacher was beheaded outside his school.

He had shown pupils cartoons of the prophet Mohammed as part of a free-speech lesson.

The attack prompted a crackdown against extremist mosques and Islamist associations, along with a vigorous defence of French secularism.

Macron said this week that the charter offered “a clarification of how the Muslim community is organised”.

ANALYSIS: Has Macron succeeded in creating an 'Islam for France'?

It will also provide a framework for a new National Council of Imams that will be responsible for vetting imams practising in the country.

The future of the charter is now uncertain.

The three groups – two of which are Franco-Turkish organisations and the other which describes itself as a teaching and cultural group – said they would be willing to sign up only after a “broad, democratic and participatory consultation”.

“In order to adopt this charter, we must recognise ourselves in its content. It would not be useful to sign a text that our community cannot serenely accept,” they wrote.

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POLITICS

France says all troops left Mali, ending nine-year military mission

The last soldiers belonging to France's Barkhane operation in Mali have now left the African country, the French chiefs of staff said on Monday.

France says all troops left Mali, ending nine-year military mission

French forces have been supporting Mali against insurgents for nearly a decade, but President Emmanuel Macron decided to pull out after France and the Malian junta fell out in the wake of a military takeover.

“Today at 13H00 Paris time (1100 GMT) the final contingent of the Barkhane force still on Malian territory crossed the border between Mali and Niger,” the statement said.

The army had met the “major military logistics challenge” of the pull-out “in an orderly and safe fashion”, it added.

After ties ruptured between Paris and the junta that took power in Mali in August 2020, France began to withdraw its troops in February, as jihadist violence surged in the Sahel.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Why were French soldiers in Mali?

Friction developed over the junta’s delays in restoring civilian rule and escalated when Mali brought in Russian paramilitaries — personnel described by France as “mercenaries” from the pro-Kremlin Wagner group.

‘Prevented caliphate’

Macron on Monday congratulated the military on its nine years in Mali, saying it had “prevented the establishment of a territorial caliphate, and fought against terrorists that attack local populations and threaten Europe”. 

Most high-ranking members of the “terrorist groups” had been “neutralised”, he said, adding that 59 French soldiers had died in Mali in total.

More than 2,000 civilians have been killed in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso since the start of the year, according to an AFP tally based on the findings of non-governmental organisation ACLED.

In this file photo taken on December 07, 2021 shows the French flag and France-led special operations logo for the new Task Force Takuba, a multinational military mission in sub-Saharan Africa’s troubled Sahel region. (Photo by Thomas COEX / AFP)

BACKGROUND: France announces withdrawal of troops from Mali

At its peak, France’s Barkhane mission had 5,100 troops among five Sahel allies, all former French colonies — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

The forces have provided key support in air power, troop transport and reconnaissance. France has an air base in Niger’s capital Niamey where it has deployed drones.

After the Malian pullout, the mission will have “around 2,500” troops, Barkhane commander General Laurent Michon said last month.

The reconfigured mission will emphasise “more cooperative operations,” he said.

Frontline Niger

France will keep more than 1,000 men in Niger, where a tactical group will continue to work in partnership with the Nigerien forces.

Niger is a frontline state in the fight against jihadism as the unstable region struggles with a string of military coups.

“The democratic regression in West Africa is extremely worrying,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told French MPs ahead of a trip to the region in July. 

“However, in spite of these events (and) the withdrawal from Mali, France will continue to help West African armies fight terrorist groups.”

Niger is one of the biggest recipients of French aid, receiving 143 million euros ($146 million) last year.

READ ALSO: France calls Mali’s exit from defence accords ‘unjustified’

The two sides will sign agreements for a French loan of 50 million euros and a grant of 20 million euros.

Niger, the world’s poorest country by the benchmark of the UN’s Human Development Index, has been badly hit by the jihadist insurgency that began in northern Mali in 2012 and then swept to neighbouring countries.

Niger is facing insurgencies both on its western border with Mali and Burkina Faso and on its south-eastern frontier with Nigeria.

More than a thousand troops will be deployed in Niger, providing air support and training, according to French sources.

French troops are also in Gabon, Ivory Coast and Senegal, as well as in the east of Africa, in Djibouti.

READ ALSO: Macron agrees to return Benin sculptures ‘without delay’

Macron in June asked the government and military chiefs “to rethink our overall presence on the African continent by the autumn.”

He called for “a presence that is less static and less exposed” and “a closer relationship” with African armed forces.

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