France and the Arab World

President Sarkozy wants to create a Mediterranean Union. He says it would lead to more trade, more development, more harmony. He's already pitched it to, among others, Libya, Algeria and Morocco. �Today we will build a union,� he told Moroccan leaders, �based on respecting our differences and putting our best forward.� Sarkozy has been on the road a lot recently but his talk of grand international alliances isn't causing a great stir at home, at least not among the general public. This political analyst says that's in part because times are tough economically in France, but also she says the idea appears far fetched. She points out that Morocco doesn't talk to Algeria, most of Europe is still troubled by Libya, and almost none of the potential Arab participants has official relations with Israel, �you have all these countries and I cannot imagine now how you can put all these people together and say that they will decide things together. It's ridiculous. Of course the idea is a very nice idea, but I think it's another fairy tale.� But Sarkozy insists his Mediterranean union is necessary, not only to promote trade and cultural ties but to fight a common enemy. In the same speech to Moroccan leaders, Sarkozy said that together they could fight the two things that threaten both worlds, extremism and terrorism. Al Qaeda has become more active recently in North Africa; Al Qaeda sympathizers recently killed four French tourists in Mauritania. Threats against the yearly Paris to Dakar road race caused organizers to cancel it outright. France and European countries worry that north Africa could become a springboard for attacks on their territories. But ironically terrorism experts say France's newfound interest in the region combined with its overall foreign policy makes France more of a target for terrorists. This woman used to work for the French Foreign Ministry, she now advises the government on terrorist threats, �Sarkozy made a change on our view on the Middle East and those people from this Jihadi background, we have a closer relationship these days with the Bush administration. Also we try to have better relationship with Israel.� Add to that Sarkozy's recent trade junkets which benefit governments already under attack by terrorist groups and the analyst says it's not surprising that threats against France are on the rise. France went on heightened alert last week after US intelligence found a spike in threats against France on internet forums visited by Al Qaeda supporters. Targets included attacks against tourist spots like the Eiffel Tower, one threat singled out Paris's mayor for assassination. It appears the government is taking the online buzz seriously. It has increased security around tourist sites and for Paris's mayor. But Sarkozy does not appear inclined to back off his plans for greater French engagement in the Arab World. Just this week he gained approval from the United Arab Emirates to set up a military base there. It would be France's first permanent base in the region, small but strategically located, just across the Gulf from Iran.

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