French Foreign Ministry Downplays Fears of Qatar`s Francophone Ambitions
Monday, January 7, 2013
French President, Francois Hollande, right, shakes hands with Qatari Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani after their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)
Commentary by “B.Ba.”: “The Little Emirate`s Francophone Ambitions Are Worrying”
The Lycee Voltaire scandal is underlain by the disquiet aroused by Qatar`s new ambitions in the French-speaking world. In October 2012, to virtually general surprise, the minuscule emirate entered directly into the International Organization of Francophony (OIF) with the status of “associate member” without going through the “observer member” stage, as is usually the rule.
That a country of 200,000 natives (the rest of the population, estimated at 1.5 million inhabitants, is made up of immigrant workers), admittedly Francophile but hardly Francophone, should secure the OIF label has made more than one observer smile. “They went about in their usual way by practicing extremely intensive lobbying of the African countries several years ahead, as they did in order to obtain the 2022 Soccer World Cup,” is how someone who knows the Qatar political scene well analyzes it. “In this area they are formidable. “
The Qatari authorities are now protesting their good faith, falling over themselves to show Francophone voluntarism. In an opinion column published by Le Monde in October the Emirate`s ambassador to France, Muhammad al-Kuwari assured that he wanted to “help safeguard and expand the French language.” Among the projects contemplated by the gas monarchy is the opening of French-language teaching establishments in the Arab-Persian Gulf, the Maghreb, and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Now this intention is already causing some stir. Particularly among the traditional Francophone education operators, who are worried by the sudden appearance in this particularly narrow market of a new player with virtually unlimited financial means. “We are not financed by the state,” assures Yves Aubin de La Messuziere, the chairman of the French Secular Mission, which has been active since 1902. “If we have 100 pupils taken away from us in a country, we are immediately weakened. As for the escalation of salaries that Qatar is accustomed to practice, that could create a real mess.”
The Al-Jazirah Precedent
“Aubin,” as he is known in diplomatic circles, is urging the Elysee to dampen the ardor of its Qatari ally, as Sarkozy did in his time when Doha was considering launching a French-language version of Al-Jazirah, which could have eclipsed France 24. “This is an intrusion into a sovereign area,” he rapped out.
At the Quai d`Orsay (Foreign Ministry), however, the analysis is much less alarmist. “If Qatar goes in for this, our operators will have to face up to the competition,” a source stated, “where is the problem?” Another diplomat assured: “This can only strengthen the Francophone family.”
Provided, the interested parties reply, that the newcomer does not devise teaching tailored to suit itself that is purged of all the elements that clash with Qatari culture. When you look at what happened at the Lycee Voltaire, with the never-ending interventions, for a bare shoulder or a benign reference to the three little piggies, you have some grounds for fear,” warns the former school principal, Jean-Pierre Brosse. “We will be watchful regarding the curriculums,” they promise at the Quai d`Orsay. “There is no point in being afraid in advance.”
(Description of Source: Paris LeMonde.fr in French -- Website of Le Monde, leading center-left daily; URL: http://www.lemonde.fr)
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How Qatar Became a Francophone Country
November 08, 2012
France`s President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) greets Qatar`s Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani upon his arrival at the EU-Mediterranean summit in Paris July 13, 2008. REUTERS
There was a time when most French couldn`t place Qatar on a map. Now, Qatar – a small Gulf state with marginal ties to French culture – is a member of an international Francophone organization. Some have raised eyebrows at Qatar`s new Francophone identity since it has just expelled the director of a secular French lycée from its borders.
At the beginning of 2010, a Qatari prince decided to renovate a 17th century Parisian hotel he had recently purchased. However, after a few months of work, an organization that protects French heritage took Qatar to court to stop the project.
Tensions between the French administrators and their Qatari counterparts have mounted as local authorities pressed for changes in the curriculum and its principles, which have been in place since 1902.It turns out that the Qatari prince wanted to make radical changes to the historic building, such as constructing a car elevator from the parking garage directly to the rooms. The renovation plan also intended to remove an 18th century heater and replace it with modern bathroom facilities.
The renovation was not completely stopped, but the French Ministry of Culture, a heritage preservation group, and the courts came to an agreement with the prince to temper his ambitious renovation plans. Yet in the end, official French instructions dictated that the prince`s project be accommodated.
This is but a small example of what is happening today between Qatar and the French educational mission that was sent to the small Gulf state to run the new lycée (French school) in Doha. Tensions between the French administrators and their Qatari counterparts have mounted as local authorities pressed for changes in the curriculum and its principles, which have been in place since 1902.
The school – Lycée Voltaire – was opened in 2008 by then president Nicolas Sarkozy, under the auspices of Mission Laïque Française (MLF), a non-profit organization that establishes and runs French schools abroad in coordination with the Ministry of Education.
At the time, the French agreed – with the blessings of Sarkozy – to Qatari conditions that the school be run by administrators from both countries, with a Qatari appointed as president of the school`s administrative council. However, after a few years – when the student body had reached 700 pupils – the Qataris began interfering in the school curriculum, and in such a way that conflicts with the identity and mission of the MLF.
In 2011, for example, trouble started with the removal of a history book used in certain grade levels “due to it containing a chapter on Christianity in the Middle Ages,” according to Qatari officials.
In 2011, for example, trouble started with the removal of a history book used in certain grade levels “due to it containing a chapter on Christianity in the Middle Ages,” according to Qatari officials.More recently, the Arabic language textbook used in all classes was pulled and replaced with a book that teaches both Arabic and Islam together. When French teachers and school officials complained to their education ministry, the latter decided to relieve the French director, Frank Chouinard, of his duties.
The French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur confirmed that the MLF will be leaving the emirate at the end of next month. Le Figaro added, “Financial complications between the Qatari and the French sides led Qatar to terminate MLF`s financial and administrative authority a month ago.”
For its part, the French embassy in Qatar released a statement on Tuesday, stating, “The director of Lycée Voltaire has left his post as director after a dispute with the Qatari side of the administration and will be departing from the emirate soon.”
The statement continued, “The school will continue its operations in Doha, with the support of France, in cooperation with Qatari officials.”
The Lycée Voltaire affair has come at a time of mounting controversy in France about French-Qatari relations as a whole, especially after the oil-rich emirate was inducted into France`s international cultural organization, the International Organization of the Francophonie (IOF).
Buying a Francophone Identity
“Forty years ago, Qatar was nothing more than a pile of sand with a little oil in the eyes of the French,” a diplomat recalled in an interview with Le Point magazine. “Five years ago, most of the French did not even know where Qatar is located on a map,” another said.
Many people in France – who are not benefitting financially from Qatar`s largesse – realize that the rich emirate`s money-fueled invasion of their country will inevitably have some sort of negative impact on their republic.
Qatar today is one of the largest investors in France, buying up significant shares in a wide variety of sectors, including the media, sports, communication, energy, and luxury brands. It has even bought itself a seat in the IOF.
Meanwhile, frustrated IOF officials pointed out that Qatar was not even a Francophone country to begin with to deserve directly becoming a member-state.Qatar became a Francophone country with a blink of an eye. Without fulfilling any of the conditions to become part of the organization, the IOF gladly obliged the emir`s request and officially inducted Qatar as a full “member-state” last month.
This caused quite an uproar within the IOF and the French media, especially in light of the fact that Qatar was immediately accepted as member-state, without having to go through the “observer” stage that many of the new inductees had to go through.
Some news sources reported that Qatar “created a pressure group within the IOF – particularly among some African countries – to support its membership bid.” Meanwhile, frustrated IOF officials pointed out that Qatar was not even a Francophone country to begin with to deserve directly becoming a member-state.
But a spokesperson for the French Foreign Ministry begged to differ. “There are fundamental reasons for including Qatar in the IOF,” the spokesperson said, such as Doha`s “inclusion of the French language into its official school curriculum at the beginning of this year, in addition to launching a French-speaking radio station.”
Some French pundits tied the two controversies together, with one commentator summing up the whole affair as follows: “Qatar expels a secular French educational mission from the country and reserves a seat in the IOF with support from some African countries, where [Qatar] is establishing religious schools that take the place of French ones.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
© Copyright 2012. Akhbar Beirut sal.
French theatre of the absurd
The Globe and Mail
October 17, 2012
Whenever the Parti Québécois is in office, meetings of la Francophonie are bound to become theatre of a power play between Quebec and Ottawa.
This time, though, the first face-to-face meeting between Premier Pauline Marois and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, went smoothly – it was “almost warm,” quipped Ms. Marois – and they agreed that both governments should respect the constitutional boundaries. This fits well with Mr. Harper`s “decentralist” philosophy, while it`s the only attitude Ms. Marois can adopt as head of a minority government.
Both leaders ostentatiously kept their distance from the Francophonie host, Congolese President Joseph Kabila (who was re-elected at the end of 2011 amid allegations of fraud and violence) and called for respect of human rights.
Wisely, Ms. Marois sided with Mr. Harper in refusing to support French President François Hollande`s push for awarding Africa a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council – an idea that would make the council even less functional than it is now. Canada didn`t have to sign on to the agenda of Mr. Hollande, who assiduously courts France`s former colonies in Africa to protect his country`s lucrative economic interests against the formidable competition of the Chinese, who are investing massively on the continent. (Later, though, in a speech in Paris, Ms. Marois criticized Mr. Harper`s foreign policy.)
There had been a great deal of pressure from human-rights groups to cancel the Kinshasa summit, an event that only added to the Francophonie`s deplorable reputation as an organization largely made up of authoritarian, if not totalitarian, regimes. But the Francophonie doesn`t have much choice: Nowadays, most francophones live in Africa (although, even in those countries where it`s the official language, French is mostly used by the elites), and Congo, with its 70 million citizens, is one of the largest of the organization`s 56 member states and governments and 19 observers.
In any case, the decision to keep the summit in Congo was not bad: It shed light on the dissidents` plight and provided visibility and encouragement for Congo`s democratic opposition.
Still, this (very modest) public relations success can`t erase the fundamental flaws of the Francophonie, which, contrary to its name, regroups a majority of countries where French is hardly spoken.
Why on earth are Albania, Austria, Cyprus, Thailand, Ukraine and Ghana in the Francophonie? And there are many more French speakers in Spain or Italy than in Serbia, Egypt or Estonia. The organization also includes former French colonies such as Vietnam, where the rare French speakers are now aging professionals. Even in Romania, which has a Latin-based language, one hears more English than French on the streets of Bucharest.
On the other hand, Algeria, where French is still widely spoken, and Israel, where a quarter of the population has French as a mother tongue, are not members. The Francophonie is a weird club where entry rights are driven by arbitrary rules.
The most ludicrous case is Rwanda, a former French-speaking Belgian colony that`s been turned into an officially English-speaking country but is still a full-fledged member of the Francophonie. And the newest member is Qatar, which is anything but a francophone country.
What`s the purpose of an organization that makes such a mockery of French? This beautiful language deserves better.
©2012 The Globe and Mail Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Paris defends Qatar`s entry into French-speaking bloc
Agence France Presse
October 16, 2012
France on Tuesday justified a decision to admit Gulf state Qatar into a bloc of French-speaking nations as an associate member, arguing that the country was committed to popularising the language.
“Qatar has done many things to earn this. There are very basic reasons to justify its presence in the heart of Francophonie,” said foreign ministry deputy spokesman Vincent Floreani.
He said Qatar, which was admitted to the group at the 14th Francophonie summit held in the Congolese capital Kinshasa at the weekend, was “committed to strengthening French”.
Floreani said French was being taught in public schools from this year`s term and added that a French-language radio station had been launched in Doha in 2010.
The Francophonie has 57 member states, three associate members and 19 observers.
Some participants had voiced objections to Qatar`s entry on the grounds that it was trying to gain inroads into Muslim zones of French-speaking Africa and funding religious schools there.
A source said there had been very tough negotiations on Qatar but the Qataris “had lobbied very effectively among member nations, especially African ones”.
Floreani said there had been no objections within the body to Qatar`s entry.
France has attracted Qatari investors who have bought the Paris Saint-Germain football club and acquired three percent of energy giant Total as well as stakes in building firm Vinci and media group Lagardere.
© Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012 All reproduction and presentation rights reserved.