The “republican march” held in Paris on January 11, following the attack on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, was rich in symbolism. It also provided some participating Arab leaders with the opportunity to proclaim their stance, send strong policy messages on their role in combatting terrorism, enhance their international standing and confront their domestic opponents.
Among the more than 40 leaders attending the march from across the globe, the number and rank of Arab leaders was significant, particularly when considering the current predicament facing the Arab world, with the growing role of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other jihadist movements in the region, along with renewed US and western military intervention in Iraq and Syria to combat these groups. The eagerness of several Arab heads of state to take part in the Paris march, notwithstanding widespread popular disapproval in a number of Arab countries, bared their intention to capitalize on a major world event to achieve a number of political aims examined in this paper.
The Maghreb: Security and Economic Concerns
Leaders of the Maghreb states unanimously condemned the attack on Charlie Hebdo, calling it a terrorist act that threatened the social order and regional stability. Tunisian President Beji Kaid Essebsi and President of the Tunisian People's Congress Mohamed Nasser, sent condolence messages to their French counterparts expressing their solidarity with France, and their commitment to cooperate in the fight against terrorism. Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika described the attack on the French weekly as a "barbaric act" and emphasized his country's engagement in the global campaign against terrorism. Morocco's King Mohammed VI also condemned the attack, expressing his condolences to the French president and his solidarity with the French people.
Not unified, however, was the North African leadership’s attendance in the republican march in Paris. Tunisia was represented by outgoing Prime Minister Mehdi Juma; Algeria sent representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whilst Morocco sufficed with its offer of condolences to the Élysée Palace, while boycotting the attendance at the Paris rally on the grounds that a number of the participants carried banners abusive of the Prophet (PBUH). In so doing, Morocco asserted its partnership with France in the fight against terrorism, whilst simultaneously casting itself as defender of Muslims and champion of respect for their beliefs – all the more so given that the King of Morocco is himself considered to be a descendant of the Prophet (PBUH). In its response to the attacks, Moroccan royalty accommodated several important considerations stemming from the current Moroccan domestic scene, namely the coalition government led by the Islamist Justice and Development Party, and the eruption of protests condemning Charlie Hebdo’s intended publication of abusive caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
To read this analysis in full as a PDF, please click here. This Policy Analysis was translated by the ACRPS Translation and English editing team. To read the original Arabic version, which was published online on 28 January, 2015, please click here.