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How France Betrayed Muammar Gaddafi

Gaddafi France

Anwar el-Sadat, Houari Boumediene and Muammar Gaddafi

In the 1970s, relations between Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and France were in good shape. On June 3, 1978, from Algiers, Gaddafi called for “a new war of independence against the neocolonial forces”.

The "Guide of the Libyan Revolution", Muammar Gaddafi, maintained a checkered relationship with the West, and in particular France. Yet he confessed a fascination for Charles de Gaulle. Muammar Gaddafi and the chief of staff of the French president at the time, Georges Pompidou, got along relatively well. As the Western Sahara war was looming, Pompidou was behind the withdrawal of harkis deployed along the Algerian-Saharawi border, while Gaddafi secretly supported the Polisario Front.

The Pompidou-Gaddafi rapprochement continued until 1974. To tell the truth, for Gaddafi, as long as the French did not interfere directly in African affairs, everything was going for the best in the best of worlds.

But when Paris decided to deploy its army in support of Moktar Ould Daddah and Hassan II against the Polisario Front, then in Chad, among Gaddafi's worst enemy, Hissène Habré, it was not long before the fragile alliance between France and Tripoli crumbles.

Muammar Gaddafi then declared that the France of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing "has been bent on exploiting and enslaving the peoples of Africa for too long". On February 15, 1978, Gaddafi called on the people of Réunion to “end the archaic colonialism based on looting and violence” in France.

"The Lies of France"

But it's June 3, 1978, visiting Algeria, that Muammar Gaddafi deplored "France's lies" and called for "the need for a new war of independence against neocolonial forces".

A speech that marked a turning point in Franco-Libyan relations. But who especially pleased the host of the Libyan leader, Algerian President Houari Boumediene. A few months earlier, Boumediene criticized the rapprochement between Giscard d'Estaing and Rabat. "He (VGE, editor's note) has put on the gandoura and the djellaba in which he hides a Moroccan dagger," quipped Boumediene.

A then unexpected alliance between Libya and Algeria. Boumediene had refused, on several occasions, the requests of Gaddafi who wanted to deploy soldiers to Morocco from Algeria. Muammar Gaddafi sought, in 1971, to support Mohamed Medbouh in his attempt to overthrow Hassan II.

The end of the 1970s was, for Gaddafi, a series of diplomatic defeats. Its rapprochement with Algiers stemmed, above all, from a desire to create a "Saharan front" between Algeria, Libya and Niger, where Gaddafi had financed the coup d'etat of Seyni Kountché. Boumediene, for his part, saw in Gaddafi a reliable financial partner for the support of the Polisario Front and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

It should also be remembered that Paris owed a lot to Muammar Gaddafi. The latter had freed a group of European hostages, kidnapped by Hissène Habré and Goukouni Oueddei, including the French anthropologist Françoise Claustre. But, as soon as the two Chadian rebels had separated, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing quickly supported Hissène Habré, who would later become one of the most murderous leaders in Chad's history.

How Gaddafi failed in his 'new war of independence'

On the other hand, the French intervention in Mauritania and Chad, beyond its distinctly neo-colonial outlook, had greatly distracted Gaddafi who had become further mired in the Chadian civil war. He had neglected, on the one hand, the need to cement his cooperation with Algeria. On the other hand, Gaddafi was also caught off guard on the Moroccan and Egyptian fronts.

Later in 1978, Egyptian President Anouar el-Sadat signed the Camp David Accords, preparing the Israeli-Egyptian treaty and therefore the abandonment of the PLO by Cairo. In the same year, Moroccan King Hassan II and Israeli Defense Minister Ezer Weizman met, in secret, for the first time.

Gaddafi's support for the Polisario Front in Mauritania has proven counterproductive to his African goals. Indeed, the Mauritanian president at the time, Moktar Ould Daddah, had made strong decisions in the 1970s: nationalization of the mining company Miferma, exit from the franc zone, rapprochement with Mali and Senegal... It is above all the entry into the war in Western Sahara, due to Polisario reinforcements trained, armed and deployed by Gaddafi, who got the better of Ould Daddah's presidency. Feeling hemmed in, the Mauritanian president sided with Hassan II and France, provoking discontent within the army, which ended up overthrowing him a year later.

As for Gaddafi's entry into the Chadian civil war on the side of Goukouni Oueddei, it only put an end to the ceasefire that he himself had negotiated between the Chadian belligerents. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing found there the perfect pretext to deploy the French army in N'Djamena. Since then, moreover, the French army has had an uninterrupted presence in Chad.

Read: [Series] The tyrants of Africa: Hissène Habré, the Pinochet of Chad

Gaddafi's "new war of independence" in 1978 ended in a bitter failure on the military and diplomatic fronts. Five years later, the signing by Gaddafi of the Treaty of Oujda with Morocco put an end to any hope of a solid alliance between Tripoli and Algiers. A context that undermined the development of the utopian Arab Maghreb Union later, moreover.

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