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France

French press review 14 November 2012

media

No prizes for guessing who's dominating this morning's French front pages. Yesterday, the French president, François Hollande, gave his first press conference, six months into the job. What did he say, what did he mean, what will he do next. The answers to those and similar questions take up swathes of space in today's Paris papers.

 

Sober business daily Les Echos says the president admits the need to reform state spending. He's promised to knock 60 billion euros off the budget before his five years are up. His other priority is employment.

Left-leaning Libération says Hollande staged a charm offensive, in which he, crucially, accepted personal responsibility for the policies of his administration, especially in the economic sector. He admitted that certain adjustments had had to be made to campaign promises. But he was firm in defending his choices, his line of action, his ministerial team.

The catholic paper, La Croix, has "The president takes charge" as its main headline, saying the man rejected the negative judgement of the opinion polls, stressing that his efforts were concentrated on making France a better place over the next five years.

Communist L'Humanité is not happy. They say the substance of yesterday's performance was dictated by fear of the markets, that the president has sold out to the bankers and businessmen, and that the promised social changes will have to wait until later.

Right wing Le Figaro twists the Hollande campaign slogan "Let's change now" to give this morning's damning headline "Let's not change yet".

The political right is, understandably, insensed: former Prime Minister, François Fillon says the president has burried his head even deeper in the sand, still blithely asserting that if we ignore the crisis, it will go away.

Jean-François Copé of the opposition UMP says yesterday was a continuation of the presidential tactic of outright lies and well-disguised platitudes, the whole package delivered in a tone of smug self-satisfaction. You can please some of the people some of the time.

Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

Mercifully, the tabloid newspaper, Aujourd'hui en France, breaks ranks a gives pride of place, not to François Hollande, but to shale gas, the probably immense reserves of carbon fuel which are currently trapped thousands of metres underground. The headline asks "Are we ignoring a burried treasure?"

There's no doubting the value of the stuff: it's the exploitation of shale gas which will see the United States overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's top fuel producer over the next decade. The problem is getting it out, a messy and expensive process which involves cracking underground rocks with high-pressure water, and then pumping the gunge back to the surface where it's sorted into useful fuel, mud, waste water and various toxic substances. Storing and/or disposing of those last bits are part of the problem. What the long-term effect of breaking up the earth's crust will be is another.

Under the headline, "The new holy warriors," Le Monde devotes an inside page to the Islamic fundamentalist groups which have sprung up in Tunisia, in Egypt, in the Yemen and in Libya in the wake of the so-called Arab Spring. They go by the name of Ansar Al-Charia, and their shared objective is simply to replace the former dictators with islamic states, run according to strict sharia law.

These "Defenders of Sharia," for that is roughly how Le Monde translates Ansar Al-Charia, would have had a branch in Morocco, were it not for the fact that the authorities rounded up the eight leaders of the local operation earlier this month. They are suspected by the Interior Ministry in Rabat of planning the sabotage of strategic sites, tourist venues and administrative buildings. Ansar Al-Charia members are believed to have lead the recent violent reaction against the film "The Innocence of Muslims".

The respected Washington-based review "Foreign Policy" says these latest islamic warriors are a new product of the muslim world. The professor of islamic affairs at Toulouse University says they're just a psyched up version of Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden's bunch of overcooked kamikazes.

According to documents recovered when the US Special Forces took out the godfather of Al-Qaida in May, 2011, Bin laden was considering changing the brand name at the time of his death. "Ansar Al-Sharia" was one of the names he had under consideration. Another was "Ansar Dine".

None of the groups has a particularly charismatic local leader. Nearly all are directed by men freed from jail on the fall of their respective dictators. Sharia is their sole objective. And, according to the professor of law at Benghazi University, they have commanders, weapons and the massive support of the disaffected young. They have even launched social programs, providing food aid, water, medical assistance and security.

For the moment, their interests remain national, each group working to establish an islamic state in its own territory. And they remain, broadly, on speaking terms with their respective post-dictatorship governments.

But that has been typical of all islamic sub-groups, says the professor of islamic affairs at Toulouse University. They have moved, more or less rapidly, from political respectability to armed insurrection and terrorism. As the situation in northern Mali has shown, these new holy warriors are more than ready to fill any political vacuum.

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