Qatar has offered France 50 million euros to help fight unemployment in areas where many Muslim immigrants live. A friendly gesture you might think, but not everyone’s happy with the idea.
The French government announced this week that it was going to establish a joint fund together with the Arab Gulf state of Qatar to help young entrepreneurs in the suburbs of French cities. The plan has been met with fierce criticism from all sides of the political spectrum. Marine le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front called it an enormous political mistake. “Our country has been put on sale to oil sheiks who support jihad and radical Islam all around the world,” she said in statement headlined “The Trojan horse of Islam”.
Storm of criticism
The story began in November 2011, when a group of local politicians from French suburbs approached the Emir of Qatar for financial support. The majority of France’s estimated five million Muslims live in the outer suburbs of the big cities where unemployment can be as high as 40 percent. Five years ago, many of these suburbs erupted in widespread and violent rioting. Local political say the government doesn’t do enough to try and improve the miserable conditions in the areas. So a number of them approached the tiny but hugely wealthy oil state which immediately agreed to contribute 50 million euros. The donation caused such a storm of criticism that the then government of Nicolas Sarkozy suspended its support for the initiative.
President Francois Hollande has now proposed a compromise in the vain hope of silencing the critics. Qatar’s donation would be placed into a fund with an equal contribution from the French government. Distribution of the money would remain under France’s control with Qatar able to make a choice between projects selected by the French authorities. And the fund would benefit not only the suburbs but also poor rural areas where relatively few Muslims live.
Qatar has invested heavily in France in recent years, purchasing businesses and property and making headlines last year when it acquired top football club Paris St Germain. There has been surprisingly little resistance so far to the Gulf State’s large-scale shopping spree, but this latest plan has upset many. Left wing politicians are also unhappy, saying France should not accept money from a country that does not share its democratic values.
Mistrust of Qatar has grown in the West in the wake of the Arab Spring because of the state’s support for Islamist groupings such as salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” warned Middle East expert Karim Sader on news channel France24. “The support for France’s suburbs could well be tied to Qatar’s Islamic agenda.”