By © Source:, US Africa News. Updated 2015-08-21

Nicolas Sarkozy and Muammar Gaddafi

The circumstances under which former French head of state Nicolas Sarkozy decided to intervene militarily in Libya in 2011. Nothing predestined the former president to engage against the Gaddafi regime he had received at the Elysée Palace in 2007.



On March 7, 2011, Nicolas Sarkozy summoned his key ministers in the solemn Green Room of the Elysée. The agenda of the meeting concerned "the flow of migrants in the Mediterranean". That day, the president specified for the first time the reasons for intervention in Libya. "Nicolas Sarkozy was very collected”, says one participant, “One felt that it was really he who wanted to intervene against Gaddafi, even without international support, and in opposition to some of his ministers, including the prime minister, Francois Fillon. Early in the meeting, Alain Juppe, then head of Foreign Affairs, summarized the views of France’s key allies. "The Americans are not very hot, the English are in no hurry ..." Francois Fillon added: "Without US participation, it would be folly to get involved. Sarkozy interrupted. "In an emergency and with the support of the Arab League and the African Union, a Franco-British surgical strike in Libya is quite possible.”


The head of state moved on to the need to organize "humanitarian zones” in Egypt and Tunisia to contain a potential influx of refugees during the intervention. No matter that his ally Claude Gueant, Minister of the Interior, expressed some doubts about the possibility of actualizing such refugee camps.  His plan of action brooked no reservations. “Gaddafi must go.”


Sarko goes to war


Prime Minister Fillon made a last foray: "Without the Americans, we are heading into disaster."  “I don’t see why,” retorted the French president, “We cannot abandon the people of Libya." General Benoît Puga, Sarkozy’s chief of staff, a position he retained under François Hollande, came to the president’s aid: "Given the deteriorating situation of Libyan air strength--ten helicopters, two Mirage and six Stukai aircraft--we can easily neutralize runways."


Nothing seemed to temper the warlike ardor of Nicolas Sarkozy against Gaddafi. In March 2011, the French military insisted on intervening in Mali, where jihadi groups were increasing the taking of hostages. The French intelligence services had located a meeting of key leaders of AQIM [al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb] in Timbuktu. It was necessary to "smoke them out" without further ado. The DCRI [French intelligence agency] was in the same position. Nothing was helping. Sarkozy lent them a distracted ear. Libya remained his sole obsession.


On July 7, 2011, a luncheon was held between the French and Nigerien presidents, accompanied by their senior staff. Niger had some sympathy for Gaddafi, who had generously supported its regime. "We pleaded, President Mahamadou Issoufou and I,” explained the Nigerien foreign minister, Mohamed Bazoum, “so that we could find a compromise between some of the people close to Gaddafi who were more open and the National Transitional Council [the post-Gaddafi interim government] to cease hostilities. But Nicolas Sarkozy did not want that any price, he was stubborn on his positions. Counselors and ministers present were not in agreement with him, it was written all over their faces. But no one dared to contradict him." Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to go through with his war against Gaddafi.


Why Sarkozy’s sudden turnaround? Was he seeking to erase the past and forget the extravagant reception in Paris in summer, 2009 for the same Colonel Gaddafi, who pitched his tent across from the Elysée? Unless he was looking for an upgraded dictatorship to show that he, too, was in sync with the popular uprisings in the Arab world? In any case, Sarkozy was sensitive to the advice of his friend, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad Al Thani, who wanted this war against Tripoli at all costs, perhaps to keep the $50 billion that the Gaddafi regime had placed in banks in Doha in its heyday, and which the emirate unscrupulously retains today.


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