When the French president arrived at the Smith Center Wednesday to host a town hall with students, he was met by more than 20 students protesting recent airstrikes in Syria.
Student protesters carried a large banner reading “No War on Syria” along G Street as Emmanuel Macron shook hands and took photos with students. Students who opposed the address carried signs saying “Non,” the French word for “no,” with a drawing of Syria and the message “Syria Bombing doesn’t Protect People. It kills them.”
The demonstration was sponsored by five GW student organizations, including Internationalist Students’ Front and Queer Radicals, and the American University chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, according to flyers distributed by the protesters.
The flyers condemn France, the United States and the United Kingdom for launching airstrikes on Syria earlier this month in response to a chemical weapons attack in a suburb of Syria’s capital April 11.
“Macron’s call for a long-term U.S. presence in Syria would put millions of Syrian lives at risk,” the flyer said. “We do not want to see Syria become another Iraq or Libya.”
Macron stopped and talked to the protesters for a short time before making his way to his scheduled event.
Senior Tyler Katz, a member of GW’s chapter of SJP, said Macron told the protesters he would help create peace in Syria by taking out its regimes – but Katz said his response did not alleviate their concerns.
“That’s creating more problems for them to solve when they create their own peace, creating power vacuums that may result in additional aggressive regimes,” they said.
Katz said they supported the demonstration because they oppose both U.S. and French intervention in Syria and believe American companies should not be profiting off related attacks.
“I don’t think it is our place to be instituting our power, and the military operations that we impose upon them should not be the driving force of their liberation,” Katz said.
Freshman Grace Krikre said she protested because students should be aware of all of Macron’s policies – whether or not he brought them up during his town hall with students Wednesday. She said students started a Facebook group to organize the protest as soon as they found out Macron was speaking at GW because they thought his views on the Syrian conflict did not take into account the complexity of the issue.
“President Macron is egging on Trump and is claiming responsibility for making President Trump’s attacks more severe and longer,” she said. “The students who go to this University need to know what speakers are doing, even if they are not talking about it during their address.”
Trump announced earlier this month that the military would carry out bomb strikes in Syria.
Junior Maria Alejandra Silva Ortega said Macron’s visit was an example of the University caring more about showing off its connections than it does about the students of color on campus.
“GW consistently shows that it doesn’t care about people of color and that it doesn’t care about minorities and that the only thing it cares about is keeping its public image and making a profit,” she said.
She said the Western world is using the overseas war to boost politicians’ approval and offer the appearance of aid without welcoming refugees.
Macron was criticized earlier this year for tightening migration policy amid an influx of refugees, Reuters reported.
“It’s very disingenuous for them to think that by bombing people they’re going to a) fix a problem that they helped create in the first place, and b) that they’ve been completely unresponsive to,” she said.