According to new photos relayed by the UK Independent, it took a bit of clever staging to make it appear that French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the other world leaders gathered for the Paris unity march were leading the massive crowd to the Grand Synagogue.
In truth, the VIPs had to be kept separated from the rest of the march for security reasons:
Now, a different perspective on the leader’s portion of the march has emerged in the form of a wide shot displayed on French TV news reports.
It shows that the front line of leaders was followed by just over a dozen rows other dignitaries and officials – after which there was a large security presence maintaining a significant gap with the throngs of other marchers.
The measure was presumably taken for security reasons – but political commentators have suggested that it raises doubts as to whether the leaders were really part of the march at all.
The FT’s Middle East correspondent Borzou Daragahi commented: “Seems world leaders didn’t “lead” Charlie Hebdo marchers in Paris but conducted photo op on empty, guarded street.”
Ian Bremmer, a US political scientist and founder of the Eurasia Group, said: “All those world leaders: Not exactly ‘at’ the Paris rallies.” Another US commentator, Gerry Hassan, called the leaders’ contribution “pseudo-solidarity.”
The dignitaries were separated from the crowd for security reasons, not because they did not want to rub elbows with the masses. This march was assembled very quickly, in a city with good reason to worry about terrorist activity, and the turnout was massive. Some of the leaders present, notably Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, announced firm plans to attend just hours before the rally began. Perhaps the more sobering observation is that Paris remains under such threat that these extreme measures were necessary.
Nonetheless, some are arguing that using careful official photography to conceal the distance between VIPs and regular marchers was unacceptably devious, particularly given that one of the themes of the rally was the importance of courageous honesty in light of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo for its criticism of radical Islam. Said one participant on Twitter, student Axel Fougner, “Hypocritical world leaders showing up in Paris does not in any way reduce the sincerity of the millions who marched for #jesuischarlie.”