French Elections - War on Islam

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Political Observation - French Elections – War on Islam

The French presidential elections will take place tomorrow 10 April, followed by legislative elections in June 2022, amid a widespread debate over French identity and its standing in the world and Francophone countries, and amid France’s competition with Germany over Europe’s leadership.

The first round of the elections are held under a catalogue of political, diplomatic and economic setbacks Macron faced in 2021, and during which France looked impotent and exposed, especially in the Libyan issue, Mali and Lebanon, as well as in the confrontation with Turkey in the East Mediterranean and in the AUKUS submarine deal which deprived France of the chance to establish any noteworthy presence in the Indo-Pacific region and the weapons market of that part of the world, not to mention the crisis of Ukraine and Russia which has placed France between the devil and the deep blue sea, not knowing whether to please America and invoke the wrath of Putin by siding with Ukraine in the face of Russia, or please Putin and anger America and most of the European states, thus losing further leadership credentials on the European continent. Putin’s recent criticism of the freedom to libel religions adopted by France presupposes a warning to Macron regarding his standpoint vis-à-vis Ukraine rather than a sympathetic gesture towards Muslims.

To understand the first round of elections, it would be imperative to observe two issues: 1 - none of the candidates is likely to win a majority in the first round and the elections will move to a second round. 2 – The French state is striving to direct the attention of the French masses towards the issue of protecting the constitution, freedoms and the secularist identity by attacking Islam, despite the impact of such an undertaking leading to engrossing France in domestic issues.

French elections have never witnessed a fiercer struggle over French identity as is the case today. The candidates of the French rightwing, namely Eric Zemmour, dubbed as France’s Trump, Valérie Pécresse, the candidate of “Les Républicains” (LR) and Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Rally, have stirred the issue of immigrants and exploited it as electoral ammunition and a bridgeway to the electoral powerbases. The majority of current opinion polls indicate that Macron is leading the race after succeeding in implementing a host of stringent policies towards Islam and immigration, the two files representing the electoral arsenal of the candidates, and, at the same time, the fig leaf with which they cover their abjectness, compensate for their failures and corroborate their continental presence amidst Europe’s demographic fears and the controversy of identity that has been disquieting the French masses.

However, the intensity of islamophobia and animosity towards immigrants has risen steadily in parallel with the intensity of the jostling and mobilisation on the grounds of the identity issue in the elections. When Eric Zemmour announced his presidential run, he said “It is high time we salvaged France, not reform her,” adding that he was running for president “so that our children and grandchildren do not suffer from barbarism… so that our daughters do not wear the hijab… so that they may inherit a France as she was known to our predecessors.”

In the course of the unabated contest to win rightwing votes from the supporters of Le Pen and the centre-right whom Macron relies upon, Valérie Pécresse, who aspires to be the first woman to assume the post of president in the history of France, announced as she won the nomination of “Les Républicains”: “We will win back France’s grandeur and protect the French people,” adding that she felt “the anger of the masses towards the Islamist separatist tendency, and their feeling that their values and lifestyle are threatened because of the uncontrolled immigration.”

As for the aspect of policies, Zemmour pledged in his electoral communiqué that if he were to win the elections, he would suspend all the benefits offered to foreigners which would save the French treasury $20-30 billion each year and would strive to preserve national sovereignty by estranging America and consolidating the relationship with Russia. As for Valérie Pécresse, she is marketing herself as the strong woman inspired by the experiences of Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel; she described herself as being “a third Thatcher and two thirds Merkel”, considering that such description alludes to a message of reconciliation with the US due to the harmony between the policies of Thatcher and Merkel and those of the US in most international files. As for Le Pen, leader of the National Rally, she thinks Zemmour is “submerged in the clash of civilisations” and hopes her electoral powerbase would not be eroded by the frenzied tussle and gravitation amidst the divided French rightwing. Although the role of Zemmour and its motives and fallouts are still unclear in these elections, it is nevertheless evident that it would lead to eroding the votes of the French rightwing; and this is what Macron dreads. However, it is imperative to perceive that the main objective is to gain enough votes to secure a presence in the second round, which has been historically characterised with deals and consensuses, as was the case in the second round of the previous elections. Hence, some sources are talking about an undeclared deal between Macron and former president Nicolas Sarkozy who did not back any candidate in the internal polling of Les Républicains. In this case, Macron could circumvent Valérie Pécresse’s challenge by striking a deal with Sarkozy to form a governmental coalition with the Republicans proceeding behind Sarkozy, which means Macron will scoop the vote of that electoral powerbase instead of Valérie Pécresse. Although Macron has been the object of domestic public resentment and has failed in several foreign political files, he however continues to head the opinion polls and is supported by historical facts; Giscard d'Estaing in 1981, and Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007, were the only two presidents in the history of the Fifth Republic to have failed in being re-elected.

Despite the diversity of the candidates and the attempts of each one to project the qualities distinguishing them from the others to win the votes of the electorate, they however, by and large, raise and adopt three main issues: French identity, secularist republic and national sovereignty. Their political manifestos pertinent to these issues revolve in a remarkable manner on Muslim immigrants and on the “threat” of Islam which constitutes a challenge to French values. Hence, the candidates tend to resort to ideological mobilisation and use racist expressions such as “Islamic terrorism”, “subjugated Muslim women”, “Islamic separatism” and Islam’s threat to the “values of the republic”, while cloaking their grudges with the shrouds of freedom, fraternity and equality to conceal France’s repugnant colonialist face, knowing that America has been behind the rise of Europe’s rightwing movement with the aim of dismantling the political milieux and manipulating them, especially in France.

8 Ramadhan 1443h
9 April 2022

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