By Isaac H
"President Kagame and President Macron attend VivaTech | Paris, 24 May 2018" by Paul Kagame
An observation of the political and social divide occurring in France as a result of President Macron’s leadership.
The 2017 French election was an interesting event. It presented a clash between the National Front candidate Marine Le Pen, demonised for her aggressive anti-immigration and anti-EU stance, and Emmanuel Macron of ‘La Republique En Marche!’ (The Republic on the march) presenting a stark contrast to his opponent with an ideology of centrist pro-Europeanism. Upon Macron’s election victory, he said: “I’ll defend France, its vital interests, its image and its message: I make that commitment to you."
It would appear that during his tenure as president, he has failed on those commitments and simultaneously abandoned the liberal policies of centrism that placed him there. His fundamental failings can be observed through the religious turmoil engulfing the nation and the authoritarian laws he attempted to implement - both of which will surely be a thorn in his side in terms of re-election.
The Islamic community of France has come under a considerable spotlight recently in light of the “Islamic terrorist attack” as described by President Macron in October. Following these October attacks, the President announced a crackdown on ‘radical Islamists’ which ultimately resulted in the closure of mosques, various Muslim associations and schools. This would have only added to the social divide occurring within France as a result of ‘arguments of Islamophobia’ over the hijab and the freedom of speech being allegedly altered to ‘the right to offend and blaspheme’. Issues such as these became a serious source of international debate following the tragic events at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in 2015 in which 12 people were killed.
One of the two major consequences of Macron’s defence of the publication and crackdown of Islamic communities has been the alienation of those Islamic communities and France on a worldwide scale which has caused the Islamic boycott of French goods and the resultant strain on the French economy. Another would be the dire diplomatic consequences between France and Islamic nations such as Turkey. This on top of previous and ongoing disputes between France and Turkey resulted in the Turkish President accusing western countries of ‘seeking to re-launch the crusades’, further worsening the divide between the West and Middle East. The consequences of this seemingly hostile message to the Islamic communities in France and around the world clearly displays him as abandoning his election commitments and will surely result in a loss of votes from the France's Muslim community in the 2022 election.
The second major failing of the French government has been the consequences of the new national security bill and the controversy it has been subjected to worldwide. This ‘Article 24’ decreed to make it a criminal offence to show the face or identity of any officer on duty “with the aim of damaging their physical or psychological identity”. The punishment for this crime would be a prison sentence of up to one year and a maximum fine of €45,000. This is a major step against the liberal ideals upon which he was elected. Although the intention of the French government was to protect police officers from online calls to violence, the public has widely perceived the bill as an attempt to make the French police protected from public opinion and criticism which sparked panic, particularly with minority groups with regards to the recent allegations of Islamophobia the French government is having to tackle.
This bill has resulted in thousands of protestors attending demonstrations and warnings from both the EU and the UN. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that the new article ‘risks undermining fundamental rights’. This authoritarian bill which seeks to place the French police above the public and potential criticism and further obscures the French ‘image’ he apparently sought to protect as he stated during his speech following his election victory in 2017.
Due to his disastrous security bill and the damage to French-Islamic relations, combined with many other failings, it is clear that President Macron has delivered a terrible ‘message’ to the Islamic community whilst also attempting to shift France’s ‘image’ to one where the police are immune to criticism. He has arguably failed in those commitments he vowed to uphold and these issues alongside many others will likely cost him a significant number of votes in 2022.