France: Presidential elections-the same or profound change now ?

Posted in Europe | 09-Apr-07 | Author: Hichem Karoui

We assess Social and Political Landscape Changes on the Eve of Presidential Elections

Royal: The “royal way” for the immigrants, the Blacks, the socially less favored…

Sarkozy: A young man standing for an old idea…

Bayrou: The most uncomfortable place is between the right and the left… Does he know?

"In 2005, in the suburbs some 10000 cars were destroyed and damage of more than 200 million Euros was caused."
"In 2005, in the suburbs some 10000 cars were destroyed and damage of more than 200 million Euros was caused."
The first round of the French presidential elections is scheduled for April 22, 2007. The voters will choose between 12 candidates. Only two are expected to stay for the second round. The two main candidates are still Nicolas Sarkozy of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party and Segolène Royal of the Socialist Party (SP). However, a third candidate – François Bayrou of the small Union for French Democracy (UDF) party - gained some credibility in the polls.

Bayrou (55 years old), leader of the UDF is promising to breach the left-right divide and govern from the center with a coalition. He is also proposing a constitutional ban on budget deficits and cuts to social charges to encourage job creation.

The candidate of the main opposition Socialist Party, Ségolène Royal (53), who served as an adviser to late president Francois Mitterrand, says France is in the throes of a "crisis of democracy" and in need of "profound change." Her 100-point presidential program calls for increasing the minimum wage, raising small pensions and providing interest-free loans for students.

The former interior minister and candidate of the governing rightwing UMP party, Nicolas Sarkozy, calls for loosening up labor laws and cutting taxes. The son of a Hungarian immigrant and a French mother of Greek Jewish origin, Sarkozy has stirred controversy with his proposal to create an immigration and national identity ministry.

The point is, whatever the issue of the May 2007 elections, the next government will have a lot to do on the social front, particularly in connection with some thorny issues that have emerged in recent years. We propose in this newsletter to reframe these issues and analyze them in the context of the ongoing electoral debate and then provide some recommendations for the next government.

Immigration, Ethnicity, Multiculturalism

In the last week of January 2007, France’s comfortable image of itself as a color-blind society - already weakened by race riots in 2005 - received a further blow when a new survey found that a majority of French blacks believe they face discrimination in daily life. The survey by the TNS-Sofres polling agency suggests France's cherished values of "Egalité" and "Fraternité" remain elusive goals for the nation's estimated 5 million blacks.

Of the 13,000 blacks surveyed, 61% said they experienced at least one racist incident within the past year. More than one in 10 said they were frequently the target of racism that ranged from verbal aggression to difficulty finding housing or jobs. In this context it is also notable that only 10 of 577 National Assembly members are black, and all were elected from overseas territories. In February, a new poll showed that 9 out of 10 people in the suburbs intend to participate in the vote. 45% of those polled said they would vote for the socialist candidate. 27% said Sarkozy is more able to cope with their problems. These are the suburbs concerned with the 2005 rebellion, inhabited by about 4.5 million French of immigrant origin.

Immigration, the suburbs and the Muslim community make up a cocktail that may still be highly explosive. As we know, France has been a recipient of massive overseas immigration, particularly compared with its European neighbors: “Approximately 3.3 million immigrants live in France, including 650,000 Algerians, 550,000 Moroccans, 200,000 Tunisians, 500,000 "harkis" (natives of Algeria who helped France during the Algerian war and were French citizens) and approximately one million second or third generation French-born citizens of Maghrebi origin.” Actually, the figures may even be more important, if we recall that significant increases might have occurred since the latest census.

As it happens, the North African immigrant community continues to diversify with newcomers, elites, middle classes and refugees from the Maghreb, as the second and third generations acquire French citizenship and, occasionally, break their links with their countries of origin. It is also remarked that while some Maghrebis maintain invisibility in the social and political sphere, others fight for recognition. Most now play an ambiguous part, mixing traditional French republican values with Muslim community customs.

Nonetheless, we still hear assertions like: “In the country that gave the world its universal declaration of human rights, a lot of people live without any rights.” This sounds like a condemnation; but it is actually a statement. Those people happen to be called Mohamed, Ali, Zohra, Fatima, etc, if they are Muslims; but they are neither all Muslims, nor all immigrants. Some happen to be born in France. Some happen to be offspring of Arab immigrants from the Maghreb or Muslims and Christians from sub-Saharan Africa. Some happen to be French citizens from the islands beyond the seas. Some are illegal, but many do not have this problem. Yet, they find it hard to be accepted as they are. In the course of “integration” – the French way - success may occur. Some of them can even reach a summum bonum: Either thanks to their talents as football players, or due to their intellectual or technical competence. But how many are there? Of approximately 5 million people of Muslim background living in France, how many have been integrated into the elite of the country, as leaders of business, of politics, etc.? How many journalists from this background are there in Le Monde or Le Figaro? How many decision-makers are there in the great publishing houses, or the broadcasting business? How many in the high posts of the administration? How many are there in parliament?

The fact is they are not so numerous – at least not numerous enough to set a model for the youth of the suburbs. The latter would tell you: “ The motto of the republic is still: Freedom, Equality, Fraternity. But it does not seem applicable to us. When your name is Mohamed or Zohra, when your skin is black, you won’t be able to get the job or the house you want, even though you have the same credentials as Michel or Marie, who are “français de souche,” Christians and white!”

This is a logic that is hard to argue with. One cannot avoid the feeling that something is wrong with this society. This is a country that has led humankind, and showed it how to think properly, morally and rationally since the Enlightenment. This is a country that produced some of the greatest minds of the world, in which everybody should feel free and emancipated. Yet, this is also a country that appears divided and fearful of the immigrants, anxious about the future and amazingly intolerant toward Islam and young Muslims, whereas France prides itself to be the home of tolerance.

It is a strange, paradoxical behavior.

Paradox assessment and comparison

"Segolène Royal says France is in "crisis of democracy" and need profound change"
"Segolène Royal says France is in "crisis of democracy" and need profound change"
According to the 1999 census, there are approximately 60 million people in France, with only 1% being Muslims. What is 1%? Not much. Is it so hard to integrate them so that they feel proud to be French and proud of living in France?

It has been observed that Muslim identity in France is pluralistic. “For immigrants or "Beurs" of North African origin, hard and fast identity boundaries do not exist. For example, although most Muslims celebrate Ramadan as a symbol of community belonging, few observe other obligations.” Mixed marriages often happen between Muslim immigrants and French citizens. For some observers, the result of these facts is the difficulty to find “the signs of a strictly "Islamic" vote in France.” Catherine Wihtol de Wenden, for example, says that “neither during the Gulf War, nor during the (…) conflict with Iraq has there been distinct "Islamic-only" political mobilization. The 1,000 Islamic associations officially registered in France are more involved in the institutionalization of French Islam than in the exercise of political influence.” This may be relatively true, although it seems that there has been an increase in the number of this segment of the population (the most fast-growing) helping. Some changes have occurred.

The point is Islam’s image in France is still very negative.

In May 2003, 62% of French citizens said in an Ipsos-Le Point poll that “Islam’s values are not compatible with the French Republic’s values.” We will find this same opinion widely “shared by the overall political class: 50% on the left, 70% on the right, and 95% on the extreme right wing.” So, there is a problem.

Inside the current debate about ethnic and religious tensions and multiculturalism, there is indeed the issue of integrating the offspring of this part of the French population that is from a different stock. Discrimination – which may be positive, but which is also much more negative – is at the core of the question. As V. Tiberj observed, negative aspects may be much more difficult to seize, because of the scarcity of trustful data that we can rely on, as the academic and political community in France is reluctant to consider ethnic origin as a legitimate variable for measuring social inequalities, acknowledging a noticeable difference with the Anglo-Saxon countries or the Netherlands.

Joel S. Fetzer and J. Christopher Soper have made such a comparison available for scrutinizing. In a book published in 2005, they state that more than 10 million Muslims currently live in Western Europe, which makes them the largest religious minority in the region. Islam is the third largest religion overall, and in most West European countries, it is growing much faster than the historically dominant Catholic and Protestant churches. In Germany, there are an estimated 2,200 mosques or Islamic prayer rooms, most of which have been organized in the past decade but are still insufficient to meet the religious needs of Muslims in the country. There are as many religiously active Muslims as Anglicans in England and Roman Catholics in France. Islam is a significant social and religious force in Western Europe.

Nevertheless, as truthful as they might be, these facts are far from bringing an agreement on a policy that would respond to Muslims’ claims. There has been political controversy in every country in the region over such issues: Conflict in Britain has crystallized over the question of whether the state education system should fully finance private Islamic schools under the same conditions that apply to Christian and Jewish ones. Germany has contended with the question of how or whether to grant public corporation status (Körperschaft des öffentlichen Rechts) to Muslims as well as to Christians and Jews. Such a status would signal that Islam is a part of the country’s religious landscape and allow Muslims’ social welfare organizations to receive state funds. France annually struggles with the question of whether or not Islamic girls should be allowed to wear the hijab (headscarf) in public schools.

In France, there is a sense of deep misunderstanding between the state institutions and the Islamic community, which breaks out at each social crisis. As it has been noticed, in contrast to Britain, France has been far less accommodating to the religious needs of Muslims. France has rejected multiculturalism as an appropriate educational model in the state schools. Aside from such short lessons on the “Muslim world” as those in the cinquième history and geography class, French secondary school students learn nothing about Islam. Despite the popular impression that the Conseil d’Etat’s decision on the “head scarf affair” resolved the issue, French Muslim leaders estimate that “hundreds” of Muslim young women have been expelled from public schools for refusing to remove the hijab. Maybe this is due to “the societal and political environment in France” being “surprisingly hostile to public accommodation of Muslims’ religious practices.”

It is indubitably astounding that, with its geographical proximity to the Arab-Islamic world (southern and eastern Mediterranean), with its historic experience as a former colonialist power in Muslim-inhabited territories, with its cultural ties to all of its former colonies - (the francophone conference, sponsored by the French state, is still held as an international event involving all the former colonies) - with its enormous complex of economic interests with many of these countries, and most of all with its own heritage of secularism, democracy and human rights, France is still incapable of coping with its own Muslim population, much to the satisfaction of the extremists and hardliners on both sides. Nothing could be of more harmful consequence, though, than the belief that this population and its values could be belittled without reaction. Could the refusal to see moderate Islamic values as compatible with those of the French Republic be interpreted as a European-centric syndrome, not to say a romantic nostalgia vis-à-vis a past era of French predominance over Muslim populations? Is there really nothing to do about it, or should educative programs and media take it upon their shoulders to reframe and readapt minds to the fast-changing realities of French society?

We do not want to orient the debate towards racism, although there may be racism in a wide range of discriminations, beginning with the refusal to let Arabs enter a nightclub and not allowing them a chance to be hired when they apply for a post in public or private organizations. Is it just an accident that nearly 40% of young people whose parents immigrated to France from Africa are jobless - the proportion increases to 70% in some districts?

If we trust the French sociologist Michel Wieviorka, who has written profusely about some of these social issues, there are two kinds of racism: One of exploitation and inequality and one of cultural difference and exclusion or separation. We can hardly pretend that the youth of the suburbs do not feel it that way. Wieviorka draws an analytical map featuring two logics and four pure cases. The first logic sets the individual's participation to modernity against the requirements of membership in collective identities. The second logic opposes a view of the world dominated by universalism with a perspective based on particularism. In one case, associated with the triumphal rise of modernity and European colonialism, racism defines itself in reference to universal progress, the higher welfare of humankind, or the dissemination of religious truth. Resistance is interpreted as evidence of racial deficiencies. In another case, racism is practiced by downwardly mobile groups targeting others nearby. In the third case, racism forms when an actor's own religious, national or ethnic identity is set against modernity and trained on a particular group construed in racial terms and denounced as a privileged, unfair or otherwise nefarious carrier of modernity. Finally, racism may exist in the form of the defense of cultural identity without any clear reference to modernity or its control. In this case, racism may exist in the absence of actual inter-racial contacts. Wieviorka cites the examples of the rural supporters of the Front National in Alsace, where immigrants and their descendants are few, and of the Jew-less anti-Semitism in contemporary Poland. The first two cases refer to racism of exploitation and inequality while the last two refer to racism of cultural difference and separation.


Let us recall that in 1995, a wave of Islamist terror and the inexorable rise of France’s crime rate – blamed largely on immigrants - further exacerbated the already tense relations between ethnic French “français de souche” and residents of North African heritage. The rate of “ordinary” crime has dramatically increased since the mid-1990s, especially in the working-class, heavily immigrant suburbs surrounding major French cities, leading the French officials to rank crime as their top concern.

It is in July 1995 that Khalid Kelkal, a Muslim immigrant from the Lyon “ghetto” and his followers from the GIA - the Armed Islamic Group – blew up a Paris RER train, killing 7 people and wounding over 80. After several weeks, French security forces tracked down Kelkal and shot him to death. We discovered recently that a network set up several months ago organized the “transfer to Iraq of persons who wanted to fight the international coalition.” On February 14, 2007, French police arrested 11 terror suspects, nine of who are believed to be members of al-Qaeda who helped fighters join the ranks of Iraqi insurgents, according to the interior ministry.

Trying to explain the causes of these tensions, some observers say: “North African and sub-Saharan Muslims do not, on the whole, appear to have been welcomed as warmly as most European immigrants have been.” Not only have African-origin Muslims become the bête noire of Le Pen’s all too successful Front National party, but many French citizens also view them as fundamentally “not capable of assimilation.”

They notice an “even more virulent hostility (…) directed at French Muslims by the police and private citizens.” Thus, they mention the example of the journalist Fausto Giudice, chronicling a host of “Arabicides” from1970 to 1991, and concluding that “one may in post-‘68 France kill Arabs with impunity.”

In reaction against such rejection, many young working-class from the suburbs started creating a counterculture of protest (expressed in the form of graffiti, rap and ray music…), if they do not embrace Islamic fundamentalism or engage in a violent insurrection against the establishment. According to C. Wihtol de Wenden, in the 1980s, the movement of the second generation of Franco-Maghrebis-Beurs generated “new forms of struggle and participation.” The fight against racism, the struggle for civic rights and for a new definition of citizenship stressing socialization based on plural belongings, the promotion of socio-cultural integration in the suburbs and the mobilization against police and judicial discrimination all rose to prominence. Many Franco-Maghrebis became involved in local political life and have been elected to municipal posts since 1989, when the civic association France Plus ran 550 “Beurs” as candidates in municipal elections. About 150 succeeded in 1989, 1995 and 2000, but none achieved the rank of MP and only a few went to the European Parliament.

On the other side, we have the opposite landscape: One of rebellion and awful destruction. From October 27 through mid-November 2005, young men rampaged through urban areas around Paris and on the fringes of most major cities in France. They set fire to cars, buses, schools, gymnasiums, stores, warehouses, and social centers. They dropped bottles, slabs of concrete, radiators, and supermarket carts on police from the tops of high-rise apartment blocks. Some even fired shots. They were mostly blacks or were of North African or Gypsy descent and overwhelmingly French citizens. Nevertheless, they tend to be referred to as second or third generation immigrants. They are considered by some observers in some respects, as the heirs of the students of May 1968 - albeit younger, politically less articulate and potentially more violent. Although they are at pains to define their objectives, they somehow understand that the only way to jolt French society into noticing them is by taking to the streets.

The unrest started in Clichy-sous-Bois on the outskirts of Paris. During the night of October 27, two youngsters trying to escape the police climbed into the compound of an electricity company and were electrocuted. The tragedy triggered a chain of violence: Rioters seized on it, as well as on unfortunate statements by Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, who equated inner-city kids with vandals and initially denied that the two young men died as a result of police pursuit. In fact, they did, as the ongoing trial of two policemen involved with the case proves.

Varied solutions

"Nicolas Sarkozy is calling for loosening up labour laws and cutting taxes"
"Nicolas Sarkozy is calling for loosening up labour laws and cutting taxes"
To fight the problems of the suburbs, the French state has increased funding for education and social services organizations in the poor zones à urbaniser en priorité (ZUP). Under the ZEP (zones d’éducation prioritaire) program, public schools with 30% or more immigrant students would receive more funds for teachers and facilities.

Yet “in contrast with Britain and (…) Germany,” observe Fetzer and Soper, “metropolitan France contains not a single state-funded Islamic school.” In theory, Muslims might receive state funding for their private schools, “just as the many Catholic and Jewish parochial schools do.” Under the governing Debré Law of December 31, 1959, Muslims seeking public funding would need to demonstrate the following: 1) that their school has already been functioning for five years; 2) that their teachers are well qualified; 3) that the number of students is relatively large; and 4) that the school facilities are “clean.”

However, the failure of the French educational authorities, hitherto, to respond positively to the few applications for public funding of Islamic schools is also noticed. Some officials contend that French Muslims have not yet formed a sufficiently representative organization able to negotiate such funding with the state. But some observers say, “It is Muslims in France who are relatively well organized, not those in Britain.” At least 1,400 specifically Muslim groups exist in France, most of which are primarily local. Two years before the election of the Conseil Français du Culte Musulman, several pan-regional organizations could be mentioned: The Union des organisations islamiques de France (UOIF), Jeunes Musulmans de France (JMF), Union des Jeunes Musulmans (UJM), and the Collectif des Musulmans de France (CMF). We notice also that the yearly meeting of the UOIF, gathering thousands of Muslims in Le Bourget, is considered as “the most important annual assembly of Muslims anywhere in Europe.”

With the organization that was founded in 1999 that will become the Conseil Français du culte musulman (CFCM), “French Muslims achieved one of the highest levels of formal, national unity in Europe.” Still, the tensions in the suburbs would not be eased just by gathering. They may be even maintained burning under ashes by such incomprehensible behavior as the rant about “the positive aspect” of colonization, in which some people in the political class indulge.

Recently, Jack Lang, the leading member of the French Socialist Party called for France to recognize crimes from the colonial era in Algeria rather than to apologize for them as Algiers wants: "The best way to say sorry is to recognize the reality of the crimes which were committed by the colonization of Algeria from 1830 to 1962" when Algeria became independent, Jack Lang, a special adviser to Socialist party presidential candidate Segolène Royal, told a conference in Algiers on February, 5.

Thus, it seems reasonable to assume that in light of what happened in 2005 in the suburbs - more than 200 million euros in damage, and some 10,000 cars destroyed - in part as a response to Mr. Sarkozy’s discourse considered unacceptable provocations (for example, the positive aspect of colonization’s discourse) were caused by some people with connections to the right-wing majority- maybe to the far-right. After all, the suburbs “revolt” of 2005 was a reaction against their whole social policy, and not only against what the minister said. Assumedly, what Sarkozy said (depicting the youth of the suburbs as “racaille” that ought to be erased) was just the drop that made the glass overflow.

Comparatively, one has to acknowledge that the Socialists (under Mitterrand and even under Jospin) have led some reforms that maintained a kind of cohesion between the communities and the varied social groups. But these reforms were almost improvised, with the exception of reforming the number of hours worked in a week, and failed to meet the new social evolution. One of the Left’s achievements was the 35-hour working week, which opened up more opportunities for employment. This important achievement seems nowadays threatened by Sarkozy, who seeks to accord more flexibility or latitude to the powerful Le Mouvement des Entreprises de France (MEDEF: Movement of the French Enterprises), which is the largest union of employers in France, as to allow a way back “to those who want to work more.” Another socialist reform was called “the proximity police:” It is a concept that allows the policemen to patrol in little groups of two to three persons, generally walking into many of the suburbs’ “complicated” quarters. Under this concept, the police role was understood to be of prevention (or containment, if you prefer, rather than repression), as the “hot quarters” were always under the eyes of the policemen. When the right-wing government took over, it dismissed the “proximity police” sending them back to their stations; and Sarkozy preferred to allow the police more power of “retaliation” and repression. We have to make note, by the way, that the responsibility for what happened in the fall of 2005 is to be shared by Sarkozy and de Villepin. On the one hand, Sarkozy said in parliament on November 9, 2005 that outsiders detained during the riots would be expelled. In fact, only about 5% of those rounded up by the police proved to be non-French: They were mostly minors, living legally in France with their families and therefore not subject to expulsion. On the other hand, Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin did not follow the advice of those on the Right who advocated mobilizing the army. But he did revive a law introduced in 1955, during the uprisings in what was then French Algeria, allowing the president to declare a state of emergency. It was used only once afterward, to quell riots in New Caledonia in 1984. For a few nights, mayors in several cities imposed a curfew.

The point is there are at least two antagonist views of the police work: The Socialists underline the preventive task, as they see the increase of criminality caused by social injustice. The right-wing politicians see the police in the traditional way, that is, as an institution that has to fight crime and to repress it, without according much thought to other considerations. It seems that these two views clash every time there is trouble in France. Most of all, there were few reforms aimed at integrating a wide range of the population into the overall social development. Such a failure explains the anger and its explosive consequences.

The question that remains unanswered is therefore: How does all of this will relate to the upcoming elections? François Bayrou has established himself as the third man in a campaign previously seen as a head-to-head between socialist Ségolène Royal and right-winger Nicolas Sarkozy. According to a survey taken on February 21, 17% of French people intend to vote for the former teacher, who leads the center-right UDF. However, Segolène Royal is still very popular while representing likely the most genuine change for the French Republic, as she has promised to build up the Sixth Republic. Indeed, for much of the immigrants, the blacks, the socially less favored, Segolène seems to be the best choice. Sarkozy is a young man representing an old idea: The old right, the old France, and maybe the “old Europe” as well.

A look at the main points of the three most important candidates would help us understand what is at stake:

What they stand for

Ségolène Royal

François Bayrou

Nicolas Sarkozy


- The replacement of short-term contracts for first-time workers with permanent ones. Employers who take on new staff to be rewarded with paying lower social charges.

- Raising the minimum wage to 1,500 euros and a conference on the issue of wages in June 2007.

- Profitable companies who fire employees will lose their right to state help. If businesses decide to relocate overseas they will have to repay state aid.

- Young people out of work for six months to benefit from job schemes, paid tutorials or training.

- Reduction of restrictive “red tape” on setting up a business and increased social protection for entrepreneurs.

- Re-setting the minimum wage at 1,000 euros per month after tax.

- Unemployment benefit to be replaced after six months with a 'minimum activity wage,' obliging the jobless to take on part-time work offered by local authorities and voluntary organizations.

- Small businesses, the liberal professions and companies requiring skilled workers to be encouraged to take on new workers with a partial exemption from paying social charges.

- Reform of the 35- hour working week.

- To increase the number of new businesses founded every year from 170,000 to 250,000 by reducing restrictive “red tape.”

- A job seeker cannot refuse offers for more than three jobs for which they are qualified.

- Contracts which make it easier to fire employees on economic grounds.

- Social benefits to depend on whether jobs are in the general interest.

-Reduction of social benefit charges companies have to pay, in favor of raising employee salaries.


- "Massive” investment in state education.

- Changes in the choice of school parents can make to fight against "educational ghettos."

- A new tier of state education offering teaching from the age of three.

- Reduction of class sizes in deprived areas for 6 and 7-year-olds.

- Mass recruitment of classroom assistants, school nurses and social workers.

- War on illiteracy: "No child should reach the age of 11 without being able to read or write properly."

- Introduction of legal education in schools.

- Teachers and trainers to give lessons on 'how to live in a community.'


- Measures to make it easier to expel bad tenants.

- Increases in housing benefit.

- Extension of interest-free loans. Those who have paid rent to live in social housing for more than fifteen years to be given the option to buy.

- Local authorities to be encouraged to take on vacant housing.

- Improved benefits for families with a single child.

-Against marriage but for civil partnerships for gay couples.

-Positive discrimination based on social, economic and educational criteria.


- Development of rehabilitation centers, as opposed to detention centers, for minors except for the most serious crimes.

- More security on public transport and security staff in all social housing.

- Increase in the justice budget to include an emergency action plan for youth crime and the development of special units to deal with crime among the young in major urban centers.

- Vote on tough new law to deal with domestic violence.

- Creation of new community police force, staffed by officers experienced at working in tough areas.

-Introduction of selective immigration.

-Obligation for immigrants to learn to read and write French.

-Immigrants will no longer be able to bring their families to France, unless they are in paid employment and have suitable housing.

-To put in place positive discrimination.

- Setting of minimum penalties for repeat offenders.

- Benefits to families who do not fulfill their obligations to be placed under review.

- Introduction of juries at magistrate courts for important cases.

- Evaluation of behavior in schools.

In a presentation to congressional staff on January 10 and 12, 2006 in Washington, DC, Justin Vaisse said: “Roughly half of the 5 million Muslims living in France today are not citizens. Many are under 18 years of age or recent immigrants, the latter of which tend not to register to vote.” However, we observe that these statistics are not accurate anymore. As we write these lines, a new census is underway; and nobody would pretend that in the 7 years since the last census was taken we still have the same figures. Vaisse observes rightly that many perpetrators of the violence in 2005—as well as many of their victims—were of Muslim background. New immigrants tend to concentrate in poor areas and it was there that much of the nightly unrest unfolded (it should be noted, however, that many perpetrators were not Muslim). But that's it for the religious factor. The unrest was not about religion. It was not even really about politics; it was about the social and living conditions of the young people and of course, about discrimination.

Even if we concede to Vaisse that Muslims are not yet a political force in France and even if we acknowledge they do not constitute a voting bloc, they have still expressed themselves – not always as it is wished – enough to have their presence their presence noticed on the political landscape at least as an issue concerning much of France’s social and economic realities. To neglect or ignore them would not do much good to any presidential candidate. Yet, to try to win them to one’s side in the presidential race may alleviate them, contribute to generate a feeling that they are no longer rejected and marginalized, reinforce the social cohesion and reintroduce some balance in the political scene, not to talk of fairness and justice.


"Francois Bayrou is promising to breach the left-right divide and govern from the centre with a coalition."
"Francois Bayrou is promising to breach the left-right divide and govern from the centre with a coalition."
To meet these ends, we recommend the following:

- Discrimination: This is an issue that deserves to be a priority on any political agenda, because it is one of the major factors of the malaise in France. Unemployment rates run as high as 40% in some of the affected neighborhoods. If the next government – which would emerge from the May 2007 elections – seeks to start on a sound basis, it ought to fight discrimination with law enforcements, and to set a practical social program for those who are suffering in the suburbs and elsewhere.

- Police violence and racial profiling: This is, to be sure, one of the causes of social unrest, as it was clear in 2005. We think that it should also be redressed, as far as the law against such behavior could be enforced. To avoid sorrow and recriminations, some courses of human and civil rights should be organized for the policemen. From time to time, they should be lectured by scholars and professionals about what the police is allowed and not allowed to do. This would keep them sensitive to human rights issues.

- Territory and ghetto phenomenon: We know that the poorest as well as the more recent immigrants tend to concentrate in the bleak housing projects located on the outskirts of French cities. These “ghettos” – called cités – develop the brand of violence and crime that make all the people around them sound like “social losers,” although they may be ordinary, honest workers. The socialists have created the “proximity police” to deal with their problems on a day-to-day basis. However, this would not be enough in the middle and long-term. The next government should try to put an end to the “ghetto phenomenon” through giving it the required attention. The governmental action should be multileveled so that it does not sound as if motivated by security issues uniquely. People in the suburbs need to feel that they are not forgotten; that their social, educative, cultural and economic problems reach the ears of those who are in charge of the state. The mayors can help; but they should not be the sole relay.

- Local associations and networking must be encouraged: Cultural and sports activities too. Integrating these people means to also give them new hopes and new chances and opportunities; it means to respond positively to their expectations. This may be achieved by starting socially oriented networks, able to increase their self-respect and make them feel useful to their families and to their countries. Usage of Internet, broadcasting and free lessons to help them gain some social leverage would be much appreciated.

- Role of religion: This is a very delicate issue that needs to be approached with tactfulness and tolerance. Instead of stigmatizing the Muslims, of hunting the girls wearing the headscarves; instead of pretending to defend the laicism of the republic as if the laicism means the rejection of other people’s religious beliefs – while it actually means separation between state and religion - there is, on the contrary, a veritable need in France today to integrate Islam as a positive component of the society, and to make all the Muslims of this country feel at home, instead of pressuring them and pushing them into Islamic radicalism.

- Role of Education and Media: What we suggest has nothing to do with a state-oriented program of thought: Briefly, as the society changes, new needs emerge. If the education programs and the media do not follow these changes, the society would sooner or later be confronted with crises. That is why there is today a veritable need to “readjust” the minds and adapt them to these changing realities. This cannot be done without thoughtful, well-balanced educative programs and broad and thorough media reporting. If young French know nothing – or very little- about Muslim history, civilization and societies; if Arabic – which is ranked the 5th language by the World Guinness Record, well before the French – is not taught in public schools -at least, as an option - how can people hope to understand each other on sound bases?