- MIDDLE EAST FORUM - Martha Lee - APR 26, 2022 -
French President Emmanuel Macron won a second term on Sunday, easily defeating his opponent Marine Le Pen with more than 58% of the vote. Macron's victory comes after a campaign that featured robust debate over the candidates' counter-Islamist policies.
Other subjects such as inflation and the Russian invasion of Ukraine achieved prominence in the last weeks of campaigning before Sunday's vote, but Islamism remained a central topic of the election. Consequently, Emmanuel Macron will now be in a position to determine the nation's counter-Islamist policy for the next five years: a task that is as challenging as it is essential given that the risk of terrorist attacks remains high, and that Islamists have been vigorously opposing the policies he enacted during his first term.
The emphasis on Islamist extremism in the election was inevitable in a country that has been the scene of numerous gruesome acts of jihadi violence over the past few years. In January, 2015, jihadis killed a total of 16 people in two successive attacks at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine and at a deli in Paris. In November of that year, jihadis killed 130 people at the Bataclan theater. In the years since, there have been numerous stabbings and car-ramming attacks perpetrated by Muslims declaring their allegiance to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
France has also been buffeted by reports of mosques preaching jihad, with a mosque in Beauvais being forced to close for six months after its imam was found to be preaching hatred against Christians, Jews and homosexuals.
For Islamists and their sympathizers, the campaign's emphasis on Islamism was as unwelcome as it was inevitable. In the runup to Sunday's vote numerous commentators insisted that the far-right, despite its loss in the last round of the election, remained victorious as it supposedly managed to impose its anti-Islam ideas on the French electorate. It is true that several candidates in the first round were firmly on the right: Le Pen from the National Rally; Eric Zemmour from Reconquête; and Valérie Pécresse who represents the center-right party Les Républicans.
Although Macron won, many consider that his victory doesn't reflect an endorsement of his program, but a "default" choice as a majority of the French electorate wanted to avoid Le Pen. Despite her promised economic policies that gave her votes that traditionally went to far-left parties, Le Pen is still seen as a far-right candidate who hasn't entirely distanced herself from her party's history and its sympathy for Nazi Germany. The main French outlets minimized Macron's reelection: Le Monde described it as a "victory without triumph" given Le Pen's impressive showing over previous elections. Le Figaro warned that Macron now had to satisfy those who voted for him out of "resignation."
Macron will also have to satisfy those who are counting on him to defeat Islamists. During his first term, Macron enunciated a counter-Islamist program that distinguished Islamism from Islam and targeted lawful Islamism as a source of radicalization. Under his leadership a law was adopted to counter Islamism as well as any other form of "separatism." Among other measures, the legislation made it possible to close places of worship and dissolve organizations for promoting extremist views. Macron's political rivals had different agendas.
Zemmour, for example, wanted to ban the construction of minarets. He insisted that Islam and Islamism were "the same thing" and regularly stated his view of Islam as being "incompatible with France and the Republic." For Zemmour, Islam is a "legal and political code," not a religion.
LEIA MAIS >