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Will France’s riots benefit far-right Le Pen?

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Following the subsiding of France’s recent riots, far-right leader Marine Le Pen seized the opportunity to address parliament, accusing the government of transforming the country into a “hell” that she had predicted. With her party, the National Rally, now the largest opposition group in parliament after last year’s elections, Le Pen proclaimed, “We foresaw what is happening despite facing significant adversity. Unfortunately, we were right.”

Le Pen, along with her father Jean-Marie, has long been prophesying France’s downfall and even civil war, focusing on the presence of foreigners in the country in their doom-laden speeches. “Above all else, we must put an end to uncontrolled immigration,” Le Pen continued during her speech.

The political aftermath of France’s most severe urban violence since 2005 remains uncertain, leading to speculation about who may benefit from the breakdown of law and order that has shocked the French population. Le Pen and others on the right have attempted to attribute the mass looting and clashes to immigrant-origin communities, primarily from former French colonies in Africa, who have settled in suburban areas since the 1960s.

Despite the riots being initially sparked by allegations of police brutality and racism following the fatal shooting of Nahel M., a 17-year-old of Algerian origin in Paris, many analysts believe that the far-right’s promise of a stringent crackdown on crime and immigration could resonate with certain segments of the population. Olivier Babeau, co-founder of the right-leaning think-tank Institute Sapiens, stated, “I believe we will see a significant rise in support for the National Rally, building on the incredible gains they have made in recent years.”

In the presidential elections last year, Le Pen achieved her highest-ever score with 41.5% in the second round. She then celebrated record results in the parliamentary elections two months later. Jean-Yves Camus, a specialist on the far-right at the Jean Jaures Foundation, agreed that Le Pen and the more radical anti-Islam politician Eric Zemmour appeared to be the most likely to benefit from the riots. Camus expressed concerns about the upcoming European elections, stating, “There is a risk that Eric Zemmour and Marine Le Pen benefit from the situation.”

Regarding the government’s response, officials have sought to counter the far-right narrative, as well as claims from the mainstream Republicans party, that immigrants are to blame for the unrest. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin revealed that 90% of the approximately 3,500 people arrested during the five nights of severe rioting were French nationals. While acknowledging that some detainees may have immigrant backgrounds, Darmanin emphasized that individuals with various backgrounds were involved in the disturbances.

Camus believes that the government might receive credit from certain voters for swiftly bringing the unrest under control in less than a week, thanks to the deployment of up to 45,000 security forces at its peak. In contrast, the nationwide riots in 2005 lasted nearly three weeks and prompted the government to declare a state of emergency. Camus stated, “Without having to declare a state of emergency and by implementing a gradual response strategy, the government has demonstrated its ability to contain the movement.”

President Emmanuel Macron has condemned the “inexcusable” police shooting that triggered the riots, in which an officer fired at point-blank range after stopping a 17-year-old driving a Mercedes without a license in a Paris suburb. While Macron has promised a response, major police reform, advocated by the left, is currently not on the table. The president has focused on how to hold parents accountable when their children commit crimes, given the shock over the young age of many rioters.

Furthermore, divisions have emerged within the leftist alliance, with the leader of the radical France Unbowed party, Jean-Luc Melenchon, straining relations with his Socialist and Communist allies by failing to unequivocally call for calm. Melenchon has described the riots as “a rebellion of the poor.” Le Monde, a left-leaning newspaper, criticized him sharply in an editorial, stating that he is “at odds with the strong demand for a return to order that is growing in public opinion.” The newspaper further remarked, “In a country shaken by five days of urban riots, the left fails to provide reassurance.”

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