HEmmanuel Macron had given himself less than days to calm society down. That was at the end of April. France’s president had just pushed through his pension reform against great resistance, and the protests subsided. Two months later, with France descending into even greater chaos, Macron faces one of the worst domestic crises of his tenure.
During the uprisings, everything that symbolized the state was attacked. City halls and police stations were set on fire, as were libraries and health centers. The balance sheet from the Interior Ministry lists over a thousand buildings attacked, 243 schools damaged, 200 supermarkets destroyed, 6,000 burnt out cars. The employers’ association alone estimates the damage to the private sector at one billion euros. 800 police officers were injured.
It was a uprising of nihilism, without political demands or ideological exaggeration. The trigger was the death of a youth who was shot dead during a police check. If the process had not been filmed, the death of Nahel M., like that of a dozen other dead during police checks since the beginning of last year, would have been lost as another report of the mixed person in daily events. The video, however, acted like a spark that turned a highly explosive situation into wildfire.
Over 3,400 people have been arrested in a week. A third of them are minors. Their average age is 17, the same age as the victim. Two-thirds of them do not have a criminal record, they let themselves be infected and drawn in by the dynamics of the group and social media.
Many of them were convicted in summary proceedings. In France’s courts, one can currently get an idea of the profile of the rioters: disoriented young people, mostly male, mostly with Arabic first names, who can hardly express themselves and whose mothers are sitting in the courtroom crying.
Proceedings for premeditated homicide have been initiated against Florian M., the police officer who shot. He is in custody. But the anger wouldn’t be so great if that were the rule rather than the exception. Procedures are often delayed, and police officers are rarely convicted. France is regularly criticized by the UN for its police techniques.
There are now two more victims: Mohamed B., 27, died in Marseille of a heart attack after being hit in the chest by a rubber bullet. Aimène B. was hit in Mont-Saint-Martin with so-called bean bag ammunition and has been in a coma ever since. The fronts in the debate about police violence have hardened and are irreconcilably dividing French society.
The anger of the young people of the second or third generation of immigrants, who feel discriminated against by the French police, was fueled by a collection campaign: 1.5 million euros were raised within a week for the family of the accused police officer.
Macron receives 200 mayors
A nurse who donated 20 euros put it on record that she only wanted to express her discomfort with this donation in the face of a “policeman who is thrown to the pack and treated as a murderer”. Nahel M.’s family sees the fundraiser as a provocation and has filed a complaint.
After Macron during the Protests against the pension reform Already had to cancel King Charles’ state visit to France, he saw himself forced to cancel his own visit to Germany last week. The young president, who presented himself as the “master of the clockworks” when he took office and wanted to set his own pace, slides from one crisis to the next. In this last one he made no mistakes politically but lost control nonetheless.
Macron received over 200 mayors at the Elysée Palace on Tuesday to listen to their concerns. On the same evening he announced a recovery fund for destroyed buildings and administrations. But the images of burning suburbs and inner cities that went around the world will have fatal after-effects.
At the moment, only Marine Le Pen is benefiting from the crisis. Even during the protests against the pension reform, she knew how to present herself as the representative of the opposition who was actually to be taken seriously. A strategy that paid off. Her poll numbers hit record levels. Le Pen has no reason to change that now.
While the Conservatives outbid each other with proposals that would override the rule of law, she seems like the voice of reason in the French chaos. It is quite possible that she senses future reservoirs of votes for the 2027 presidential election in the population of the suburbs, most of whom are longing for peace.
Le Pen leaves the conservatives as hot-headed right-wing extremists look, while the insurgent left comes across as anti-democratic in comparison. She stands between the two, Marine Le Pen, with the deceptive promise of a new center.