PHILADELPHIA, PA – May 1, 2022 – French President Emmanuel Macron won a second term on Sunday, easily beating his opponent Marine Le Pen with more than 58% of the vote. Macron’s victory comes after a campaign that featured heated debate over the candidates’ anti-Islamist policies.
Other topics such as inflation and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rose to prominence in the final weeks of campaigning ahead of Sunday’s vote, but Islamism remained a central issue in the election . Consequently, Emmanuel Macron will now be in a position to determine the national policy for the fight against the Islamists for the next five years: a task as difficult as it is essential while the risk of attacks remains high and the Islamists have vigorously mobilized. opposing the policies he put in place during his first term.
The focus on Islamist extremism in the elections was inevitable in a country that has seen many horrific acts of jihadist violence in recent years. In January 2015, jihadists killed a total of 16 people in two successive attacks in the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine and in a delicatessen in Paris. In November of that year, jihadists killed 130 people at the Bataclan theater. In the years since, there have been numerous stabbings and vehicular attacks by Muslims declaring their allegiance to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.
France has also been rocked by reports of mosques preaching jihad, with a mosque in Beauvais forced to close for six months after its imam was found guilty of preaching hatred against Christians, Jews and gays .
For Islamists and their supporters, the campaign’s focus on Islamism was as unwelcome as it was unavoidable. As Sunday’s vote approached, many commentators insisted that the far-right, despite losing in the final round of the election, remained victorious as they reportedly managed to impose their anti-Islam ideas on the French electorate . It is true that several candidates in the first round were resolutely on the right: Le Pen of the National Rally; Eric Zemmour of Reconquest; and Valérie Pécresse who represents the center-right party Les Républicains.
Although Macron won, many consider his victory not to 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 has not entirely distanced herself from her party’s history and his sympathy for Nazi Germany. Mainstream French media downplayed Macron’s re-election: The world described it as a “victory without a triumph” given Le Pen’s impressive performance in previous elections. Le Figaro warned that Macron must now satisfy those who had voted for him by “resignation”.
Macron will also have to satisfy those who count on him to defeat the Islamists. During his first term, Macron set out a counter-Islamist agenda that distinguished Islamism from Islam and targeted legal Islamism as a source of radicalization. Under his leadership, a law was passed to counter Islamism as well as any other form of “separatism”. Among other measures, the legislation allowed for the closure of places of worship and the dissolution of organizations 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 declared his view of Islam to be “incompatible with France and the Republic”. For Zemmour, Islam is a “legal and political code”, not a religion
Measures proposed by Pécresse included the criminalization of visiting terrorist websites; facilitate the dismissal of radicalized Muslims from their jobs; and declaring terrorism a “form of intelligence with the enemy”. She also insisted that French school cafeterias do not offer alternative meals to pupils who do not eat pork.
Zemmour and Pécresse were eliminated in the first round of voting on April 10.
Le Pen, for her part, backed away from some of the harsher comments she had made in previous campaigns on Islam. She publicly stated that she had no intention of attacking Islam, which she described as “a religion like any other” and that she wanted to maintain her “total freedom of organization and worship” but then denounced the hijab as a “totalitarian uniform” and “[intended] to prohibit it in all spaces open to the public. Trying to defend this proposed policy, she claimed that “Mr. Bourguiba banned the hijab in Algeria. But as the Macron government and the French media clarified, Bourguiba was the leader of Tunisia, not Algeria, and had banned the hijab in schools, not all public spaces.
Mélenchon, the choice of the Islamists
Some Muslim leaders called on their supporters to vote for Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the first ballot. Mélenchon, a far-left candidate who has vowed to end Macron’s anti-Islamist policies, did better than expected, winning 21.95% of the vote in the first round, coming in third place behind Le Pen and Macron. . According to a French poll, 70% of French Muslims voted for Mélenchon on the advice of Muslim leaders who described him as the “least bad” candidate.
This tactic was rejected by well-known French Salafis like Idriss Sihamedi, who underline that Mélenchon had previously challenged the term “Islamophobia” and that in 2020 the leftist presidential candidate had called for a “precise response” to “Islamist terrorism”.
sihamed encouraged French Muslims ignored the election, saying Macron “wouldn’t save them” and that Le Pen “wouldn’t make them happy”. His followers didn’t seem to agree, judging by the numerous comments under Sihamedi’s tweet denouncing his views and insisting that Muslims had political choices to make.
Marwan Muhammad, a well-known Islamist considered ideologically close to the Muslim Brotherhood, acknowledged that Muslims had reasons to boycott the elections but described Mélenchon as a “real alternative”.
Some Islamists have said there is no difference between Macron’s “Islamophobic” policies and those of Le Pen. This position was taken by Rayan Freschi, a lawyer who works as a researcher for the UK-based charity with jihad links, CAGE, who recently wrote a report exposing the alleged “persecution” of Muslims by the ‘French State. Freschi argued that “both candidates would bring aggressive Islamophobic governance, with few nuances” and that “regardless of the outcome of the ballot box, anti-Muslim persecution has already won.”
Other commenters offered a similar message. Write in the Guardian, Safya Khan-Ruf, a French Muslim whose beat includes Islamophobia, lamented that for many Muslims, the choice between Macron and Le Pen was not really a choice, but ultimately a victory for Le Pen. Pen would pose a threat to the well-being of Muslims in France that Macron would not. In the Independent, Assia Belgacem wrote that as a French Muslim hijabi, none of the candidates appealed to her. the New York Times published an article with the same message “the lesser of two evils”.
The idea that there was no difference between Macron and Le Pen was belied by the last debate between the two candidates which took place on April 20, during which Le Pen admitted that she would ban the hijab in all public places, and not as a religious symbol. but as an Islamist uniform. In response, Macron said adopting such a policy would “create a civil war”.
Le Pen announced that if elected, she would expel Muslims who refused to sign a charter pledging to uphold republican values. Macron countered that the Muslims in question are mostly French citizens and therefore cannot be expelled. Clearly, the two candidates took different approaches to Islamism in the French Republic.
|Macron now has 5 more years to demonstrate that his policies will reduce Islamist influence and radicalization.|
Macron now has five more years to demonstrate that his counter-Islamist policies will reduce Islamist influence and prevent radicalization. Islamists, both in France and abroad, can be expected to redouble their efforts to discredit the efforts of the French government. The fact that Islamists fear Macron as much if not more than Le Pen, despite his platform, suggests that even his targeted policies pose a real threat to their power and influence.
Martha Lee is a research fellow for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.