Éric Zemmour, far-right expert, formalizes the French presidential race

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PARIS — Éric Zemmour, a far-right writer and polarizing television star, announced on Tuesday that he is running in the French presidential elections next year, ending months of speculation over a candidacy that has upended the race before even to have made it official.

Mr Zemmour, 63, is a longtime conservative journalist who has risen to prominence over the past decade, using primetime television and bestselling books to air his view that France was in steep decline due to Islam, immigration and leftist identity politics. , themes on which he returned in his announcement.

“It is no longer time to reform France but to save it”, Mr. Zemmour said in a video with dramatic overtones that were posted on social media, conjuring up images of an idealized France, then warning of outside forces that threatened to destroy it.

He shaped himself as a Donald J. Trump provocateur dropping politically incorrect bombshells on the French elite – saying, for example, that parents should be required by law to give their children “traditional” French names – and rewriting some of the worst episodes of France’s past. He was repeatedly charged with inciting racial or religious hatred because of his comments, and twice convicted and fined.

Mr Zemmour spoke of footage from the 1950s full of hat-wearing men and vintage Citroën cars, contrasting with recent clips of crowded subways, crumbling churches, burning cars and violent clashes with police.

“You feel like a stranger in your own country,” Mr Zemmour said, reading from notes on a desk in front of old bookshelves in a way that seemed to replicate Charles de Gaulle’s posture when he issued a call to arms against Nazi Germany from London in June 1940.

Mr Zemmour said he was coming forward “to prevent our children and grandchildren from experiencing barbarism, to prevent our daughters from being veiled and our sons from being subdued”.

He accused Europe’s elites – journalists, politicians, judges, technocrats – of failing France, which he said was represented by a long list of illustrious men and women, including Joan of Arc, Louis XIV and Napoleon. .

“We will not be replaced,” added Mr. Zemmour, who espoused the theory of a “great replacement” of white people in France by Muslim immigrants – a conspiracy theory that has been cited by extremists in several killings in France. mass.

The announcement, after months of thinly veiled hints that Mr. Zemmour intended to run, came as no surprise. It also came after the yet-to-be-declared candidate endured a dive into the polls and a series of setbacks in recent days – including a disastrous visit to Marseille, in the south of France, which ended in a rude gesture towards a protester. The vulgar gesture has given ammunition to critics who say Mr Zemmour is unfit to be president.

“We can have doubts about his ability to represent our country and hold his highest office,” said Gabriel Attal, spokesman for the French government. said on Europe 1 radio Tuesday.

Mr Zemmour has already reshuffled the political calculus of several candidates in the presidential elections, which will be held in April next year.

French presidential elections use a two-round system, with the top two candidates in the first round qualifying for a second round. Recent polls put Mr. Zemmour in third place, with around 14-15% support, behind President Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Rally party, who met at the second round of the last presidential election in 2017.

Even so, Mr. Zemmour has attracted some of Ms. Le Pen’s supporters with his hardline stance on immigration and identity. He also pushed Les Républicains, France’s traditional conservative party, further to the right. The party is expected to choose its own candidate this week.

Mr. Zemmour’s latest book, “France has not yet said its last word”, which he published in September to mark his unofficial entry into the presidential race, has sold more than 250,000 copies.

Some of her books contain inflammatory statements about women and minorities. They also contained historical inaccuracies as Mr Zemmour tried to clear France of wrongdoing in some of the worst episodes of its past, including World War II and Algeria’s war of independence from France. -Vis to France.

Mr. Zemmour is the son of Algerian parents and presents himself as a defender of French Christian civilization against the influence of Muslim immigrants. But he himself is a Jew, and his repeated attempts to rehabilitate the collaborationist French government and its leader, Marshal Philippe Pétain, have been condemned in strong terms by leaders of the French Jewish community, even though some Jews have identified with him. his anti-Islamic message.

Olivier Faure, leader of the French Socialist Party, joked on Twitter that Mr. Zemmour had used “De Gaulle’s microphone but Pétain’s speech” for his announcement.

“Beethoven’s music but the wrong notes of a fantasized past for a caricatured present,” he added, referring to the soundtrack Mr Zemmour used in Tuesday’s video.

Mr. Zemmour has excelled as a right-wing television pundit deploying searing nationalist and anti-immigrant rhetoric. In 2019, he joined CNews, a Fox-style news network, which provided him with a platform to express his ideas to hundreds of thousands of viewers.

Mr Zemmour has enjoyed a rapid rise in the polls in recent months, fueled by feverish media coverage of his latest book tour, but he has stumbled in recent weeks.

Several supporters, including a major French financier who had lent him money, distanced themselves, calling his campaign disorganized and amateurish.

Mr. Zemmour is not backed by a powerfully established political force, as Mr. Trump was with the Republican Party, and it remains unclear whether he can muster the official support of 500 elected officials – an obligation to run for the presidency in France.

Some recent moves have also cast doubt on Mr. Zemmour’s ability to handle the challenges and pressures of the election campaign.

He was widely criticized for making political statements to reporters outside the Bataclan concert hall in Paris on the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, and in Marseille he was heckled by protesters and was photographed making the rude gesture towards a woman who had done the same to her.

“He has a lot of qualities as a polemicist, much less as a presidential candidate,” said far-right leader Ms Le Pen. told Sud Radio on Tuesday, accusing Mr. Zemmour of being “disconnected” from the French working class and of dividing voters. “If you want to be president, you have to unite.”

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