LONDON: Experts fear an escalation in anti-Muslim rhetoric in France after substantial right-wing inroads reduced the government’s majority in the National Assembly in Sunday’s election.
Despite a comfortable victory in the presidential election in April, Emmanuel Macron saw his centrist ruling party Ensemble drop from 350 to 245 seats, well below the 289 needed to form a majority, with significant gains made by the parties. right and left.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s left-green alliance may have won 131 seats, but it was Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally’s seven-to-89 jump that caught commentators off guard.
The right will be where Macron will seek to forge a governing coalition, said Paul Smith, associate professor and section head of French and Francophone studies, modern languages and cultures at the University of Nottingham.
“Macron needs around 40 seats to achieve that majority, and I think he is unlikely to seek that support from the left,” he told Arab News.
“He met with party leaders to discuss their priorities, and the parties he is closest to are the UDI (Union of Democrats and Independents) and part of the Republicans.
“Their election campaigns have focused on the cost of living but have been steeped in identity politics – and a lack of interest in alliances with the far right.”
Emmanuel Godin, a lecturer at the School of Area Studies, History, Politics and Literature at the University of Portsmouth, agrees with Smith, telling Arab News: “Macron is more likely to work with the right than with left”.
By playing on the right, Smith believes there will be a perpetuation of a style of politics that has dominated France in recent years with a normalization of anti-Muslim sentiment.
“Islamophobia disguised as secularism will not be far from the surface,” he said. “We saw this recently with the backlash of Grenoble’s decision to authorize the use of the burkini in public swimming pools.
“People should be allowed to bathe however they wish, but this rhetoric of ‘secularism’ overrides current legislative action and blows everything up completely instead of speaking to reality.
“And that reality is that if secularism is done right, it gets strong support from Muslims, because it means they can go about their lives without worry.”
A poll conducted by the French Institute of Public Opinion supports Smith’s analysis, with 44% of Muslims in favor of secularism, against 43% of respondents without religion and 42% of Catholics.
Citing the survey, Godin described the reality of French Muslim opinion as “far from the often caricatural portrayal of the issue in some media”.
In Sunday’s legislative elections, Muslim participation was key to the success of leftist candidates.
“Sixty-nine percent of Muslims voted for Mélenchon in the first round of presidential elections, and their main reasons were socio-economic,” Godin said. “Socio-economically, a majority of French Muslims belong to the working class.”
Asked if that meant Macron had lost France’s Muslim community, Smith wondered if the president ever had his backing.
He said part of the problem Macron faces when dealing with Islam and the Muslim population of France is his inability to see them as anything other than a historical remnant of French colonialism in North Africa. “I suspect Macron is not paying attention to the broad support for Melenchon from Muslims,” Smith said.