‘Arab Voice’ in France to Vote for Macron


Paris – French law prohibits carrying out surveys and opinion polls based on race or religion, so it is therefore difficult to reach conclusive results on who Arabs or Muslims will vote for in Sunday’s presidential elections. There are some five or six million citizens of Arab or Muslim origin, which means they hold sway over the elections. However this power has been weakened because of the low number of those registered on electoral lists despite awareness campaigns that were waged to encourage them to vote.

For decades, the “Arab voice” usually voted in favor of the Communist and socialist left in France. After the defeat of former President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012, his supporters attributed part of the loss to the “Arab voice” voting heavily in favor of his rival Francois Hollande. In 2002, socialist candidate former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin lost by a narrow margin in the first round of the presidential vote to then National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen after the “Arab voice” snubbed him for making pro-Israel statements. As for the current elections, the “Arab voice” had pinned their hopes on far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, but he, and Socialist Party candidate Benoit Hamon, did not make it to runoff. The elections are now down to economic and social liberal Emmanuel Macron and far-right Marine Le Pen, who is known for her anti- immigrant, Arab and Muslim stances.

The Arab and Muslim voters themselves are now at a loss.

Asharq Al-Awsat sought to obtain the views of a number of “Arab voice” voters from different generations, religions and ages in order to demonstrate the disparity in their choices and the reasons pushing them to vote for Macron or Le Pen:

Jean Masiha, a French national or Egyptian origin, is currently overseeing Le Pen’s economic program. He said that “Arabs in France believe more and more in the National Front’s ideas and her programs.” This has been demonstrated in the rise in the number of recruits from 2 to 6 percent in recent years.

In his assessment of the course of the “Arab voice”, Masiha said: “Our platform is built on the idea of returning the voice of the sense of citizenship and to those who we consider to be citizens regardless of their race or religion.”

Arabs are attracted to Le Pen because her program prioritizes France, its language, national anthem, culture and borders. This program stands in contrast to Macron’s, who denies the idea of citizenship and the existence of the French culture, said Masiha.

He believes that Macron discriminates between French Arabs, seeing them as Algerian or Lebanese or Moroccan.

“We on the other hand see their voices as French ones,” he added.

Masiha’s views reflect a small minority of the “Arab voice”. Given the choice between Le Pen and Macron, the vast majority leans towards the latter even though many are voting for him simply to thwart the far-right candidate’s advance.

Sophie Taheri, a French-Moroccan economic expert and activist in Macron’s “En March!” movement said that she is supporting him for his program, style and personality.

She stressed that she defends his progressive thoughts because she “believes in freedom, a society that is open to the world and committed to Europe and the development of the individual through the quality of work.”

Macron’s thoughts overcome the traditional lines of traditional right and left political currents that have held political life in France hostage for 30 years, she explained.

She also noted that Macron is keen on developing the economy in a way that confronts the challenges of the digital age, adding that she defends him because he is “generous, dynamic and has a sense of initiative.”

Naufal Ibrahimi al-Maili, a French Algerian researcher and university professor in Paris said that he will vote for Macron “without an overwhelming sense of happiness because my Algerian roots prevent me from voting for the daughter” of a leader who played a part in the Algerian-French conflict.

He also condemned Le Pen’s views on Islam, saying that they “pose a real threat to social peace in France.”

Hanine Barazi, a French-Syrian professor at the Sorbonne University, echoed Maili’s stances despite having reservations on Macron’s program. She did note however that he is a fresh face in French politics and is backed by the youth. She also praised his courage in recognizing that colonial France had committed errors, some of which could be tantamount to war crime.

Faraj Maatouk, a French-Tunisian historian and university professor, said that he supports Macron “without hesitation, even though I do not agree with his liberal program.”

He stressed that it is necessary to “stand against the rhetoric of hate” and efforts to “tear France apart and from Europe.”

“We should unite on the values of the French republic of liberty, equality and fraternity,” he stated.

Some voters will abstain from voting for Macron despite their hatred to Le Pen. Elie al-Kadi, a French-Lebanese owner of a Parisian restaurant, said that he chose Francois Fillon in the first round of the presidential elections.

After his defeat however, “I will not vote for Macron, the ally of globalization, or Marine Le Pen, who is employing hatred to win as many votes as possible,” he explained.

This was a similar stance shared by Sahar Ibrahim, a French-Egyptian housekeeper, who initially backed Melenchon. She said that she will not vote for Le Pen, “whose principles contradict with mine” or Macron, who is Hollande’s “heir”.

It is clear that the overwhelming majority of the “Arab voice” will go to Macron, but some will favor Le Pen.

Nassim K., a French-Lebanese told Asharq Al-Awsat by telephone that he will vote for the far-right candidate because “France needs a strong president who can restore security, strike terrorism with an iron fist, reintroduce secularism and allow people to live in safety, especially in the major cities and suburbs.”

“Le Pen embodies these values, not Macron,” he stressed.

French Presidential Candidates Hold Final Debate ahead of Sunday Polls


Paris – The eleven candidates running in the French presidential elections held a final televised debate on Thursday night ahead of the first round of the polls that will take place on Sunday.

Each of the candidates was given 15 minutes to address the French people in their final media appearance ahead of the elections.

According to the latest opinion polls, centrist Emmanuel Macrn, the far-right’s Marine Le Pen, the right’s Francois Fillon and far-left Jean-Luc Melenchon are the closest to making it to the second round. Macron and Le Pen are leading the polls and only two candidates will make it to the final round of elections on May 7.

Chloe Morin, director of the Observatory of Public Opinion, told AFP that the final three days before Sunday’s elections will give the estimated 10 million undecided voters time to make up their minds on a candidate.

Each presidential hopeful has therefore sought to distinguish himself during the final hours of campaigning.

Le Pen has raised the tone of her party’s traditional rhetoric, especially her anti-immigration and Europe stance, and focused on security issues.

Macron meanwhile took advantage of Monday’s thwarted “imminent” attack in France to portray himself as the only candidate who can “guarantee” the security of the French people. He has enjoyed the backing of Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who recently joined his electoral camp.

Fillon has focused on clearing his image after he was struck by scandals that have revolved around his family. The former prime minister reiterated in the final days of campaigning that he will advance to the runoff vote. He has enjoyed the support of former President Nicholas Sarkozy and ex-PM Alain Juppe.

Melenchon is viewed as Fillon’s most direct rival. With his far-left stances, Melenchon has raised concerns among the right voters, who see in him a “communist” threat due to his anti-Europe and anti-globalization approach.

It seemed unfortunate for Fillon however that he was the last candidate to appear on Thursday’s debate, which went on late into the night, while Melenchon was the first.

The final day of campaigning will see two or even three electoral rallies by Macron, while Melenchon will hold one in Paris where he is due to be joined by Spanish left leader Pablo Iglesias, secretary general of the Podemos party.

The details of Fillon and Le Pen’s final electoral rallies have been kept under wraps.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama spoke to 39-year-old Macron on Thursday about the “important upcoming presidential election in France”, a spokesman for the former US president said.

Macron’s camp said the candidate had “warmly thanked” Obama for his “friendly call”.

Jean-Luc Melenchon: ‘Rebel Leftist’ Seeking French Presidency


Paris – If there is a need to demonstrate that Jean-Luc Melenchon, the French presidential candidate who has been described as the “rebellious France”, has started to affect his three rival candidates, one need only observe how all three of them have simultaneously launched an attack against him in wake of his rise in opinion polls.

Melenchon is running in the elections against far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, centrist Emmanuel Macron and the traditional right’s Francois Fillon.

Most French recall that Melenchon emerged from the French Communist Party before abandoning it for the far-left. He has a clear presidential program and is an eloquent orator and therefore his rivals believe that the momentum that he has needs to be stopped. His rise has seen him reach third place in opinion polls, just after Le Pen and Macron and above Fillon.

His rivals believe that his program should be marginalized and voter should be persuaded that his election will mean the return of communism and Soviet tanks to Paris, the restructuring of companies and a flood of immigrants and refugees into France. These are a few of other “surreal excuses” that serve one goal: intimidating the people and forcing them to disregard this unconventional candidate.

Obscure Candidate

Less than a month ago, none of the three presidential hopefuls had regarded Melenchon as a contender. In fact, French Communist Party candidate Benoit Hamon had at one point gone so far as to call on Melenchon to withdraw from the race and support him instead in order to unite the leftist ranks. At the time, opinion polls indicated that Melenchon enjoyed 10 to 12 percent backing, while Hamon edged him out by a small margin.

Today however the situation has radically changed as Melenchon’s popularity now exceeds 20 percent as opposed to Hamon’s single digits. It is clear that the former has garnered the favor of the divided French Communist Party. The party’s liberal wing, which includes Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, has gone on to back Macron, while the leftist wing has backed Melenchon because he has better chances of reaching the second round of the presidential elections. The first round is scheduled for April 23, while the final round, in which the top two candidates compete, is set for May 7.

The truth of the matter is that Melenchon is edging closer to the top two candidates, Le Pen and Macron, who are losing ground in opinion polls. They are both hovering at around 22 to 23 percent, while Melenchon is going from strength to strength. The second round of the elections could see him running against Le Pen.

Nightmare Scenario

This is a nightmare scenario for several of the French as no one had seen Melenchon coming. His image has improved and he is seen as the candidate who is closest to the people and one with the cleanest record. Everyone agrees on his public speaking skills, but he has now become a threat to the right, left and center alike. If Macron’s numbers in opinion polls continue to decrease and Fillon remains mired in his family scandals, then the road will be clear for Melenchon. He will lead France towards the unknown, along with the country’s fate in the European Union.

The alarm bells have started to ring in France and outgoing President Francois Hollande, who has led the Socialist Party to its breaking point, told Le Monde newspaper in an indirect reference to Melenchon earlier this week that “we are seeing the orator, but forgetting the content and the program.” Hollande announced that the politics in France needs “renewal”, which can be seen as a reference to Macron, who is only 39 years old. The centrist candidate had served as assistant to the Elysee Palace general secretary before being appointed economy minister by Hollande.

Meanwhile, the pro-Fillon Le Figaro newspaper dedicated on Wednesday four pages to attack Melenchon, while its greatest fear is that the leftist pass him in opinion polls and make it to the second round of the elections. It said: “The problem lies in that he has prepared an electoral program that is inspired from South American revolutionists, specifically late Venezuelan ‘comrade’ Hugo Chavez. It is no secret that the ‘rebellious France’ candidate holds an unabashed admiration for him.”

It went on to note that Melenchon’s electoral program calls for increasing public spending to 270 billion euros, imposing a 100 percent income tax on all whose salaries exceed 400,000 euros annually, increasing paid work leave to six weeks and lowering the number of working hours per week. This will all harm the national economy and the financial markets have started to voice their concerns over the program, said Le Figaro.

Radical Economic Program

The right has said that Melenchon’s economic-social program is impossible to implement, while Fillon has descried it as a program for communist rule, which will sink the French economy like the Titanic. This is a fear that has been shared by business owners, who also warned of the consequent rise in unemployment and of France’s exit from the EU and abandonment of the euro.

An ardent defender of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policies, including his stance on Syria, Melenchon has been touting himself as the “candidate of peace,” to which Macron responded that he rejects “Putin’s peace.” Melenchon was quick to respond to his critics, saying during an electoral rally on Wednesday: “If you elect any one of those three (Le Pen, Macron and Fillon), then you will bleed.” Furthermore, he indicated that during Fillon’s tenure as prime minister from 2007 to 2012, unemployment rose to exceed one million and public debt reached 600 billion euros. As for Macron, Melenchon indicated that during his time as economy minister, unemployment reached record numbers. He also berated him for “betraying” Hollande, who “made him,” saying that he abandoned the socialists to head to the Rothschild Bank.

First Round

In a few days, 47 million French voters will head to the first round of the presidential elections. Analysts agree that these elections will differ from all other previous ones since the establishment of the Fifth Republic in 1958. On the one hand, it is clear that the two main political parties that have taken turns in ruling the country over the past 60 years will likely not make it to the second round. On the other hand, this is the first time that the far-right, through Le Pen, has gotten this close to the Elysee Palace. The French are also dealing with the Macron phenomenon, who emerged as an independent candidate and who does not have a political party platform to fall back on. He established the “En Marche!” (“Forward!”) political movement last summer and is seeking to defeat the left and right. The problem should he be elected president lies in that he does not enjoy a parliamentary majority that will back his legislative efforts and ensure political stability. Le Pen and Melenchon face the same problem, which is why Fillon is trying to market himself as the only candidate who can guarantee such stability and lead the country.