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Feminists Defend France’s First Lady | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Mrs. Macron was nearly always with her husband at key party meetings, television appearances and campaign rallies during the presidential campaign. (Reuters)

Paris – Following his election as French president last week, Emmanuel Macron received on Sunday the secret French nuclear weapons codes from the outgoing President Francois Hollande. For weeks, the move to the presidential palace has preoccupied the young president and especially his wife, Brigitte. For the first lady, the move to the Elysee Palace means a drastic change in lifestyle. She has to prepare herself to constantly be under the spotlight, with whatever restrictions on her freedom that entails, and undergo daily security and safety checks.

Since a week, Macron no longer walks alone, but he has an entourage of bodyguards, who we have grown accustomed to seeing around leaders, the wealthy and major movie and sports stars. The road leading to his house is no longer accessible to pedestrians, but it is now surrounded by barriers, similar to the ones seen around sensitive security locations in the state. His neighbors’ vehicles are subject to security checks. Macron has also abandoned his personal car for an armored one. Snipers surround the nearby rooftops and explosives experts precede him to any place he intends to visit.

Up until April 23, when Macron qualified for the final round of the polls, he used to be accompanied by 10 policemen, but this number doubled after his election as president. Security procedures are not limited to him alone, but they also cover the rest of his family, including his wife and whoever of her children and grandchildren choose to live with him at the Elysee. Security measures were also implemented at his house in Le Touquet on the northern coast where he spends his vacations. A secure telephone line was also dedicated to the new president. This line, which is supposed to be used for his calls with world leaders, is protected against hackers. All these procedures were adopted even before he stepped foot into the Elysee.

With his official settlement in the presidential palace, Macron inherits a security staff of 60 policemen belonging to the elite presidential guards. Thirty-two of these members were trained in danger zones and were responsible of protecting diplomatic missions in Baghdad, Libya’s Tripoli, or Kabul. They are equipped with earphones and weapons, wear dark suits and, occasionally, carry armored cases. Meanwhile, some of the staff and guards at the Elysee will either depart with Hollande or remain to serve the new president. They have not yet had the chance to get acquainted with him, but Macron has always been keen to salute the guards during turbulent foreign tours. He even broke protocol during a visit to Toulon in the South, which has a high immigrant population, to shake hands with the angry protesters.

The new president seems to approach the concept of security from a different angle. In a documentary prepared during his electoral campaign, he said that he did not want to feel surrounded and stifled. He said at the time: “This is not about listening to the security personnel as I will never feel safe, as long as the security situation in France is unstable. So it is inevitable to take a chance and head into the lion’s den every time. If I did what Hollande did and committed to the advice of the security, then I will probably end up safe, but dead.” He most likely still remembers the egg that he was pelted with when he visited an agricultural expo earlier this year.

Like the former first ladies, Brigitte Macron will also have her own close security plan. However, the physical protection cannot protect her from the media and verbal abuse she is currently facing. She faced a cruel campaign because she is much older than her husband. While the media expected her to be the best to fill the first lady’s position, the biggest focus was on the age gap between the couple. Strangely, she chose to respond to the hostility with humor. Responding to a journalist, she once said: “Emmanuel had to win this term. Can you imagine what I would look like if he became a president in 2022?” In another statement, she said that she and her husband have grown accustomed to such criticism.

After Macron won the elections, a group of feminists stood up to defend the new first lady. They described the attack as gender discrimination, because no one criticizes a man when he marries a younger woman. The harshest attack was launched by Charlie Hebdo that published a caricature featuring Macron putting his hand on his pregnant wife’s belly, with a caption saying: “He will make miracles”.

What mark will the first lady want to have on the Elysee? The palace has preserved its traditions and decadent furniture for over two centuries. The only first lady who dared to hang abstract art on its walls was Claude, the wife of former President Georges Pompidou. Carla Bruni, the wife of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, meanwhile opened the doors of the palace to a new generation of musicians, artists and movie stars. What position will Mrs. Macron find herself in?

There is no doubt that fashion at the Elysee has changed from the classic to the revival of youth. Even though the new first lady is over 60 years old, her personality allows her to change the fashion that other first ladies had followed. Bruni maintained her classic look during the first official appearance with her husband, while leaning towards Dior. She did not forget her jeans and simple blouses. Mrs. Macron leans towards Louis Vitton, which she was wearing when her husband won the elections. Other designers are expected to style her and she will probably break with tradition and don outfits by British and American designers.

Up until this moment, no one knows whether Brigitte Macron intends to change the furniture and drapes at the Elysee Palace as did Bernadette, the wife of former President Jacques Chirac. Her wisdom may prevent her from such a step amid the economic crisis in the country.

It is clear however that the first change will take place at the food menu. The chefs at the palace received a memo requesting new knives and detailing the food habits of the new first family. Examining the new president and his thin wife, one will understand that the chefs’ work will not be too difficult. Macron is unlikely to request heavy country food that was preferred by Francois Mitterrand and later, Chirac. Organic vegetables and fruits will likely now dominate the table at the Elysee.