On the evening of the election of Francois Hollande as the new French President, hundreds and thousands of French citizens celebrated this victory in Bastille; the symbolic location of the French revolution. Amongst the thousands immersed in revelry stood out ten or twenty individuals brandishing the flags of Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria and Libya.
As if by reflex, journalists paid extra attention to these individuals, hounding them with their cameras. The same evening numerous websites, blogs and newspapers alike seized the display of the flags as an opportunity to fuel polemical Anti-Muslim propaganda.
The mere presence of so many Arab flags at Place de la Bastille on the eve of the election of Francois Hollande has generated a considerable amount of negative backlash. The day after the elections both the right and extreme right parties denounced communal events and instead used the opportunity to point fingers and draw parallels between the flags present at Hollande’s victory and at the draft for Hollande to grant voting rights to non-EU foreigners (for elections municipal). The campaign for these parliamentary elections will take place on June 10th and 17th.
Nicolas Sarkozy, in his race to the electorate of the extreme right, has made these French immigrants and ‘foreigners’ a constant target in his campaigns. In the recent history of France, the Sarkozy years have been those of a permanent stigma and a rampant Islamophobia that has ultimately trivialised the far-right vote.
The years that lie ahead of Hollande will not, at least in regard to public commitments, be those plagued by stigma and xenophobia which were dominant under Sarkozy’s reign.
The emergence of Islamic leaders in a few countries affected by the Arab Spring is unlikely to have any impact on the situation of foreigners in France claims Hollande. In an interview with the website Slate.fr he states “I lamented that there was confusion and amalgams. Foreigners may be of native African, North African, but not Muslims. And being Muslim without being communal. I want to meet in France values that allow each individual to worship of their choice but in the framework of common rules of secularism. “
Based on the outcome of the Arab Spring, Francois Hollande capitulated on this idea to drive his own campaign; he understood the sentiment of the youth and the need for change. He stated, “The Arab Spring, which began in Tunisia, is a major change that we are far from full scope to date.” Identifying the yearning for freedom and justice as being universally strong,” Hollande went on to say “This is the future, the hope of real change. That’s why I propose an ambitious project in France in education, employment, training, and culture. I also propose that the youth is at the heart of a renewed partnership between European countries and southern countries of the Mediterranean”.
In Arab countries, the prestigious image of the France of de Gaulle and President Chirac today gives way to a nascent Francophobia. Holland thinks that “The intensity of links between France and southern countries of the Mediterranean commits us: we share long-standing relations of friendship and exchange to be forward-looking”.
Hollande stated at Le Bourget: “Many French people have a foreign origin, themselves, their parents or grandparents were born in another country. This contributes to the richness of France, its diversity, its openness, and this is the message I wanted to talk to those who now feel excluded. My approach to immigration is the opposite of the stigma that practice right in defiance of republican values”.
Giving the right to vote to foreigners is the first step France is taking towards integrating immigrants into the national community. France is a secular republic that respects all beliefs. The duty of politics is to allow everyone to find their place in the Republic, while at the same time respecting freedom of conscience. [Francois Hollande should adopt this reform vote by three-fifths of parliamentarians because it is a modification of the French Constitution. ]
Finally, we can see the emergence of a different France, one that is humanist, committed and generous, to enlighten the world. Like the United States, France is one of the few countries whose presidential election is being closely followed by many people including Arabs. As for the political refugee exile right, Francois Holland would like the application review period reduced from 18 months to 6 months.
A population of five million Arabs in France, are pinning their hopes on socialist Francois Hollande to bring about some change. The appointment of the new French government is a reassuring indicator of the reform that could prevail. With seventeen female ministers in power: unique in French History, the influx of multi-cultural individuals in the government is a further signal of the change that is to come under Hollande’s reign. Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the minister of women’s rights and critic of the government is from Morocco. Kader Arif, the Minister for Veterans is an Algerian. Finally, Yamina Benguigui, the Minister Responsible for French nationals abroad, is a native of Algeria.
The fact the Hollande has chosen so many Arabs in his new government suggests that he has acknowledged the importance the community had in his victory. One survey indicates that 93% of the Arab community voted in favor of Hollande. Is Francois Hollande the bearer of good tidings for France, Europe and most importantly for the Arabs?
Shakir Noori is a journalist and writer based in Dubai.