Thursday, July 7

Fears of a Coup in France Exaggerated, But a Far-Right President is a Real Possibility | Jean-Yves Camus

TO recent open letter to French President Emmanuel Macron, signed by almost 50 retired army generals so far and more than 24,000 (predominantly ex) military, it was the occasion for many on the French left to raise the alarm, believing a coup it was good in the making or a future possibility. High-ranking signers, led by Generals Antoine Martínez and Christian Piquemal, say the country is on the brink of collapse due to immigration and crime, as well as Islamism and the support it receives from some on the left. They are angry at the “cancellation of culture” and at any intellectual attempt to criticize the country’s colonial past. These generals warn that if the situation worsens, their fellow active duty soldiers may choose to step in and take control.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Rassemblement National party, supported the generals’ call. A Harris Interactive survey, which found that 58% of respondents agreed with the statements in the open letter, further stoked the fear. This gives the impression that the far right is stronger than ever. Some political experts go so far as to say that while Macron is predicted to win another term in 2022 against Le Pen, there is a very real possibility that Le Pen will win by a small margin, sending thunder around the world.

Or maybe the whole story is a bit of a stretch. This is why.

There is nothing new in a sizeable segment of the military who have far-right beliefs and vote accordingly. In 2017, Le Pen obtained as much as 65% of the vote in areas close to the barracks, compared to 33.9% nationwide. Older retired officers like Martinez, 72, and Piquemal, 80, are haunted by memories of the 1940 French surrender to the Nazis, the army defeats in Indochina and Algeria, and the 1968 left-wing riots. , which they see as the swan song of a more traditional France. The paratroopers, foreign legion and marine infantry units, from which many of those who signed the open letter hail, are especially known for their conservative staunchness. patriotism.

However, the Defense Ministry quickly reacted to the publication of the letter with disciplinary sanctions against the signatories who were on active duty. There were only 18 of those officers and soldiers, a negligible number compared to the 270,000 civilians and military currently serving. The Algerian-born General Martínez launched the right-wing Volunteers for France movement and plans to run as a candidate in the 2022 presidential elections, although it is unclear whether he will meet the necessary criteria to run. His main call is the fight for the traditional French identity, which he says is threatened by “Islamization”, multiculturalism and anti-racism.

General Piquemal, who began his career in 1962 when Algeria became independent, founded a political movement called “Cercle des citoyens-patriotes” (or Circle of Patriotic Citizens) after his retirement. He was expelled from the reserve army in 2016 for participating in a prohibited anti-immigration demonstration in Calais. Contrary to the suggestion contained in some of the over-excited reports in the letter, the group of generals does not have the technical ability to engineer a coup. This would require the support of active duty soldiers, at least the passive support of a few politicians and the complicity of a segment of the upper state administration.

The fact that the letter appeared in the April 21 issue of the right-wing weekly magazine Valeurs Actuelles, on the 60th anniversary of the failed 1961 coup against General Charles de Gaulle in Algiers added to the suggestion that the An open letter announced an imminent military action. But it is not: the 1961 coup involved hundreds of the most experienced generals and officers on active duty, and the active participation of four elite units of what is now known as the special forces. The purge ordered by Gen de Gaulle against criminal supporters in French Algeria was so strong that it left many scars and bad memories within the military community, so much so that would-be coup plotters will probably think twice before taking to the streets in arms. .

However, there is much to worry about when 58% of the population apparently think that the country is on the brink of collapse and Le Pen is expected to get as much as 48% in the second ballot of the presidential elections. The Harris poll, which found that 49% of respondents would support the military’s takeover, comes at a time of mistrust of the president, who finds himself taking the blame for what he and his predecessors have failed to do. accomplished: stopping Islamist terrorist attacks and tackling crime.

Harris’s poll was released a few days after a radical Islamist murdered an administrator in an attack on a police station. He also followed a large crowd of 20,000 protesters in Paris, demanding that the killer of Sarah Halimi, an Orthodox Jewish woman, be tried, despite a higher court ruling that he was insane and should be sent to a mental health institution. The ruling sparked outrage, as the killer was known to have anti-Semitic views and shouted “Allahu Akbar” while killing his victim. Around the same time, a gang of thugs that set fire to a police car in the suburbs of Paris, causing burns that changed the lives of two officers, received light prayers, with some of the members even released free of charge. Those facts were interpreted by the Rassemblement National and the conservative right as proof that French law and French magistrates were too lenient, and that immigration and crime were linked, an idea rejected by the left and center-right cabinet.

The situation in France was best assessed in a study by the progressive thinktank, the Fondation Jean-Jaurès, which concluded that Marine Le Pen can win in 2022, provided she continues to be more mainstream: only 34% have a very negative opinion of her. , an all-time low. She would also need right-wing conservative voters to back her on the second ballot, against Macron, and for Macron’s popularity to continue to decline. In other words, while France is not ready for a coup, the coming to power of a far-right president, elected with the votes of the Conservatives, is a definite possibility.

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