Cyprus Mail

Paris terrorist attacks: A godsend for Marine le Pen?

By Emmanuel Martin

The deadly Paris attacks earlier this month – carried out by the Kouachi brothers at Charlie Hebdo and by Amedy Coulibaly against a kosher supermarket – were clearly launched in the name of radical Islam.

Claiming that “political correctness” and “permissiveness” towards radical Islam led to such a catastrophe, Marine Le Pen, the leader of the French right-wing populist Front National party, seemed to be vindicated in her positions.

While the new leader has attempted to clean the party of its racist and anti-Semitic stains since she took over from her father in 2011, the National Front is still vocal about its position against radical Islam, and joins the republican laïcité (secularity) chorus.

It seemed likely, then, that the right-wing party would benefit from the attacks.

This is not what recent polls tell us, though. According to a BVA survey in January, Prime Minister Manuel Valls is in the lead with 44 percent of positive opinions. Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve jumped from 14 to 33 percent. Of course, President François Hollande also benefited, with his popularity jumping to 34 percent, up from 24 percent in December. Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen’s popularity (27 percent of positive opinions) almost didn’t change.

Maybe the president’s decision not to invite Le Pen to take part in the Paris march has paid off. Or maybe it’s just that the increased sense of national unity since the terrorist attacks has naturally transcended the whole political spectrum. All députés at the National Assembly stood, applauded, and sang the French national anthem – a first – after the prime minister’s Jan. 9 speech in response to the attacks.

In any case, it would seem that the National Front remains for the moment at its recent levels.

Many politicians on the center-right and the left are probably breathing a sigh of relief, given the local elections scheduled for this spring. Their worries were warranted: The National Front was extremely successful in the municipal and European elections last year, and polls last fall showed Marine Le Pen was twice as popular as President Hollande.

However, just because the National Front has not pulled ahead in recent polls does not mean that its ideas have not won.

Some politicians on the center-right – like former minister of the budget Valérie Pécresse –hastened to call for a French Patriot Act. Others, like former minister of the interior Claude Guéant, argued that some of our liberties should be abandoned for the sake of security.

While the reaction to the Charlie Hebdo attacks was not only against terrorism but also in favor of freedom of speech, there has been a crackdown on those dissenting from national grief, such as the “Je ne suis pas Charlie” movement among Muslims, and the controversial comedian and political activist Dieudonné.

What started with a defense of freedom will probably end up with just the opposite. But it seems that is what the French want: An Odoxa poll published on Jan. 17 indicates that 76 percent of the French are in favor of “measures of exception.” And more security is exactly what the National Front is planning.

Marine Le Pen will no doubt use the next two months before the local government elections to capitalize on the attacks.

The Mark News Photo -- Emmanuel MartinEmmanuel Martin is the director of the Institute for Economic Studies – Europe, and an analyst for Geopolitical Information Service.

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