December 2, 2007


Nicolas Sarkozy's battle to change France : With riots and strikes bringing chaos to the streets, and his poll ratings plummeting, Nicolas Sarkozy faces his pivotal battle: to transform the 'France that will not change'. (William Langley, 12/02/07, Daily Telegraph)

"Sarkozy came to power thanks to the crisis in the ghettos," says French historian Emmanuel Todd. "Now it is not just the rioters he feels able to take on but the civil servants, the legal profession, the transport workers. Everybody who he thinks needs reforming." It is a lengthy list and a potentially perilous one for, as the conservative daily Le Figaro said in an editorial last week, the President, with his once sky-high approval ratings slipping, now faces "everything the forces of French backwardness can throw at him".

The graffiti in Villiers-le-Bel is almost as ugly as the buildings it defaces. Many of the messages are colourful, obscene and directed personally at Sarkozy, who, as Interior Minister during the mass disorder that hit France's poor districts in 2005, called for such places to be "cleansed" of what he described as "the rabble". Last week's trouble began when a moped carrying 16-year-old Laramy Samoura, and Mouhsin Cehhouli, 15, crashed into a police car, killing both boys. More than 120 police officers were injured - some by gunfire - and the town's new library and nursery school were burnt down.

They had been built, along with much else, in pursuit of the orthodoxy, beloved of the French Left, which holds that throwing money at social problems will make them go away. Sarkozy sees a much deeper malaise and, although the swaggering youths on the streets of Villiers-le-Bel would hesitate to say so, it is one they essentially share.

Even the French seem to get that two centuries of backwardness is enough.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 2, 2007 10:05 AM
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