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Bayrou Surges, Sarko Struggles

10:37 AM, Mar 28, 2007 • By SOPHIE FERNANDEZ
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Bayrou Surges

A recent IFOP survey shows that 61 percent of French voters trust neither the left nor the right. This generalized mistrust surely benefits the centrist presidential candidate François Bayrou, the so-called "new man in the middle," but it would be a mistake to explain it as a rebuke of the traditional political parties. Rather, support for Bayrou can best be understood as evidence of the French fascination with the revolutionary left. In fact, Bayrou calls his movement "revolutionary centrism" and chose orange as the color of his campaign, a clear reference to Ukraine's Orange Revolution. His official website is www.revolutionorange.org.

Further evidence of this fascination with the ultra-left: three of the sixteen candidates who have qualified to run for president are Trotskyites. Those candidates include José Bové, an anti-globalization sheep farmer, Olivier Besancenot, a 32-year-old Parisian mailman, and Arlette Laguiller of the Workers' Struggle party, who regularly denounces "capitalist exploitation" and the "decadence" of French society.

Sarkozy's Frankenstein

Just one month ago, as a coup de théatre, Sarkozy wrote a letter to the satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo offering his support for the publication, which was on trial for inciting Muslim hatred by reprinting the famous Danish cartoons. The only problem: Sarkozy founded the aggrieved party that brought the lawsuit, the French Council of Muslim Cult, a CAIR-like association. With that organization, he created a powerful platform for extremism in an attempt to bolster his support among Muslims. Fortunately for France, the constitutional principle of freedom of speech was upheld when, last week, Charlie Hebdo was acquitted of all charges. Still, Sarkozy has been weakened by the whole affair.


His effort to woo Muslim voters has not been a total bust, though. "Sarkozy is a friend to Muslims" declared Khadija Ataf Khali, the president of the French Muslim Women's Union, in an interview with AKI (Adnkronos International). In fact, the statement is not so farfetched--many Muslim places of worship have opened in France as a result of Sarkozy's efforts. His support for the public financing of mosques is well-known.

And on Wednesday, Alain Morvan, a top education official in Lyon, was fired for strenuously opposing the opening of a new Muslim school and for publicly complaining about pressures from Nicolas Sarkozy to stop his obstruction. Alain Morvan said he was "karscherized," a reference to the pressurized-water gun of the trademark "Karscher" with which Sarkozy once promised to clean the Parisian suburbs. The controversy is further evidence of Sarkozy's efforts to gain the support of French Muslims.

Hypocrisy on the French Left

On September 19, 2006, the French writer and philosophy teacher Robert Redeker published an opinion piece in Le Figaro criticizing Islamists for their violent attempts to stifle debate in the West. The issue was banned in both Egypt and Tunisia. A few days later, Robert Redeker received death threats from an Islamist website. It posted his address and a photograph of his home, thus inviting its audience to murder him. Despite the support he received from a group of renowned and primarily right wing intellectuals, who published an appeal to support him in Le Monde, a majority of government officials responded with silence and even hostility. Such disdain stands in stark contrast to the French left's support of Cesare Battisti. Battisti, a former member of the Armed Proletarians for Communism, was condemned for four murders and several robberies and arrested in Brazil on March 18, 2007, with the help of Italian and Brazilian police forces. In his capacity as minister of the Interior, Sarkozy extradited Battisti. This decision was heavily criticized by a unified French Socialist party, which appealed for respect of the Mitterrand doctrine that protects former Italian activists from prosecution. The extradition prompted the left wing French newspaper Liberation to label Sarkozy "Unworthy" in its March 19 editorial.