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Lessons for Miliband from France’s lurch to the right

First 'Conseil Des Ministres' Of France New Government At Elysee Palace

It is not just the British who will see humour in a Manuel from Barcelona trying to revive France’s failing socialist government. Fawlty Towersremains popular across the Channel, where it is called L’Hôtel en folie, and there was more than one reference to its bumbling waiter when the Catalan-born Manuel Valls became the Fifth Republic’s 21st prime minister on Monday.

President François Hollande’s once determinedly leftwing party was slaughtered in local elections the day before, along with its anti big-business, high-tax agenda. A dramatic U-turn was necessary and Valls, 51, personifies it. Still perceived as an outsider – he did not obtain French nationality until he was 20 – he is not much of a socialist either. Valls wanted the term dropped from his party’s name altogether and he has opposed cornerstone policies such as the 35-hour working week.

Valls is no fool – he looks more like a pugnacious matador than Basil Fawlty’s comic sidekick – and what he principally represents is a move to the right by Hollande, who needs to regain working-class voters. Many supported the National Front (FN) at the elections, exasperated over a range of issues, from immigration to EU-enforced austerity.

As interior minister, Valls built his reputation in the same way as his conservative predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy: a no-nonsense “top cop”, clamping down on undesirables. Valls infuriated colleagues last year by saying the Roma were incapable of integrating and should be deported “to their own countries”. He continued Sarkozy’s razing of squatter camps. Also like Sarkozy, and Marine Le Pen’s FN, Valls is a staunch supporter of anti-Muslim measures such as the ban on women wearing veils and restrictions on the sale of halal meat.

I first met Valls in his constituency of Évry, the Paris suburb. There, in 2009, he was caught on camera walking through the multicultural town, saying: “Come on, give me a few whites, a few blancos…” Defending himself later, Valls insisted he was as much in favour of poor, black people living in prosperous quartiers as introducing whites to immigrant housing estates.

His appointment heralds cuts within France’s vast public service and more tolerance towards free-market capitalism. It is an admission of failure that will disappoint European leftists, including Labour’s Ed Miliband, who may already regret his protocol-defying meeting in Paris with the now deeply unpopular Hollande soon after his election in 2012.

Valls has always been close to former socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal, mother of Hollande’s four children, who was made environment and energy minister on Wednesday. In line with the despairing feel to the new cabinet, Royal was rejected in parliamentary elections as recently as 2012, just as she was in the presidential poll five years earlier. Valls is a more astute politician than vain and evidently undemocratic socialists such as Royal, but he is first and foremost an ambitious party worker, whose expertise lies in strategy and spin, rather than policy. With no tangible experience of economics, and a profile that raises suspicion among an increasingly nationalistic electorate, Manuel from Barcelona is unlikely to be François Hollande’s saviour.

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Nabila Ramdani: Parisians need more than a new Madame Mayor


If you were looking for a politician who personifies Paris in 2014, Anne Hidalgo would be spot on. Yesterday Parisians elected Hidalgo, a Socialist, as their first ever woman mayor: she beat conservative rival Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, with some 55 per cent of the vote in the second-round run-off. The romantic French capital has always been a feminine one compared with macho London, and it is right that a woman is finally in charge.

Like the City of Light, Hidalgo works hard to maintain her glamorous image — and has a cosmopolitan history behind her. The 54-year-old mother-of-three is from a Spanish immigrant background, born in Andalucia. As a prominent Socialist Party politician, Hidalgo is naturally Left-leaning and reformist but she has a tough pragmatism about her too.

While London Mayor Boris Johnson did not look out of place waving two Union Jacks when stuck on a zip wire during the 2012 Olympics, Hidalgo likes to see herself as a more refined public figure. In this, she reflects her city’s understated, sometimes aloof image — one that prompts accusations that it is resting on its glorious past without challenging its more exciting, risk-taking neighbour.

It is a contrast that some Parisians are uncomfortably aware of. As Claire Trichet, an 18-year-old first-time voter, told me during yesterday’s poll: “Paris is often viewed as being a bit of a museum, and Anne Hidalgo could be portrayed as a curator. Of course we’re delighted that a woman is finally becoming mayor but she always comes across as a bit of a plodder.”

In fact, London leads the way in every field of civic endeavour, from culture and sport to business and architecture. Detractors claim that Paris offers little beyond its reputation as the world’s most popular tourist destination. The thousands of Londoners who visit every year are impressed by the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and even Disneyland. But as Hidalgo knows only too well, the infrastructure is also decaying as quickly as many of the gold-stoned buildings.

Just look at the difference between the gleaming Eurostar hub at London St Pancras and the run-down Gare du Nord, with its single, often broken escalator leading up to the ticket barriers. Jean-Claude Delarue, a Paris-based transport activist and academic, points to the increasingly dangerous, overcrowded local trains, including the ageing Métro.

“There are huge problems for all passengers, from commuters to tourists,” says Delarue. “Many parts of our transport system have not updated at all. Delays and cancellations take place all the time. These are the kind of practical issues which Hidalgo has to deal with as a matter of urgency.”

As chief executive of a city with a £6 billion budget, 50,000 employees and a population of just over two million, Hidalgo will certainly not get away with standing still. That is something Paris Socialists have been accused of doing for far too long, despite the hapless Kosciusko-Morizet’s failure to unseat them yesterday. Beyond gimmicks such as the annual summer “beach” by the River Seine, and the Vélib’ bicycle scheme, Hidalgo’s 13 years as deputy to outgoing mayor Bertrand Delanoë have for the most part seen a bloated and expensive bureaucracy doing very little.

Their party’s nationwide drubbing in yesterday’s municipal elections will not help Hidalgo, even if her win offers the Socialists a sliver of consolation. The disastrous economic policies of her ultimate leader, President François Hollande, opened the door for a range of alarming developments, including widespread gains for the far-Right National Front, which now has at least 11 mayors across France.

As in so many other parts of the country, Paris is suffering serious social ills, from sky-high unemployment, especially among the young, to homelessness and an escalating crime rate.

Hidalgo, who gave up alcohol and started going to the gym during her electoral campaign, says she is set on changing her city’s image as a playground for the super-rich. Grand schemes include turning Avenue Foch, the gilded thoroughfare where oligarchs and foreign despots own £100-million mansions, into an ambitious green zone where ordinary people will be able to “breathe”.

Other proposed anti-pollution measures include cutting down on car use while laying on hundreds of free mopeds. Her success involved an alliance with the Green party, so these policies will now be particularly important. Hidalgo also wants to pay for 5,000 new crèche places, and build 10,000 new homes, especially for the poor and vulnerable.

Yet, unusually for a French Socialist, Hidalgo insists she won’t be raising local taxes — something which has left many questioning her credibility: it is not clear where the money for all her proposed projects will come from.

In truth, with limited funds available, there is little hope of Hidalgo making any great impact. Paris City Hall is by no means a teeming cauldron of ideas or can-do spirit. Thirteen years of Mr Delanoë’s brand of socialism have been characterised by stagnation and missed opportunities. Hidalgo, who accompanied Mr Delanoë through many of his failures, has shown nothing so far to suggest she will be an improvement.

“It is complete nonsense to say that Paris has fallen behind London,” she protested in a recent interview — while also making the unlikely claims that Paris has more start-up firms and provides better weekend shopping.

Last night, as her party’s disastrous results flooded in from all over the country, Hidalgo heralded hers as a “great victory”, one which would prove that a female Socialist can indeed lead an iconic European capital to greatness. But as she attempts to live up to that pledge, it will not only be Anne Hidalgo and her low-achieving Socialist Party which need shaking up, but Paris itself.

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Miracle survivor escapes from Algerian military transport plane crash which killed 78 people after clipping a mountain

At least one person has miraculously survived a plane crash which killed 78 people including women and children.

The horrifying accident took place in Algeria, where a 32-year-old military transporter crashed into mountains in the north east of the North African country during heavy snowfall.

The Hercules C-130 was on route to Constantine from the Sahara Desert garrison town of Tamanrasset, when it came down in Oum al-Bouaghi province.

Army spokesman Farid Nechad said: ‘We’ve found one survivor and the searches are continuing. The area is very mountainous and hard to get to. We fear the worst for those unaccounted for.’

The identity of the ‘extremely badly injured’ survivor has not yet been revealed, said Colonel Nechad, who said the survivor was ‘being rushed to hospital in Constantine’ 

The plane was on a flight of 950 miles, and had made one stop in the town of Ouargla, before making its descent towards Constantine.

‘Contact with air traffic control stopped just as the plane started its descent,’ said Col Nechad, who said that the plane crashed into the Djebel Fertas mountain, 250 miles east of the capital city of Algiers.

‘The weather was extremely bad – very windy and there was heavy snow’ said Col Nechad, who said visibility would have been ‘extremely poor’.

The plane crashed in a mountainous area in the Oum El Bouaghi province, about 310 miles from the capital Algiers

Col Nechad added that there were 99 passengers on board, mainly made up of soldiers and their families. The crew was made of four people.

One of the plane’s ‘black box’ flight recorders has been found, said Col Nechad.

The Hercules was presented to Algeria by the USA in 1982 as a reward for the part the country played in negotiations during the Iran hostage crisis, which lasted for 444 days between 1979 and 1981.

There have been two other crashes involving ageing Hercules transporters in Algeria in recent months, with pilots being killed.

The worst air crash in recent Algerian history saw an Air Algerie Boeing 737 crash on take-off from Tamanrasset in 2003, killing all but one of the 103 people on board.

In November 2012, an Algerian military cargo plane crashed in the south of France, with all six people aboard dying.

The plane carried five military personnel and one official of the Algerian national bank, the Algerian Defence Ministry said at the time. It had taken off from Paris and was returning to Algeria.

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French comic at the centre of the Nicolas Anelka anti-Semitism row is banned from Britain

The controversial French ‘comedian’ at the centre of the Nicolas Anelka anti-Semitism row was last night banned from coming  to Britain.

Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, who has convictions for inciting racial hatred, said he would come to London to support the West  Bromwich Albion striker, who faces a disciplinary hearing for carrying out a ‘quenelle’ salute during a December match against West Ham.

But the Home Office has now given the performer persona non grata status, warning he is not allowed into the country. 

Airlines and other transport companies including the Eurostar high speed train service between Paris and London, as well as border officials, have been told that Dieudonne is an ‘excluded’ individual.

All can be fined up to £10,000 if the ban is breached. 

A Home Office spokesman said: ‘We can confirm that Mr Dieudonne is subject to an exclusion order. 

‘The Home Secretary will seek to exclude an individual from the UK if she considers that there are public policy or public security reasons to do so’.

Many of Diedonne’s show were banned in France last month because of fear that he would mock the Second World War Holocaust.  

Anelka has been charged by the Football Association after performing a quenelle when he scored a goal against West Ham on December 28. He denies any wrongdoing. 

Instead, the 34-year-old player said he was expressing his support for ‘my friend’ Dieudonne, insisting he is ‘neither anit-Semitic nor racist’.

Dieudonne has defamation convictions for inciting racial hatred but insists the gesture is simply anti-establishment. 

Last week more than half a million pounds in allegedly laundered cash was found in Diedonne’s home near Paris. 

Official searches were sanctioned by a French magistrate investigating money laundering and false tax declarations.

Investigators also believe that Dieudonne sent the equivalent of more than £380,000 in cash to Cameroon, where his extended family live, since 2009.

Dieudonne M’bala M’bala (right) wanted to travel to the UK to support the West Bromwich Albion footballer (left)

And they allege that a production company owned by his wife, Noemie Montagne, bought one of his properties for £450,000 in cash when he owed the government £740,000.

But Diedonne’s lawyer, Jacques Verdier, said the French were involved in an ‘organised hunt for Dieudonne’.

Mr Verdier said his client was by  no means anti-Semitic and ‘does not support the Third Reich.’

Dieudonne’s last visit to Britain was in 2010 when he appeared in front of a large of audience of mainly French expatriates at a London theatre.

He argues that his act is full of risque humour about a range of minority groups, including black people and Muslims.

Dieudonne, who was brought up as a Christian, said that one of the reasons Anelka is being made a scapegoat in Britain is because he is a black Muslim who drives a Ferrari.

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Anelka comic to perform in the UK: Man behind controversial ‘quenelle’ gesture says he will prove he is ‘by no means racist’

The French comedian at the centre of the Nicolas Anelka anti-Semitism storm is to perform in Britain.

Dieudonne M’bala M’bala will visit London to support the West Bromwich Albion footballer, who faces a ban for performing the comic’s ‘quenelle’ Nazi salute on the pitch.

Anelka faces a five match ban for performing Dieudonne’s ‘quenelle’ gesture – a hand and arm movement which some say is a reverse Nazi salute.

Dieudonne M’bala M’bala (right) will support the West Bromwich Albion player at a press conference in London

But Dieudonne, 47, said he will ‘prove to everybody’ that he is ‘by no means anti-Jewish, or racist in any way’.

He added: ‘There will be a press conference in London, and a show – everybody will be able to make up their own mind.

‘Nicolas Anelka has my full backing – I am coming to Britain to support him.

‘Both myself and Nicolas Anelka are Frenchmen of African descent.

‘The quenelle is our way of expressing anger against the establishment, and especially the establishment which allowed slavery to flourish.

Uproar: Anelka’s gesture, the quenelle, has caused conflict in the UK and France over whether it is racist

‘We are brothers in humanity. Nicolas is a prince as far as I am concerned. I will always support my friend.’

Anelka has been charged by the Football Association with making a gesture which is considered abusive or indecent – an offence which carries a minimum five-game ban.

Last Thursday, Anelka denied the charge and requested a personal hearing to defend his case.

Anelka’s case has received the qualified backing of Roger Cukierman, head of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF) and vice-president of the World Jewish Congress.

While ‘disappointed’ by Anelka’s goal celebration, Mr Cukierman said: ‘In a place that has no significance for Jews, it is merely an anti-establishment gesture which I feel does not warrant any harsh sanction’.

Controversial: Here anti-Dieudonne M’bala M’bala protesters are seen on the streets of Paris on January 16

Eric Zemmour a prominent Jewish writer, said: ‘It is ridiculous to turn Dieudonne into someone who is nostalgic for the Third Reich. France is first and foremost about freedom of speech.’

Mr Zemmour said any attempt to ban Dieudonne’s shows was ‘to deny the entire liberal tradition of French law.’

Dieudonne’s last visit to Britain was in 2010, when he appeared in front of a large of audience of mainly French expatriates at a London theatre.

He argues that his act is full of risqui humour about a range of minority groups, including black people and Muslims.

Dieudonne, who was brought up as a Christian, said that one of the reasons Anelka is being made a scapegoat in Britain is because he is a black Muslim who drives a Ferrari.

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French comic at centre of Nicolas Anelka ‘Nazi’ storm heads for the UK to back him

The comedian at the centre of the ‘Nazi’ storm surrounding footballer Nicolas Anelka is coming to Britain to support the player, who faces being banned for making an alleged anti-Semitic gesture.

French performer Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, 47, said he was ‘looking forward to coming to London as soon as possible’ and claimed Anelka was being ‘persecuted, simply for being my friend’.

Dieudonne, who created the controversial ‘quenelle’ gesture, said his UK visit will include a show designed to ‘prove to everybody that Nicolas is by no means anti-Jewish, or racist’.

French controversial humorist Dieudonne Mbala performing the quenelle . He is coming to London in order to show support to Anelka

He plans to hold a press conference in London at which he will ‘offer evidence’ helping Anelka.

Anelka, 34, who is also French and plays for West Bromwich Albion, has been widely criticised  for performing Dieudonne’s trademark downward-arm gesture after scoring a goal.

West Bromwich Albion’s French striker Nicolas Anelka makes the gesture

It has caused outrage among those who see it as a covert Nazi salute. Dieudonne’s defenders say it is a comic gesture aimed at mocking those in authority.

Anelka, who has also played for Chelsea and Arsenal, has been charged by the Football Association with making a gesture which is considered abusive or indecent – an offence that carries a minimum five-game ban.

He has denied the charge and being anti-Semitic.

Dieudonne said: ‘Nicolas has my full backing – I am coming to Britain to support him. There is no hint of anti-Semitism or racism in the gesture, or in my act.

‘We are brothers in humanity. The quenelle is our way of expressing anger against the establishment, and especially the establishment which allowed slavery to flourish.’

Anelka’s case has received the qualified backing of Roger Cukierman, head of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions and vice-president of the World Jewish Congress.

While ‘disappointed’ by Anelka’s celebration, Mr Cukierman said: ‘In a place that has no significance for Jews, it is merely an anti-establishment gesture which I feel does not warrant any harsh sanction.’

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First Ladies: a feeble, sexist and outdated job

First ladies give up their careers, salary and security, as the humiliating case of Valérie Trierweiler shows. Is it time for the role to be scrapped?

The fortunes of Michelle Obama and Valérie Trierweiler, arguably the world’s most high-profile first ladies, contrasted sharply last weekend. While the grandly abbreviated Flotus (first lady of the United States) celebrated her 50th birthday with a White House party, France’s de facto première dame checked out of hospital. She had spent eight nights under medical supervision after learning that her partner, President François Hollande, was having an affair with an actor.

The relative attractiveness of any job is best measured when times are bad, and right now times are very bad indeed for Trierweiler. As Michelle Obama enjoys fluffy tributes from the great and good of American society for her support of Barack Obama, her French counterpart is effectively pleading to stay with Hollande.

Aides to the Socialist president have indicated that he wants to make his lover Julie Gayet the new first lady. Hollande said he will “clarify” his position before a trip to Washington DC to stay with the Obamas in February. He spent just half an hour with Trierweiler during her entire stay at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, and is said to be “managing” her unhappiness as a political, rather than emotional, problem.

Beyond Hollande’s capacity for cruelty, the crisis in the French presidency says everything about the abject feebleness of the first lady concept. At a time when a glowing media image has never been more important for world leaders, many of their unelected consorts still knock about the corridors of power, and indeed the international stage, with an alarming lack of direction.

Even Michelle Obama, who trained as a lawyer, had no hope of practising on taking up the role. Now her main job is as “hostess of the White House”, allowing her to invite stars such as Beyoncé to her bashes, as she did last Saturday. Yes, Flotus has an office and a press secretary, but she has no salary and the majority of her tasks are decidedly shallow. As throughout history, first ladies around the world are largely required to be presentable escorts when called upon, and to make their husbands look good.

Michelle Obama has tried to make a difference, mainly through campaigns about obesity and other social ills. But it is as a winner of “best dressed” and “most inspiring” awards that she remains well-known. In this sense, popular perceptions of what a modern first lady does are sexist and trite. Michelle dances, she sings, she cries in appropriate situations and she is a close confidante of Oprah Winfrey. Thus highly educated, talented women such as her are effectively told to suspend their careers to become state-sponsored ladies who lunch.

David Cameron’s wife, Samantha, is not an official first lady – British heads of state are royals – but when her husband became prime minister, she left her job as a creative designer to adopt part-time roles, mainly for charities and fashion organisations. As far as Mrs Cameron’s potential influence as a dynamic prime ministerial partner is concerned, forget it. It is getting to the stage where people do not even know what her voice sounds like. The once much-vaunted “Sam Cam” brand has never taken off, leaving Mrs Cameron as a bizarrely hollow public figure.

In this respect, she has become a female version of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s husband, the scientist Joachim Sauer, who is known as the “phantom” because of his ghostly lack of presence (on the subject of pervading sexism, it is noticeable that Sauer is never referred to as the “first man”). He stayed at home to watch Merkel’s inauguration on TV. Because of his gender, he is not expected to entertain or smile sweetly. Germany’s actual first lady, presidential partner Daniela Schadt, is by no means a household name either.

Schadt is, like Trierweiler, unmarried. While many social conservatives point to this single status as being a huge disadvantage in itself, in France it merely highlights the pervading misogyny of the political establishment. Gallic leaders since Napoleon have traditionally kept lovers hovering in antechambers, to the extent that they are interchangeable with spouses. François Mitterrand, France’s most famously monarchical socialist president, kept a family hidden at the taxpayers’ expense.

Even now, Hollande is using disingenuous references to “privacy” to cover up what looks like a callous treatment of his girlfriends. These have included not just Trierwiler but also Ségolène Royal, the mother of his four children who was dumped while running to become head of state herself in 2007. Gayet will certainly not come out of the quasi-feudal presidential courting system unscathed either.

Trierweiler always claimed that she would not become a presidential “wallflower”. If, as expected, she is kicked out of the Élysée in the coming days, she will get no compensation. The role of première dame comes with five clerical staff costing around £17,000 a month, but everything else is down to the bon vouloir of the president. Pointedly, Hollande stressed last week that the role was an “unofficial one” with “more to do with tradition” than anything else. Senior colleagues even called for it to be scrapped.

First ladies have no financial security, nor guaranteed tenure. Their ill-defined, awkward job may be temporarily perk-rich, but it ultimately leaves the incumbent in a fragile position. Trierweiler’s slow exit from presidential life has been brutally humiliating. The sole consolation for a female journalist who has held on to her job at Paris Match might be a tell-all autobiography. It will be grim, but it will at least make clear that the job of ex-first lady is invariably more fulfilling and lucrative than the real thing.

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The West stands by as the military retakes Egypt

Among those celebrating the latest bloody twist in the Egyptian revolution is its erstwhile dictator, Hosni Mubarak. The imprisoned 85-year-old, toppled in 2011, personified the brutality and corruption of pre-Arab Spring North Africa; he is known to be quietly satisfied by the violence that blights his former fiefdom.

At least 11 murders resulted from the most recent outbreak of fighting between security forces and protesters over a referendum on a new constitution, which took place over two days, ending yesterday. The result is not yet known but it has all the signs of being an attempt at keeping another military chief in charge. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who stands to gain most from the referendum, launched a coup against the elected Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi last July.

Like Mubarak, who built his power base as the air force commander before running the country for 30 years, al-Sisi likes to deliver government at the end of a gun.

Now he is offering a new National Charter. The document is being put to the most populous country in the Arab world as an alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood’s constitution.

What this allegedly “democratic” mechanism actually represents is a move to legitimise the putsch that saw Morsi also ending up in prison. Morsi and many of his ex-ministers now face trumped-up charges including crimes against humanity. The Muslim Brotherhood itself has been deemed a terrorist organisation by the army-appointed interim government, with hundreds of supporters killed or jailed.

Al-Sisi, a former intelligence chief, said he would run for president later this year “at the request of the people”. The general insists that a strong Yes vote for “his” constitution would be a mandate for this.

Needless to say, the referendum has been boycotted both by the Muslim Brotherhood and Leftist groups. “No” activists have been arrested and there has been a massive state media campaign calling on everybody to vote Yes on “Judgment Day”.

The security situation surrounding the referendum will also have assisted in what looks likely to be a clear victory for al-Sisi. Some 200,000 police officers supported by 160,000 soldiers attended polling stations.

Thus in a reversal of the natural order of democratic change, a “people’s revolution” and the unseating of a despot have been followed by a military coup and an army-backed autocrat.

Meanwhile Western leaders who just three years ago were welcoming the jubilant scenes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square do nothing.

Whatever anybody’s view of Morsi and his notoriously cack-handed efforts to govern effectively, he was a democratically elected leader — one who had promised to bring justice and economic success to Egypt.

Mubarak’s lawyer, Fareed el-Deeb, admits that Mubarak is fully behind al-Sisi. “If he could vote, it would be a Yes for the new constitution,” he said.

By standing idly by without a clear condemnation as military strongmen emerge out of the chaos of post-revolutionary Egypt so as to take control, politicians like David Cameron and Barack Obama are effectively also calling for a Yes vote.

In doing so, they are helping to turn the clock back on the Egyptian revolution — ensuring that military autocracy, not representative democracy, triumphs.

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Anelka experiences trial by media in quenelle quarrel

One of the more noteworthy aspects of my greater Paris childhood is that I grew up just a few miles away from Nicolas Anelka. He is a bit older than me, and a lot better at football, but there is much about the 34-year-old with which I can relate. For a start, his parents were immigrants to France, and he is a Muslim. Anelka also has a habit of questioning the way the world is organised and sometimes annoys a few people by doing so.

The West Bromwich Albion striker’s current controversy is the quenelle, a gesture he made during a 3-3 draw against West Ham United in an English Premier League game. Stiffening his right arm and palmed hand earthward, Anelka brought his left arm across his chest in what some have described as an inverted fascist salute.

French politicians went further, insisting that the quenelle is vehemently anti-Semitic, and that Anelka should be investigated and possibly prosecuted. Words like “Nazi” were bandied around, implying that the gesture is linked to Hitler’s Third Reich.

In fact, very few people had ever heard about the quenelle before Anelka made his gesture. Arsène Wenger, by far the most famous French football manager in the world today, spoke for many when he said: “Nobody knows in France what it means. Some make it an anti-system movement, some make it an anti-Semitic movement. I think personally I don’t know, I have never seen this movement.”

A poll in Le Point magazine backs up the Arsenal boss’s claims, revealing that 77 per cent of those questioned – 33,000 readers in all – were not offended by Anelka’s goal celebration.

The quenelle – named after a culinary delicacy loosely translated as a spicy dumpling – is actually the trademark of Anelka’s comedian friend, Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, and less than a decade old. It is one of those gestures which anybody – from schoolchildren to celebrities and politicians – could and did perform during those goofing around moments which are nowadays invariably caught on smart phone cameras. In this sense, it has little to do with the more controversial aspects of Dieudonné’s act – ones which have helped him amass a number of convictions for inciting racial hatred.

There is no doubt that Dieudonné has some repulsive views, but until its Premiership debut, the quenelle meant next to nothing at all. There were pictures of other footballers doing it, including Mamadou Sakho of Liverpool and Samir Nasri of Manchester City.

Apologising for his own quenelling, the France-raised basketball star Tony Parker said: “While this gesture has been part of French culture for many years, it was not until recently that I learnt of the very negative concerns associated with it. When I was photographed making that gesture three years ago, I thought it was part of a comedy act and did not know that it could be in any way offensive.”

Even Manuel Valls, the French interior minister who is now actively investigating methods of banning Dieudonné’s shows, had no idea what the gesture meant. The smiling politician was pictured standing with a group of quenelling students as recently as September.

Racism and anti-Semitism come in many different forms, but the attacks on Anelka are selective. They have now been blown up into a vast international polemic, with France’s notoriously manipulative political class picking on Anelka because he is the kind of Frenchman many disapprove of – one who is Muslim, black and from a deprived housing estate.

More sinister still, there is indisputably an agenda among many powerful French people to portray young Muslim men from similar backgrounds as being dangerously antisocial. This stereotype is the bugbear of thousands of decent, hard-working individuals who experience discrimination and suspicion in all aspects of their lives.

When Paris magazines like Charlie Hebdo publish cartoons evidently mocking Allah, then freedom of expression becomes a sacred principle of the Fifth Republic.

Even when a black cabinet minister has banana skins waved at her by protesters – as happened last October – there is initially no police investigation. But when an ethnic minority footballer pays tribute to a dodgy friend with an arm and hand gesture which nobody really understands, then there are exaggerated claims about religious hatred. President Francois Hollande is himself prepared to interfere with a constitutionally independent judiciary to try to censor Dieudonné.

The fuss about the quenelle is also a classic example of politicians taking something previously considered insignificant and then blowing it up into a nationwide argument about perceived enemies within. In France they did it with the veil ban – criminalising a small proportion of Muslim women because they want to hide their faces in public, while conveniently launching an entirely negative debate about the state of Islam in modern France.

There is absolutely no question that Anelka would condemn the revolting pictures of idiots performing quenelles outside Holocaust memorials, or other sites marking attacks on Jews. These obscenities have actually only been given international publicity because of the onslaught against him.

Anelka has effectively been found guilty without a trial. Even alleged liberals are openly referring to his supposed “anti-Semitism”. The stereotype of the antisocial, menacing young Muslim has been reaffirmed in the public imagination by divisive politicians and other opinion formers who should know better.

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The man holding Tunisia’s dreams of peaceful revolution

If countries such as Egypt, Libya and Syria have come to symbolise the barbarism and instability of the post-Arab spring landscape, Tunisia remains a beacon of relative hope. Yes, there has been bloodshed in the former fiefdom of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, but on nothing like the scale of its neighbours. Instead, activists in the first country in the Middle East and North Africa to overthrow its dictator, in 2011, continue to cling on to terms such as “democratic transition” and “national dialogue” with rightful optimism.

Such words were very much in evidence this week when a drawn-out selection process led to Mehdi Jomaa becoming Tunisia’s caretaker prime minister. The expectation is that the 52-year-old former industry minister will head an efficient cabinet before a new constitution is agreed and fresh elections held by the end of next year.

Jomaa is a settled father of five and extremely pragmatic. He does not belong to any political party and is well known for his calm approach to government. He is also an efficient communicator who knows about the need for PR in public life. His background in mechanical engineering and western multinationals, including the American Hutchinson Aerospace and French energy giant Total, mark him out as a secular technocrat who can do business with anyone.

More pertinently, Jomaa’s job is to act as a counterbalance to the religious zealots trying to bring radical measures to a country desperate to modernise sensibly. Ben Ali’s exit during the so-called jasmine revolution unleashed hardline, often foreign imams preaching hatred against the perceived enemies of Islam. They called for women’s rights to be reversed, for example, and deemed many other aspects of liberal culture to be blasphemous.

Tunisia’s ruling Islamic Ennahda party has, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, been accused of being too weak to stand up to the fanatics, many of whom draw inspiration from Saudi Wahhabism. As the economic situation has deteriorated, violence has broken out across Tunisia this year, with thousands demonstrating against those in power. Crisis points were reached with the assassinations of leftwing opposition leadersChokri Belaid in February, and then Mohammed Brahmi in July.

The men’s brutal deaths were seen as an indictment of a failed revolution, and many called for a new one. Unemployment and the cost of living are spiralling. Bitter disputes have troubled the troika of parties – Ennahda, Ettakatol and the Congress for the Republic – which have attempted to govern since elections in 2011. Ennahda has been unable to reconcile differences and had threatened to resign. There are fears that the party risks going the same way as its moderate Islamic counterparts in other countries across the Arab world.

The election in Egypt of the Muslim Brotherhood through the Freedom and Justice party, following the country’s own Arab spring revolution, ended in dismal failure. Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president in the nation’s long history, is languishing in prison and faces trial for inciting violence and murder. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Morsi’s position, few consider his decision to grant himself unlimited powers a wise one. He did not stand up to the excesses of radical Islam or solve other major problems; instead, he set out single-handedly to “protect” Egypt from “the remnants of the old regime”, and especially the all-powerful army. Mass protests sealed Morsi’s demise, but it appears that moderate Islamic parties such as Ennahda in Tunisia have learned a great deal from Egypt.

Rather than risking a second revolution by increasing its own powers, Ennahda has eventually knuckled down to consensus government. Months of political deadlock in Tunis were preceded by Ennahda insisting that sharia law should not form the basis of the new constitution. Tunisia will instead remain a secular country. Its commitment to human rights and enlightened government is personified by Moncef Marzouki, the physician who was elected president at the end of the Arab spring year of 2011, and who has made considerable efforts to unite the nation.

Now Jomaa’s know-how in attracting investment and managing budgets is what is being offered to try to end the crisis. He will use his skills as a negotiator to focus on dialogue between different political groups, with the aim of putting the economy back on track. Many have expressed concern at Jomaa’s lack of interest in political infighting and, indeed, his inexperience in the field of security. However, such apparent disadvantages may be entirely suited to a man who intends to continue Tunisia’s quiet revolution through tact and expediency rather than dogma and violence.

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Europe’s Identity Crisis: Immigrants Are Scapegoats

Socialist France isn’t working, and immigrants have become the scapegoat. As unemployment spirals past 10 percent, and the cost of living skyrockets, François Hollande, the deeply unpopular French president, is maintaining a ferocious onslaught against anyone perceived as a newcomer.

President Hollande’s government has kept up a host of oppressive policies first introduced by his reactionary predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, including rounding up and deporting Roma gypsies and arresting Muslim women who dare to cover their faces in public. The hatred encouraged by such stigmatization came to the fore this month when Christiane Taubira, France’s black justice minister, was taunted with banana skins and called a monkey by a group of middle-class children supported by their parents.

Modern, moderate France has traditionally been a champion of the European project, yet the resurgent far-right National Front party is currently drawing much of its legitimacy from Brussels. The Front’s leader, Marine Le Pen, is a member of the European Parliament, but has yet to win a seat in the Paris National Assembly. There is a dark irony in listening to Le Pen’s anti-immigration, protectionist agenda being delivered from a governmental body that is supposed to represent an efficient European superstate populated by a single dynamic workforce.

In fact, Europe’s unwieldy institutions have become as bloated and unresponsive as France’s. The result is economic chaos, and increased anger and frustration. Unable to rely on their traditional politicians – ones who have proved to be self-serving and often corrupt – Europeans flirt with protest parties like the National Front.

I don’t think that demagogues like Le Pen will ever form a government, but her growing influence is symptomatic of a continent-wide malaise that has infected democracy at every level. Both France and Europe are going through a serious identity crisis – one that will not be resolved until politicians regain a modicum of trust from electorates whom they have let down so badly.

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President Bouteflika should not stand in 2014 but will leave a positive legacy behind him

There is absolutely no doubt that Abdelaziz Bouteflika has become synonymous with a long period of relative stability in Algeria. When he came to power in 1999, the country was racked by a murderous civil war between his government and Islamist factions. By the time Bouteflika surpassed Houari Boumédiène as Algeria’s longest-serving president in November 2012, democratic reforms were being implemented, along with economic initiatives which were all contributing to the country’s prosperity. Terrorist outrages continued, but nothing like on the scale of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Notwithstanding the fact that President Bouteflika has not actually said he is going to run for a fourth term, there are plenty of those who think the re-election of the 76-year-old would not be a good thing for Algeria’s democratic experiment. The first objection is a purely practical one—Abdelaziz Bouteflika is clearly not a well man. It was only in July that he flew home to Algiers from a Paris hospital. His exact condition was kept secret, but rumors of his imminent death abounded at the time. There was talk of a “mini-stroke”, but many considered the illness to be far worse, especially after the head of state was seen in a wheelchair as he was escorted on to a presidential jet at Le Bourget Airport, close to the French capital. However, Ammar Saidani, the newly-elected Secretary General of the president’s National Liberation Front (FLN) party, which nominated Bouteflika as their candidate for the 2014 election last Saturday, argued that: “The former US president Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected four times, and he was in a wheelchair.”

Yes, there is a tradition of elderly statesmen remaining great democratic leaders. William Gladstone was Prime Minister of Great Britain until he was 84, while Winston Churchill was 80 when he left the same post in 1955. Charles de Gaulle was 78 when he stepped down as President of France for the last time in 1969.

Yet the modern world is becoming a far more demanding place, with the workload of any head of state growing every day. New technology, especially in the field of communications, means they have to be ready to respond to challenges 24/7, and often practically instantly. The pace of the decision-making process is relentless, and only the fittest and most dedicated are likely to succeed.

Whatever anybody’s view of Bouteflika’s policies, he is also irrevocably associated with a different time and a different age. He joined Algeria’s Army of National Liberation as a teenager, and is now part of a fast-ageing generation who led their country’s successful struggle against the French in the 1950s and early 1960s. Such men and women are revered for many good reasons, but that does not automatically qualify them to preside over Algeria’s development in 2014.

Algeria has been run with great secrecy, and indeed frequent repression under Bouteflika. Many believe this has been inevitable given the country’s bloody recent history, and indeed one of the reasons why there was no significant rebellion during the Arab Spring of 2011. A vast and well-equipped army, combined with ruthless security services, makes violent dissent extremely unattractive to protesters. Anything which avoids the bloodshed witnessed in neighboring Libya, and indeed countries like Syria and Egypt, is to be welcomed by those who favor democratic progress over violent revolution.

However, for change to happen, Algeria must let a new, young, accountable and dynamic generation of politicians to emerge. Allowing Bouteflika to linger in power for a fourth term would be a serious impediment to positive advancement.

It was Bouteflika who, last year, announced a “reinforcement of representative democracy,” as a state of emergency imposed 19 years earlier was lifted. Bouteflika approved the creation of 23 new parties, making a total of 44, all of which, technically at least, had a fair shot at power. Some 43 percent of Algeria’s 37 million people took part in the 2012 parliamentary elections aimed at bringing about gradual change. However, there were immediate accusations of vote-rigging. Critics pointed to a suspiciously high turnout in the sparsely populated south while, nationwide, only 10 million of the 22 million eligible voters showed up.

Certainly, few expressed surprise when Bouteflika’s governing National Liberation Front won the election, but the fact that it took place at all shows there is an appetite for democratic change, and that it has every chance of happening. Many Algerians point to the highest number of women ever in the Algiers parliament with a system of quotas leading to 145 taking up seats. Bouteflika has played his part in such welcome progress, but he now has a duty to his fellow citizens to hand over the reins of power to colleagues who are younger, fitter and more in touch with an increasingly interlinked world.

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France must follow the example shown by a more racially tolerant Britain

As the catalyst for a soul-searching debate on the state of French racism, a newly released video shot in the western city of Angers is starkly effective. It shows middle-class children surrounded by proud parents as they bait the country’s black justice minister with banana skins and obscenity-laced chants about monkeys. The crowd is ostensibly protesting against Christiane Taubira’s part in steering the same-sex marriage bill through parliament, but the personal hatred clearly runs far deeper.

“Racist France is back,” is how Harry Roselmack, the country’s first mainstream black newsreader, put it in Le Monde as he surveyed a range of evidence, including the film clip. What is particularly disturbing is the way watching police officers appear wholly unconcerned by the taunting, making no attempt to caution, let alone arrest, anyone. It was only because someone captured the incident on a smartphone and posted it on the web that people are talking about it at all. To the on-the-ground forces of law and order, it seems, the behaviour of active racists is chillingly acceptable.

I’m from a French-Algerian background and grew up on a Paris housing estate, so I know there is nothing casual about such prejudice either. For those with obvious foreign antecedents, it permeates every sphere of life, from employment and housing to education and social policy. I now spend much of my time in London, and frequently contrast its generally tolerant atmosphere with the air of France’s “deep-seated racism that withstands time”, as Roselmack put it in Le Monde.

As early as 1973 – the year Roselmack was born – Trevor McDonald became Britain’s first black newsreader. This was a time when thugs were still waving fruit at coloured players in decaying English football grounds, as well as going out to “bash” Asians and other minorities in concrete underpasses. But for the UK, at least, times have changed. The creation of institutions such as the Commission for Racial Equality certainly helped disperse the brutal climate of the 70s.

Yet in France the language and behaviour of street bigots has levitated up the social scale, not only into seemingly respectable provincial families but even into the very heart of François Hollande’s nominally leftwing government. The Socialist interior minister, Manuel Valls, insists that Roma from Romania and Bulgaria should be deported because they “cannot integrate”. Such views were regularly expressed by former conservative president Nicolas Sarkozy, who popularised slogans such as “France, love it or leave it” and organised hugely divisive “national identity” debates.

Xenophobic demagoguery is also the dynamic of the Front National (FN), the far-right party founded by Jean-Marie Le Pen, a convicted racist and antisemite who, despite his criminal antecedents, was runner-up in the 2002 presidential election. Three weeks ago an electoral candidate for the FN, which is now run by Le Pen’s daughter Marine, said that she would rather see Taubira “swinging from a tree than in government”. Yet polls still predict that the vociferously anti-immigration party will win 24% of the vote in next May’s European elections.

One of the aspects of French life I still find extraordinary is how marches and rallies by the FN pass off without counter-demonstrations. The tradition of protest in Britain is not what it was, but you always get a sense of outrage when groups such as the English Defence League present themselves to the public. I attended an address by the leader of the British National party at the Oxford Union and the building was surrounded by opponents. Nobody would condone fighting or anti-democratic behaviour, but in France you barely get much more than a shrug of the shoulders – even when the tricolour is being used to try to incite hatred.

The FN’s revival has been attributed in part to the economic mismanagement of Hollande’s government, and more generally to the perceived corruption of the Paris political establishment. Former Sarkozy lieutenants and the ex-Socialist budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac are among those currently involved in court proceedings.

Recession and an increasing distrust of elected representatives certainly breed extremism, but a tradition of vindictive nationalism going back to colonial times also prevails. It is still routinely exploited by those in power, while they occasionally try to redress the balance through token gestures. Roselmack, for example, was appointed to broadcaster TF1 on the advice of former president Jacques Chirac, who wanted more diversity in the media following the 2005 riots on housing estates mainly populated by families with African and Arab backgrounds. In fact, non-white skin or a foreign surname continue to be major impediments to progress within France. This is why up to 45% of those under the age of 25 from the district of greater Paris I come from are unemployed. Many contemplate using false names and addresses on job applications, even for the most menial positions. Any trying to break into a profession, or wanting to go into business, are increasingly tempted to move abroad.

Reforms are urgently needed, and they should certainly centre on equality: moving ethnic minority communities into cities rather than leaving them to rot in suburban housing; combating social problems with investment and training rather than armed police; and taking action against hateful language, especially when used by politicians. It is also crucial that anti-discrimination laws should be toughened and enforced instead of being ignored.

The media has a lot of work to do, too. Broadcasters such as Roselmack are still in a tiny minority, with white journalists and commentators dominating TV screens, and indeed radio and print journalism. What is particularly scandalous is the way racism like the kind recorded in Angers is so underplayed. If a British cabinet minister was subjected to such treatment, it would be front-page news. In contrast, a relaxed acceptance of explicit, banana-waving prejudice sustains a legacy of insidious Gallic racism that shows no sign of ending.

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