In the wake of the killings of Toulouse and Montauban, the French government stated that it will now adopt a “tolerance zero” policy against Islam fundamentalists. Yet given the turn that the radical Islamist crackdown is taking, it has become clear that French President Nicolas Sarkozy is using the security forces to boost his electoral campaign.
Less than three weeks before the presidential elections, the police have carried out numerous arrests and five fundamentalists have already been deported to their country of origin. Wanting to conduct a firm policy against terrorism is reasonable, but in this case one cannot help but to ask why now? And why in the aftermath of the murders that have shocked most people? After all it’s not like some of the presumed Islamists militants arrested were unknown by the French authorities. Indeed, most of these individuals or groups who have been under antiterrorist services surveillance for a while now and could have been also arrested earlier. While the terrorist threat truly exists, my belief is that Nicolas Sarkozy is taking advantage of the public’s fear about Islamist radicals for electioneering means.
Until now, Sarkozy did not really have a program for his campaign and could also not defend his previous presidency record, given that most promises made during the 2007 presidential campaign were not met. It is particularly with the Merah case and security issues that he somehow regained the front of the stage and posed himself as “the man of the situation.” It has helped him close the gap with his principal rival, the socialist candidate Francois Hollande. The latest polls, published by Ipsos polling institute, put Sarkozy ahead in the first round (29.5% against 27.5%), while Nation Front leader Le Pen has dropped two point to 14%.
And with the extensive media coverage around the current policing operations, so many questions have been raised about the real message behind these displays. In fact in several cases, journalists were informed way in advance about them. The French news channel BFMTV reported that, the Interior Ministry itself gave out the exact addresses and intervention time so that they could be filmed. A few journalists even turned up at the scene before the police were present. The ministry had no interest to give out such kind of information, since that could jeopardize the missions, there could only be political reasons to explain this. Besides the broadcasting of the anti-terrorist raid on television were not hazardous, not only they took all the headlines but also came on the same day as Hollande was planning to unveil a detailed campaign of his first year of presidency, if he is elected.
Magistrates unions (mostly left winged) are worried about the leaks around police operations which they fear could harm investigations. It is normal that the police arrest dangerous individuals and moreover suspected extremists. But the actual context and the way in which supposedly secret information are disclosed imply some publicity stunts around the terror issue. And that can only benefit the outgoing candidate. There’s indeed a political recuperation and Nicolas Sarkozy is capitalizing the Islamist terror for his election purposes.