Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"Sarkozy, c'est fini!"

On the evening of May 6th, the long-awaited French presidential election results announced François Hollande as the next French president by a mere 3.8% over Sarkozy (51.9 to 48.1, according to Le Monde). The crowd of hundreds of thousands of Hollande supporters cheered and popped bottles of champagne around the Bastille as they waited for Hollande to make his first address as president.

I heard a report on NPR's Morning Edition that discussed France's election night, Hollande's plans for France, and the differences between Sarkozy's and Hollande's political platforms. One of the major differences that was highlighted in the news program (as well as in other popular media outlets) is their position on immigration and foreign affairs. While Hollande welcomes multiculturalism and more progressive approaches to strengthening France's international relationships, Sarkozy has always preferred more traditional and exclusionary tactics. Towards the end of the program there was a clip of the cheering crowd outside the Bastille when out of nowhere a voice comes to the forefront and shouts, "Vive la France! Vive les Marocains!". It made me reflect on how French politics affect Moroccan (and North African, more generally) society. What do Moroccans have invested in having their presidential candidate win office in France? Will France's relationship with Morocco change now that Hollande is president?

In late April, the French Embassy in Morocco published the results of the French elections in Morocco. There is a large portion of the urban population in Morocco that hold dual citizenship, which gives them the ability to vote in the French elections. In Rabat, François Hollande took the lead with 43.5% and Nicolas Sarkozy was the runner up with a mere 26.9%. The rest of the votes were divided among the remaining three candidates.

While the results differed depending on the city (Sarkozy won the majority vote in Marrakech for instance), what is undeniable is that the French elections were considered an important issue for Moroccans. Throughout the election cycle I had several conversations with my English language students about their opinions on the candidates, the French electoral process, and their hopes for the future of France. Most of my students are professionals who work for companies or organizations with strong European ties. Even if they don't think that the outcome of France's election will greatly affect aspects of their personal life, they all agree that it would change the way they do business with their French clients and partners.

From the students "polled", it was unanimously stated that they felt that Sarkozy was a disappointing president, and certainly not the type of president that France needs now. While some felt that Sarkozy's "work more, earn more" mantra did good things for the French economy, his eccentric personality made him difficult to trust his judgement in times of hardship. They believe that the French are ready to trade in their hot-shot celebrity president for someone more humanistic and moderate.

Furthermore, Sarkozy's strong anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism stance weakened the country by dividing France into ethnic and cultural factions. He candidly identified certain groups as better than others, which led to a less united country. While he gained the support of the far-right through these actions, he lost the respect of everyone else. One student even said that Sarkozy was "France's George Bush": he managed to debase France's long history of high culture through his poor language and ignorant view point on immigration.

I see several paralells between Hollande's campaign and Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. The first similarity is in the type of candidate they are competing against. Sarkozy ran an incredibly conservative campaign whose foundation rested on the pillars of social conservativism and anti-multiculturalism. Ring any bells? The second similarity was in their progressive campaign slogans. Hollande's, "Le changement, c'est maintenant" (The change is now) begged for comparisons to Obama's 2008, "Change we can believe in" campaign slogan. Finally, the third similarity is in their voter demographic. While both Sarkozy and John McCain pushed for tighter immigration restrictions and paraded anti-multiculturalist values and bill proposals, both Hollande and Obama recognize the importance of the minority/immigrant vote. It will be interesting to see if these seemingly symbolic paralells seen between the two presidents' campaigns will manifest itself into anything significant as time progresses.

On a final note, I found out yesterday from one of my students that after the election results were announced, King Mohammed VI of Morocco coridally invited Nicolas Sarkozy to come to Morocco for a vacation. After François Hollande was officially sworn in yesterday as the President of the French Republic, Sarkozy boarded the King's private jet and set off to spend some time sunning himself at a resort in Marrakech. I asked my student if this gesture holds any greater political implications, since it seemed to me that the King still stands by Sarkozy. My student just shook his head and said, "No, I don't think so. The King did the same thing for Jacques Chirac."