Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Who is Zemmour? What’s behind his political movement?

Reconquête, or in English “Reconquest”. This is the name of the new movement born in France. Amidst thunderous applause from many young people, the Hexagon has a new faction that wants to preserve the essence of French conservatism. That is to say, ultra. But it is not an ultra party as we might be used to: it is made of men in suits and ties, and ladies with carded hair. For almost three hours Éric Zemmour presented his candidacy and his electoral brand. A brand that he will carry in the presidential elections, then in the legislative elections of the National Assembly, then in the regional elections, and finally in the communal elections.

Vijay Monany, former departmental councilor of Seine-Saint-Denis for the Republicans, opened the presentation ceremony on Sunday in Villepinte, who referred to one of the topics most discussed at the meeting: immigration. According to Monany, the French government has abandoned the task of assimilating migrants, and so slums have been created, and Islamic law is applied in parallel to French law. He was brief.

Laurence Trochu, president of Mouvement Conservateur, and former spokesperson for François Fillon, spoke next. She is a staunch defender of the traditional family, wants to tighten the laws of access to French nationality, is against abortion, and in favor of pedagogical freedom. Trochu made a speech in which she called Zemmour the future and the hope of France. She is completely against the European Union and the United States, as she called them imperialist entities that destroy the French. She considered throughout her speech that the family was in danger, and also the identity of France.

Stanislas Rigault, president of Génération Z, the political youth of the movement, then took the stage. He began by saying that Zemmour was the hope for the country, and then charged harshly against uncontrolled immigration, going so far as to say that French civilization was in danger because of it. He also sees the future of the youth at risk because of current immigration policies. He ended his speech with a phrase that was repeated over and over again: “France has not said its last word”.

Rigault was followed by Paul-Marie Couteaux. A former MEP for Rassemblement pour la France, a splinter of the right wing of Jacques Chirac’s historic Gaullist RPR. He is a political figure who has always been among the satellites of the UMP and the National Front. Currently linked to VIA, former Christian Democratic Party. He also gave his support to François Fillon in 2017. His speech was girded around the figure of General De Gaulle, speaking of the confrontation of French civilization against the rest, recalling that the general and president of France fought the decadence of the right and the nation. Moreover, he claimed that the only right-wing that really thought of all French people equally was that of Zemmour. And in one of his last interventions he declared himself anti-progressive.

After Couteaux, Antoine Diers, whom many people identify as the person behind Zemmour, took the stage. He did not contribute much except thanks and praise to Éric Zemmour, the young people of Génération Z, and also to Sarah Knafo, the other heavyweight of the campaign. Diers and Knafo are the main political communicators and image makers for Éric Zemmour.

Then Jacline Mouraud, co-founder of the Yellow Vests and former spokesperson of the organization, who shares several postulates on immigration close to Marine Le Pen, took the floor, and who claimed De Gaulle’s France as that reference, and that the event she was at was still an act in favor of the survival of the nation. And then spoke Frank Keller, former UMP official in Neuilly-sur-Seine, who won the “Male of the Year 2015” award for asking on Twitter what merits Najat Vallaud-Belkacem had for Hollande to give her a Ministry (Education and Research).

At Diers’ closing, we heard Agnès Marion, who was a candidate for Mayor of Lyon for Rassemblement Nationale, Marine Le Pen’s party. Her speech focused on defending family values, which she said are endangered by the policies of Emmanuel Macron and the left, she also pointed out that there are women among the ranks of Zemmour, saying that they were simply not “hysterical feminists”. And she also vindicated the Femmes avec Zemmour collective of women who support the ultra candidate.

Poisson’s words ended and the electoral spot began. And at the end of the spot, Éric Zemmour appeared from the back of the rally and gave himself a bath of masses: 15,000 people attended the event. In the first moments, he had already presented the name of the movement, Reconquête (“reconquest” in English.) The interesting thing about this first campaign event is that this way we know what line the candidate will follow beyond the presentation of his candidacy.

Zemmour’s discourse is not new in the ultra continental right: the State is not what it should be, the country is weak; the inheritance tax must be eliminated; he is in favor of assimilation as a tool to put an end to Islamization and of the expulsion of prisoners who are not nationals; he believes that the other rightists are soft in their tasks, and are embarrassed by the left. He also stated that he is not a racist because he does not feel hatred on ethnic or religious grounds, but only defends France, without implying that he is against others.

But after all of this comes the discourse of the French right, which cannot be extrapolated. The differential fact of Zemmour is that of the French national construction. He is against breaking up France’s overseas departments, in favor of national unity and strengthening it. He is against NATO because he says that it slows down the role of France in the world, and at the same time French industry. He defends the role of the school as a mechanism of assimilation, no gender ideology and other experiments of the left: the school is to train the French of the future.

In addition, he is against medical assistance to non-EU immigrants and advocates the persecution of illegal immigration networks. His defense of assimilation is because it is a gift to be assimilated French: to be part of a people and a culture that has existed for centuries, creating geniuses and references for the world. Like Zemmour himself, a Jew of Algerian origin.

It is not an ultra-right of screaming radicals, but of gentlemen with ties and women with carded hair, and who speak more or less softly. Although, according to Zemmour, he defends the same as Jacques Chirac, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Alain Juppé or François Bayrou. He accused the Republicans and Rassemblement Nationale of being the right-wing that had abandoned its voters, an idea that was already present days before his presentation as a candidate. And he resorted to a metaphor about masks to refer to the president. He said that behind Macron’s mask there was nothing consistent, there was nothing clear, indeed, there was nothing. And if there was something, Macron himself did not know what it was.

But after this first act, we do know what is behind Zemmour. Behind Zemmour is the French right-wing against abortion and in favor of vindicating France’s Christian roots, against deregulated immigration and against gay marriage. In other words, the French Catholic right. Also behind him is a certain right-wing Gaullism that claims that France has been undervalued and is being crushed by supranational entities. They are those who see membership of NATO or the European Union as impediments to France’s becoming a power. Finally, the discourse of assimilation from paternalism: immigrants should be grateful to be allowed to be French, just as his mother did when she arrived from Algeria. It was she who taught him that he had to love France.

Behind Zemmour are the right wings of the Republicans and National Rally. That right wing that could vote for Jean-Marie Le Pen, strongly chauvinist and misses a France that never existed. As Zemmour has said: we are the party that defends that France that we found from our parents, and that we want for our children.

The main lines of the campaign have already been set in Villepinte, charging against everyone, be it Valérie Pecrésse, Marine Le Pen (yes, he considers Le Pen a soft leftist), Emmanuel Macron, the left, the ecologists, or the communists. He considers them all guilty of France’s decline. We will have to be attentive to how it affects the electoral chessboard.