Friday, March 23, 2012

Toulouse Fallout 'Plays Into Sarkozy's Hands'

Der Spiegel

Following the death of the Toulouse terror suspect on Thursday, attention is now turning to what his crimes will mean for France's future. With a presidential election just weeks away, candidates managed a dignified sense of national unity during the crisis. But German commentators say that could quickly change.

It took just days for French police to track down Mohamed Merah, the 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian descent responsible for killing seven people in southern France over the past week, including three children at a Jewish school.

Conservative French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been struggling against his Socialist Party contender in the presidential election, has been praised for the quick success in detecting and stopping Merah as well as the statesmen-like behavior he has shown so far -- with his appearances at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse, at the coffins of the victims before they were transferred to Israel, at the hospital beds of injured police and at the memorial ceremony for the murdered soldiers. Observers say that, instead of the biting and hyperactive Sarkozy many had experienced during the election campaign, in recent days they have seen a dignified man worthy of the country's highest office.

Sarkozy's success culminated on Thursday, when police ended the siege at the apartment where Merah had been holed up for 30 hours. With his death, many are asking what impact the attacks by an apparent homegrown terrorist will have on the presidential election, with the first round of voting just one month away. Will Sarkozy get a bump in the polls for his swift response? Will Socialist Party candidate François Hollande suffer because he was unable to present himself in the same role that Sarkozy could as president? Or will far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who has run a campaign filled with anti-Muslim sentiment, get a boost from the terrible crimes?

Initially, Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, had remained silent over the attacks, but on Thursday the candidate lashed out at Sarkozy, saying it had been a "luxury" for police to wait 30 hours before storming Merah's apartment. Le Pen also criticized the fact that the authorities had failed to stop Merah before he acted, given that he had already been prosecuted several times.

The editorial pages of some of Germany's top newspapers look at this week's events in Toulouse, with a number saying the developments could play into Sarkozy's hands, giving him a boost as the conservative law-and-order candidate.
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The presidential campaign will soon continue in France. It would be a misjudgement of political and social realities if one were to ignore the repercussions of the murders. The candidates, with the exception of a Trotskyist, have conducted themselves with dignity regarding the acts of terror, not least of which by taking part in the funeral for the murdered soldiers together."

"But without a doubt, the new importance of domestic security plays into the hands of the incumbent, President Sarkozy. This won't just improve his image as a statesman. The swift identification of the suspected perpetrator has pushed the competence of his government into the public consciousness. Marine Le Pen could also get a boost with her agitation against Muslim immigrants, both legal and illegal. And the man who began as the favorite, Socialist Party candidate Francois Hollande, is now seeing his lead shrink in the polls. The hope is that the 'republican' candidates will avoid using verbal excesses to profit from the traumatic events."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"For five years, France has been trying to become a 'normal' country, and it has almost succeeded in doing so. All the talk of a model republic has become a bit more restrained, the country once again belongs to NATO and, in the presidential election … a candidate competing as a 'normal' Frenchman had the best prospects to win."

"Some call this the 'Sixth Republic,' meaning a stronger parliamentary republic. (Ed's note: France currently has the Fifth Republic.) But the (attacks) ... have abruptly thrown the country back into the position of craving an exceptional leader."

"The murder of the three soldiers has piqued the republic's desire to defend itself, while the massacre of Jewish school children has triggered sympathy for the innocent. And the motorcycle driver, faceless behind his helmet, cried out for the head of state to assume a stronger image. Sarkozy, the hesitant candidate, was able to -- and had to -- revert to the gravitas of the incumbent president."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"With the identification of the suspected perpetrator, a new debate has begun (in the current presidential race). All of the issues that were once central have become secondary; security and fighting terrorism now have priority."

"New trenches and ideological differences will now be forced open. The semblance of 'national unity' that has arisen as a result of the barbarism and the fear of new, unfathomable attacks is evaporating."
"The calls for order and authority, that are now inevitably becoming louder, sound like an invitation for the president to carry on with his tough security and immigration policies. Part of this is the 'secularization' of Islam (the separation of religious and state affairs) in the name of the republic's secular tradition, which many Muslims view as discrimination. It is entirely apparent that there are people and forces who don't think that Islam and the republic can be compatible -- both among Muslims and within the political establishment."

"The terrorist killing spree in Toulouse will not make this debate any easier. In fact, it will make it much more difficult given the emotional and dramatic weight of the seven innocent murder victims. If this was the goal of the self-declared 'mujahedeen,' he has scored a cheap victory. But, the price that he was willing to pay with the brutality of his crimes is very high and will bring permanent discredit to the interests he purported to defend."

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes: 
"In the election campaign a few weeks ago, (the French presidential candidates) led xenophobic debates about Islamic slaughter rites, to give just the latest example. Mohamed Merah bears part of this legacy. It is hardly a coincidence that a 23-year-old who grew up partly in a dreary banlieue suburb turned from a petty criminal into a murdering Islamist. French politicians have systematically criminalized these places and their inhabitants for the last 20 years with words and by sending in special police, who arrest innocent 14-year-olds out of boredom. French politics hardly provides these 14-year-olds with opportunities for a better future. At the beginning of his term in office, Sarkozy promised a great plan, 'Hope for the suburbs,' but the president has followed through on little of it."

"Five years ago, Sarkozy won the presidency because he managed to win over far-right National Front voters with his 'strong man' image. Is it possible that he will succeed in doing this a second time because of the quick success in the investigation? It's definitely possible. But one thing is certain: For the past five years, Sarkozy has not been a president who changed the circumstances that helped feed Merah's insanity."

-- SPIEGEL International Staff

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