Paris – The Bagelstein bagel shop in rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, in Paris, like the other Bagelstein shops, was perceived to be unique. Its walls are full of magazine covers, newspaper front pages and quotes on plaques. To a trained eye, they tell stories of France in the world over the past five or six decades; from Alain Delon being voted French personality of the year to Jean Dujardin winning an Oscar; from the days when the war in Iraq was a mere possibility to the capture of Saddam Hussein; and from France’s 1998 World Cup win to Zidane’s sending off against Italy in 2006. Plenty has happened in France in the past half-a-century, and in particular in the past decade.
In 1998 and for about ten years,, the “Arabes de France” – the Arabs of France – were known for a particular street culture among their youths, a peculiar sense of humor, a good-natured and rather comedic relationship between them and the Jews of France, and for their major stars, soccer virtuoso Zidane and the most successful humorist back then Djamel Debbouze.
In these days, the Arabs of France were being integrated as an essential and active part of the nation, adding to its culture while absorbing it. President Chirac was considered as something of a leftwing president wearing a rightwing label. France was living the experiment of the thirty-five-hour workweek, which was introduced by a cohabitation government, before Chirac’s reelection in 2002. Until his exit from power, Jacques Chirac was perceived both as slick and humane. His minister of foreign Affairs, the Gaullist Dominique De Villepin, gave a memorable speech at the UN Headquarters in New York, rejecting UN Security Council military action in Iraq. In this speech, which also included quite a clear threat by France to use its veto power against any possible unjustified war resolutions, De Villepin put the international community before its responsibility during such a crisis, declaring: “In this temple, the United Nations, we are the guardians of an ideal; we are the guardians of a conscience.” This speech which delegitimized George Bush’s Iraq war marked another one of France’s deep disagreements to the United States’ hegemonic and aggressive foreign policy. France’s stance against the Iraq war reminded the French of De Gaulle’s decision to take their country out of NATO, a move that emphasized and increased French independence.
In 2007, Nicolas Sarkozy was elected president, with a promise to break with Chirac and De Villepin’s world. And he did. He brought France back into NATO, whose coalition he led in the Libya war; and he advanced a pro-American agenda, while pushing for a France that would also break with its past on the socio-economic and security levels. In 2012, François Hollande was elected president. He has since then continued his country’s walk down Sarkozy’s path to a point where the French are now seriously close to voting, in the 2017 presidential election, for Marine Le Pen, the most probable candidate of what is considered a far right party, the National Front.
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