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Algerians in France hold their breath

Photo: Jérémy Paolini Agence France-Presse French people took part in an anti-far-right rally in mid-June, following the call of the elections.

Étienne Paré in Marseille

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  • Europe

In Marseille, where a huge Algerian community lives, there is concern about the far right coming to power after the second round of Sunday's legislative elections. Here, people's minds are still marked by the many racist excesses of Jean-Marie Le Pen's old National Front. No one in this diaspora seems to believe in the de-demonization strategy undertaken by his daughter Marine over the past ten years. The fact remains that some people say they understand that more and more “native French” are inclined to support the party, now renamed the National Rally (RN).

Because the themes dear to the RN, such as the fight against insecurity and illegal immigration, also find an echo in these very cosmopolitan neighborhoods that adjoin the Old Port of Marseille. “We have to recognize that the Marseille I knew as a child no longer exists. Before, here, it was cool, it was clean. But today, it is much less the case with the massive arrival of illegal immigrants. We feel less safe than before”, says Otman Belounis, yet he too is a tough guy. He makes no secret of his past as a delinquent which led him to spend several stays in prison.

That said, out of the question for anyone who has retrained in the construction industry to vote for the RN. Sitting on the terrace of a café, the thirty-year-old says he notices that xenophobic speech has become considerably more widespread in the country since President Emmanuel Macron decided to dissolve the National Assembly. He even says he was insulted just a few days ago in the metro by someone who told him “to go back to his country”.

According to him, it will be even worse if the RN, led by the fiery Jordan Bardella, 28, wins the elections. Otman Belounis is biting his fingers for not having gone to vote in the first round last Sunday, during which the RN came in first nationwide.

“Every presidential election, we get this done to us. We are told that the far right is on the verge of power. But ultimately, they are still far behind. Until Sunday, I thought it was going to be the same story. But I was wrong. This time, it’s true: they are really at the gates of power,” laments the man who was born in France to Algerian parents.

Algerians in France hold their breath

Photo: Étienne Paré Le Devoir Otman Belounis and his friend Marie, in Marseille. He is biting his fingers at not having gone to vote in the first round last Sunday, during which the RN came in first nationwide.

The stronghold of Mélenchon

In the fourth constituency of Bouches-du-Rhône, where we are located, there will be no vote next Sunday anyway. The outgoing MP, Manuel Bompard, close to left-wing leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, was triumphantly re-elected with nearly 70% of the votes in the first round.

Jean -Luc Mélenchon is not a candidate in this election, but he still plays a central role. For some voters, the unofficial leader of the La France Insoumise party is a foil. His positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are regularly controversial, when they are not outright accused of anti-Semitism. The figures of the traditional right do not hesitate to put La France insoumise and the National Rally back to back today.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon's statements were sometimes a drag during the campaign for the more moderate left, which formed an alliance with La France insoumise for this election under the banner of the New Popular Front. But here, in the Belsunce district, it is precisely, among other things, for his unwavering support for the Palestinian cause that the charismatic strongman of the left remains popular.

« Mélenchon is the only one who cares about the Arabs. Is this opportunism on his part ? I don’t think so. I think he is sincere,” says Hatouti Wari, who left Oran for Marseille around twenty years ago.

As he is not a French citizen, he did not have the right to vote in this election. But his three children of voting age all cast a ballot for the New Popular Front in the ballot box on Sunday. A choice approved by Hatouti Wari, devastated by the rise of the National Rally, which he blames on the media, notably the conservative news channel CNews, owned by Breton billionaire Vincent Bolloré, often described as the “French Fox News”. 60~/p>

“There have always been racists in France. But before, we didn't hear them in the media. Now they have a voice, which carries everywhere and which has an influence. How else can we explain that in villages where there are no Arabs, no foreigners, everyone votes for the RN ?” says Hatouti Wari between two sips of pastis.

Algerians in France hold their breath

Photo: Étienne Paré Le Devoir Hatouti Wari and Faouzi Bendaas, in Marseille. “Mélenchon is the only one who cares about the Arabs. Is this opportunism on his part ? I don’t think so. I think he’s sincere,” said the first.

Between fear and understanding

In the neighborhood, it is also one of the only places where you can see people drinking alcohol on the terrace. One of the only ones where women are seated there. The owner of the place, Faouzi Bendaas, is shocked. Especially since he voted last Sunday not for the New Popular Front in the first round, but for Ensemble!, President Macron's coalition.

“C' was the only realistic option”, summarizes Mr. Bendaas, who, like many small business owners, is not in favor of the very left-wing program of the New Popular Front, which promises, among other things, a substantial increase in the minimum wage.

But Faouzi Bendaas especially fears that the National Rally will win Sunday's elections, which would lead President Macron to appoint Jordan Bardella, the young protégé of Martine Le Pen, prime minister. He also fears huge protests, even violence, if the far right comes to power for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic.

However, he is not inclined to judge the 33% of French people who supported the RN last Sunday. “I understand their anger. It’s true that there is a problem with immigration. It is true that there are Algerians who behave badly, who allow themselves things that they would not even allow themselves in Algeria, where it is very strict. There has been a lot of laxity in recent years. I think there’s some cleaning to do,” says someone who has lived in France for 40 years.

Also read

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  • Chronicle | A vote that comes from far away

Plan B, plan C

He is particularly against the influx of illegal immigrants from all over Africa, including Algeria. Among them: Azzedine, who has been living in France for six years with fake cards. So far, the young man says he has never been bothered by the French authorities. He manages to live decently by doing odd jobs paid illegally.

He is preparing to have to pack his bags if the National Rally forms the government. Even if, deep down, he doubts that France has the luxury of expelling all illegal immigrants, who are often the only ones willing to do certain difficult jobs.

“When you’re undocumented, you prepare yourself for all eventualities. You always need a plan B, and a plan C,” says Azzedine, who agreed to testify on the condition that his last name be withheld. His “plan B” would be to go elsewhere in Europe, possibly Portugal. Because for him, it is better to live anywhere on the Old Continent — even illegally, even with the rise of far-right parties everywhere — than in Algeria.

“You don’t realize how lucky you [Westerners] are. I learned English and French. I think I work harder than many people who were born in France. But I had the misfortune of being born in Africa. I wonder everything I could have accomplished if I came from somewhere else,” he says fatally, before smiling again and lighting a cigarette again.

Who are the Algerians in France ?

Some 12% of immigrants from France were born in Algeria, a former French colony which became independent in 1962 following a war which had a profound impact on both countries. In Marseille, a third of immigrants come from this country.

These figures, however, are far from adequately representing the size of the Algerian community, because the keeping of statistics based on ethnicity is prohibited in France, unlike in Canada. The figures from the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, INSEE, only relate to the origins of people born abroad; they therefore do not take into account people born in France to Algerian parents, for example.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116