Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The FN at his home in Hénin-Beaumont

Now led by Marine Le Pen, the Front National (FN) shook the French political world while begin large-scale maneuvers for the 2012 presidential election. Marine Le Pen, telegenic personality more openly and less provocative than his father, Jean-Marie, is credited by some 20% in the polls, which the hoisted at about the same level as the big bands of right and left.

The National Front's strength rests on the rejection by the public representatives of conventional politics. But the FN also feeds the discontent felt by people in poor cities and industrial past, like this, near Lille, in northern Iraq. Jobs are scarce, many immigrants and France seems lost in an ever wider faces competition from China, India, Brazil and even new states of the European Union.

In the first round of cantonal, March 20, the FN has made significant progress at the national level, taking advantage of a record abstention rate of over 55%. It has attracted about 15% of the vote, against 12% in 2004, UMP President Nicolas Sarkozy garnering 17% and the Socialists, traditionally strong in the region, 25%.

But here in this town of 26,000 inhabitants, the FN was 43.2%, outperforming even the Socialists and their 21%, those who once dominated the industrial north. The local leader of the Front, Steeve Briois, 38, [was given as susceptible to] win the first seat of the party general council of the Pas-de-Calais, a former mining area located in the Belgian border [it, despite the hopes that the FN placed in him, eventually beating].

Henin-Beaumont, unemployment is flirting with the 16%. Briois was born in the nearby town of Seclin. Son of communist parents, he joined the FN 15. "In my family, I converted everyone," he explains. They all have their party membership card. We present as an extremist movement, racist, sexist and anti-Semitic, who denies the Holocaust, says he, "we're nothing like that." Zouaoui Mohammed, 40, seller of beauty products from Algeria is not of that opinion.

"Our kids feel that there is racism here," he said beforehand. The last time he went into a bar, "we [had] looked like [it is] preparing to plant a bomb." People are ignorant of Islam, says Zouaoui. "We are not criminals or bandits, but Islam is a religion that scares people," he said. Henin-Beaumont has its own mosque, and several fast-food restaurants and halal butchers, and the weekly market, veiled women and sellers of couscous are everywhere.

According to studies conducted by INSEE, the Pas-de-Calais has one of the highest national percentages of Algerians and Moroccans. But with the increase in the immigrant population and the loss of jobs, the locals have changed their attitude: the rising discontent about unemployment, they feel more and more abnormal that the state provide assistance to Muslim and they are disappointed by the traditional parties.

Rohart Marion, 25, cashier, found that Jean-Marie Le Pen was outmoded and ultimately harmless, because beyond the pale. "It was too provoking," she admits. She has repeatedly voted for the UMP. But when she saw a group of Muslims spit on some of his gay friends, she decided to vote National Front, at least in local elections.

This party was the only one, Henin-Beaumont, to denounce the "uncontrolled growth" of the Muslim population, "she assures. "We no longer feel at home, she regrets, now it time for the FN won." Chantal Petit has a restaurant, El Piccolo, with her husband Didier. "If you say something to an Arab who throws a handkerchief in the street," she exclaims bitterly, he goes immediately to the police.

"Here, the National Front has always championed the little people" like her. And elected officials of the party are smart and polite, "said Chantal Petit. "Unlike other politicians here, they are extremely well behaved," she said. They are very smart people and very competent. "Thanks to Marine Le Pen, Henin-Beaumont became a stronghold of the FN since parliamentary elections four years ago, where she won 29% of votes in the first round and 24 4% across the district.

And if she lost the second round (UMP Mr Sarkozy had called for a vote against it) his score (44.5% of the votes in Henin-Beaumont, and 41.7% in the department) gave a new legitimacy at the national level. "If Henin-Beaumont became a territory of FN," explains Bernard Dolez, political scientist, "thanks largely to Marine Le Pen." She was smart enough to survive in a city where the Socialists were divided and UMP virtually invisible says Dolez.

She won the esteem of supporters of Sarkozy as Marion and Bernard Rohart Lefrere, retired teacher. "She is right on the issues of security and immigration," said Mr Lefrere, but it is not really convinced by his position on the euro. "His desire to return to the franc troubles me." Mr. Zouaoui is more pragmatic.

Life is hard in Hénin-Beaumont, and if people vote FN is that they fear for their future. "Give them something to eat and they forget about their racist ideas," he said.

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