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French Activist: Emmanuel Macron is “Younger, Prettier” Face of Anti-Worker Reforms & a Police State

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As we broadcast from Paris, we examine political turmoil in France, where it has been less than five months since the centrist political figure Emmanuel Macron defeated Marine Le Pen to become France’s youngest president ever. While Macron won in a landslide, opinion polls show most French voters now oppose how he has governed. On Saturday, leftist opposition leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon led up to 150,000 people in a protest against Macron and his attempt to rewrite France’s labor law. Meanwhile, human rights groups are criticizing Macron for pushing a new anti-terror law that would make permanent key parts of France’s state of emergency, which went into effect after the 2015 Paris attacks. “The situation in France is highly volatile, both socially, economically and politically,” says our guest Yasser Louati, a French human rights and civil rights activist.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France. We begin today’s show looking at the political turmoil here in France. It’s been less than five months since the centrist political figure Emmanuel Macron defeated Marine Le Pen to become France’s youngest president ever. While Macron won in a landslide, opinion polls show most French voters now oppose how he’s governed. On Saturday, the leftist opposition leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon led up to 150,000 people in a protest against Macron and his attempt to rewrite France’s labor law.

JEAN-LUC MÉLENCHON: [translated] We have now been told that democracy doesn’t happen in the street. Mr. President, you’ll need to take a look at French history to learn that it was the street that brought down the king. It was the street that brought down the Nazis.

PROTESTERS: Résistance! Résistance! Résistance!

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, human rights groups are criticizing Macron for pushing a new anti-terror law that would make permanent key parts of France’s state of emergency, which went into effect two years ago. Critics of the legislation include the U.N.'s human rights office, which has warned the bill could affect people's, quote, “right to liberty and security, the right to access to court, freedom of movement, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief.”

Well, to talk more about these issues, we’re joined by Yasser Louati, a French human rights and civil rights activist.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Yasser.

YASSER LOUATI: Welcome back to Paris.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to see you here in Paris. Talk about what’s happening in France.

YASSER LOUATI: Well, you actually summarized everything. The situation in France is highly volatile, both socially, economically and politically. There aren’t many alternatives to what is currently happening. Of course, you spoke about Jean-Luc Mélenchon, but he only appeals to his own political party and not beyond that.

But the most worrying part is that we are definitely now living under a police state, where the extreme measures of the state of emergency have been passed into the common law. We spoke, of course, about warrantless house raids. We spoke about it two years ago, if you remember. And this series continues, measures, for example, preventing people from actually defending themselves in the court of law, because all the extreme measures, all the orders to warrantless search people’s houses, are being issued by administrative courts, and that happens after things are being decided.

One other measure was passed yesterday, thus actually giving the right to police officers to demand that you hand over your passwords to your electronic devices. And that, for a journalist, like yourselves, or lawyers or researchers, etc., that shows France no longer cares about human rights. And we saw it, for example, blatantly in early 2016 when the government, French government, withdrew from the European Convention on Human Rights. There are reasons to worry. And the dismantling of the rule of law in the name of fighting terrorism has not worked to actually prevent these attacks, as we saw multiple times for the past two years.

AMY GOODMAN: We last talked to you when we were here at the Paris climate U.N. summit, and that was right after the terror attacks here. Remind people what happened then.

YASSER LOUATI: It was actually state-sponsored retaliation against Muslims in the aftermath of the November attacks. Hundreds of Muslim homes had been raided, some restaurants, as well. Mosques had been ransacked by the police. And, of course, Muslims were shouting to say, you know, “Protect us!” And nobody was listening. And I was, myself, actually, and many other activists, blacklisted from French media. We had to find a voice in international media, thank God with Democracy Now!, for example.

And this series continued because the government did not back down from these measures. As a matter of fact, even our domestic intelligence is saying repression does not work against terrorism. So, today we have a polarization of French society, and security measures being passed against—or, sorry, on the back of these Muslim minorities, “the enemy within,” quote-unquote—the prime minister. And the end result is that we have seen Muslims first lose their basic human rights, and those measures have been extended to people opposing the labor reform, for example, environmentalists, or even anarchists, in France and abroad.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the European Union has just come out with a report on Islamophobia here in France. Can you talk about what they found?

YASSER LOUATI: The findings actually contradict the dominant discourse. They show that Muslims do have a sense of belonging, and they feel they are at home in any other Western country—or, in any other, sorry, European country. But the most worrying part is that they do not trust the police, because they mishandle their cases of discrimination, when you have 39 percent of Muslims who say that they have been discriminated against in the past five years. So the European Union is just highlighting what everybody has been, you know, calling for, for the past 10, 15 years.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the European Union, to be clear, was looking at all of Europe.

YASSER LOUATI: Exactly, all of Europe, and, you know, which is—I mean, like, I don’t believe the French government will take Islamophobia seriously. And I think tackling racism will have to go through international institutions.

AMY GOODMAN: What about President Macron? How does he fit into the picture? Or how has he changed things in France or not changed things?

YASSER LOUATI: I mean, Emmanuel Macron is only a younger and prettier face for an ugly, vicious system. He has only called for dismantling the welfare state one brick at a time, just as, you know, François Hollande had done before him. He is trying to apply trickle-down economics. And you know in the U.S. that did not work. He called, for example, for more freedom of entrepreneurship, but that freedom of entrepreneurship is actually granted to the big corporations. We don’t have an economy that actually works on the side of, you know, small and medium businesses.

Of course, he has had—he had several racist remarks against migrants drowning in the sea, against blacks, against Arabs. And the list goes on. And he has shown such arrogance while holding—while accessing power, that he’s dismissing any criticism of his policies. And in my humble opinion, he is the clear example that ideologies are in power, instead of facts, to actually pass socially fair measures. People keep telling him, “These measures do not work. The labor reform will not bring in more employment. It will only expose people to job insecurity.” It does not matter, because what he has is only a neoliberal ideology.

AMY GOODMAN: Jean-Luc Mélenchon just had a major rally. Well over 100,000 people turned out? Can you explain who he is, his significance? For the people in the United States to understand, would you say he’s the Bernie Sanders of France?

YASSER LOUATI: No, absolutely not. He’s not a Bernie Sanders in France. He’s not a Jeremy Corbyn, as well. He is a person who managed to build a far-left political party around his own person, who could not—who did not actually look to reach out beyond his own immediate circle. He’s been accused multiple times for—of degrading Muslim women. And he sided with people demonizing Muslim women at the peak of the burkini hysteria. He definitely refused to grant the right of Muslim women to wear the headscarf, because in his ideology it’s only a class struggle, the racial question does not exist. Well, I’m sorry, there is a question of race and a question of class. And Jean-Luc Mélenchon fails to acknowledge it. So that’s the problem. And his limits are actually being reached because he has not managed to bring around him more people from, let’s say, the ethnic neighborhoods people call the banlieues, for example.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk more about the labor legislation that Macron is pushing through.

YASSER LOUATI: It’s actually a complete reversal of our labor code, which was—which actually granted protections to employees, which actually gave the possibility for employees to sue their employers in case they are unfairly dismissed. Now what he’s calling for is actually, for example, to cap compensation when you are unfairly terminated, but not to cap the golden parachutes when executives leave a company. It’s actually trying to bypass unions by making people negotiate directly with their employers. I mean, like how strong can you be when you are a bunch of employees, you know, negotiating directly with the head of the company? It makes absolutely no sense. Of course, it’s also a review on the protection on job—for job security. There is absolutely no protection whatsoever for the people who will actually earn less money. So, the end line is that, you know, what is good for the benefit and the good of corporations is good for everybody else. And again, you know, it failed in America, and it will fail again in France.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, when we were last here, when we were here for the U.N. climate summit, we went two hours north to what people—refugees even in the camp called “The Jungle,” the place where thousands of refugees from—well, it looked like—the refugee camp, where people were from, from Afghanistan, from Iraq, looked like a map of the places where the United States had bombed over the years. Can you talk about what’s happened with it?

YASSER LOUATI: Well, since then, they dismantled the so-called Jungle, but they have actually dispersed people throughout the country and have given full, fully fledged powers to the police to harass them, day in, day out. For example, thanks to the state of emergency, they can no longer assemble or actually unite and be like, you know, more than five people, because we know those people, when they try to get some sleep, they actually get together and sleep on the sidewalk. But the sidewalk is no longer accessible, because, for example, in Paris, the city hall has put huge rocks to keep them from sleeping on the curb.

The other point is that there has been not only a criminalization of refugees, but also a criminalization of those supporting them and giving them help, for example, the case of civil activists being sued by the state for giving them water, giving them shelter or actually helping them with their paperwork. So, that’s a problem, because, you know, France has a huge responsibility in the inflow of refugees, bombing their countries back over there and supporting repressive regimes. But when those people come to us seeking help, they are not only criminalized, but also dehumanized, and as well as those giving them support.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the effect that President Trump has had on France, both the people, the president? Of course, he came here on Bastille Day. He hailed the Bastille Day military celebrations. He just referenced them when he met with Macron again in New York at the U.N. General Assembly, and he said he wants to bring out the U.S. military for a similar military parade on July 4th in the United States. But what effect has Trump had?

YASSER LOUATI: I mean, French public opinion has been laughing, you know, over Trump for like since he became prominent. But I think there is a sense of hypocrisy in French public opinion and, of course, politicians, because they can—of course, whatever Trump says is appalling in terms of, you know, racist discourse, misogynistic. And, you know, like we know every—everybody knows what he said and what he stands for. The problem is that, you know, people feel a sense of outrage when Trump expresses white supremacist views, but when Emmanuel Macron expresses the same views in a more sophisticated, more subtle way, they look away and don’t condemn. But Donald Trump actually raises questions, because Emmanuel Macron has tried to show some kind of friendship with him and actually has given him some kind of international stature. I think it was a mistake to invite him here. It gave him the credit he did not deserve. And actually, he should be boycotted by so-called people standing for, you know, so-called Western liberal values. But, unfortunately, people are still looking up to Donald Trump, when they should be actually boycotting him and turning away from him.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, what do you think is most important for people to understand about the situation in France right now?

YASSER LOUATI: I think the situation in France is catastrophic, and it is—there is an incomprehensible share of individual responsibility. And the solution, as always, will not come from those deciding, but from those being victims of those decisions. If people continue to look at their own self-interests, the government will continue to do what it’s doing to them, which means destroying our environment, you know, keeping us from living in a safe and equal society, and continue to brutalize us with a state of emergency.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Yasser Louati, I want to thank you so much for being with us, French human rights and civil liberties activist, head of Justice & Liberties for All Committee.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We’re broadcasting from UNESCO headquarters here in Paris, France. A conference is going on today on the importance of the freedom of information. People from around the world have come to speak about it. Coming up, we’re going to be speaking with the former Finnish president. But first, well, what is that country that President Trump referred to in Africa? And what about what President Trump said to African leaders when they gathered for the U.N. General Assembly, that “my friends are going to Africa to get rich”? We’ll find out the latest. Stay with us.

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