By Bilal Zahiri
By Bilal Zahiri
Morocco World News
Paris, May 4, 2012
« Le vote démocratique est un droit fondamental, qui n’est pas encore reconnu partout dans le monde. » –Democratic voting is a fundamental right, which is not yet recognized everywhere around the world. Those are words from an email sent to students at my school prior to the first round of the Presidential Elections, to persuade them to vote.
I related to that particular sentence because I don’t believe that our votes make much of a difference in Morocco. It is true that we physically go to the polls but democracy requires more than that. Surely, it involves our most influential journalist not spending a whole year behind bars for his opinions. Here in France, a developed form of democracy reigns. Candidates including the president are assiduously questioned on every detail almost every day on the media. People speak freely about their beliefs and criticize whoever and whatever they deem fit.
Two sides of this democracy build the Moroccan viewpoint. The first is that things can change abruptly to whatever voters settle on. A tyranny of the majority can thus easily take place. The second is where French democracy reveals its singularity: politics concern and influence everyone, from actual French citizens to immigrants to those who don’t even live here. For this reason, almost every Moroccan I personally know curiously watched Wednesday’s debate between the two remaining candidates.
It is worth mentioning that French Presidential Elections are composed of two rounds. Eligible to compete in the first are candidates who managed to collect the signatures of at least five hundred elected representatives (among a total of more than 47000). Only two candidates remain after and compete only against each other in the second round. Mr. Holland and Mr. Sarkozy are this year’s remaining candidates but that’s not the end of story for the first round.
This year’s primaries were somewhat exceptional: Marine Le Pen came in third with an unprecedented 18% of votes for a Far-right leader. Almost 6.4 million people embraced her ideas. To give you an idea of how tremendous that number is, it almost equals the population of countries like Jordan or Libya. Ms.Le Pen strongly believes that France’s 5 million foreign immigrants, predominantly Muslim, have caused the country to disintegrate. While her father (and her predecessor in leading the party) was more explicit, she too indicates that these people are the cause of everything going astray from high criminality rates to Job losses.
But Le Pen pulling in that many votes is not a problem per se. From my personal interactions with people here, I have noticed that those who vote for her are neither proud nor outspoken about their decision. The support she receives is rarely based on firm convictions and mostly on feelings of fear and insecurity.
On the other hand, what is definitely more galling is that Mr. Sarkozy has been endorsing the same speech. Instead of focusing on key economic and social issues, he too is shifting the debate to topics like immigration, Islam, terrorism and France’s “uniqueness”.
His appearances have varied from announcing that France has “too many foreigners on our territory” to saying that “the biggest concern of French people is halal meat.” Another example is a memo sent by his prime minister (who he calls “collaborator”) to every prefecture in France resulting in the ban of foreigners from work. Scientists, doctors and future CEO’s were thus deported. Needless to mention that from an economic point of view, this was a disastrous decision: not only would it deprive France from some of its finest minds but it would also discourage investors from settling in France as their personnel won’t have work permits. The memo has been slightly modified since but its goal of alluding that Mr. Sarkozy is “fighting” immigration was achieved.
The UMP candidate also has a strategy inspired by George Bush’s in 2004. He is avoiding to be judged on his last term’s mishaps and blames them on the conjuncture. Instead, he claims that French people have the choice between an experienced, decisive leader and someone who lacks these attributes.
That someone is Mr. François Holland, the socialist candidate. He seems to have the clear mission of reversing that process and making the elections a referendum on Sarkozy’s last term. In fact, a consensus is reached here in France: people are not voting for Holland as much as they are voting against Sarkozy. The latter being described as too aggressive, money-oriented, “American” or a French version of Bush, crass and the list goes on. Some argue that he simply has never been the sort of politician that the French are entirely comfortable with.
In this context came the only televised debate of the campaign last Wednesday. Albeit journalists expected it to be “dull” and “uninteresting”, it turned out to be quite the show. The two candidates didn’t bring any new ideas to the table but the compensation came in the way they were debating. Holland was much more hard line and on the attack than usual –he is normally perceived as calm, his fellow party-member M.Aubry once even called him “couille molle” (an inappropriate expression meaning that he lacks courage).
Sarkozy, on the other hand, was very reactive and at a moment started a personal fight with his interlocutor, calling him a liar many times and even “little slanderer”. Overall, it was more of a big moment for French television than it was for politics.
As said in the beginning, this form of democracy or just the presidential campaign that culminates in voting on Sunday, has had two kinds of impact on a Moroccan like myself. First, feelings of self-centeredness, ego-centrism and even xenophobia towards us are growing fast. It’s not scary as much as it is sad that political parties are feeding off these feelings to win votes (read this very interesting Time article).
But following these elections brings the second feeling which extinguishes the first. It is one of admiration, envy and incapacity. Moroccans or developing countries’ citizens in general watch democracy, but never fully experience it. We are impacted by others’ choices, but don’t have a choice of our own to prove ourselves back. Years go by as we sit in front of our tiny screens watching American, British or French elections and repeating the same heartbreaking sentence “If I could, I would have voted for …”
We have yet to wait and judge the full outcome of the Arab Uprising. Then we can evaluate how close we are to creating our own model of democracy.
Bilal Zouheir is a graduate student at Rouen Business School, France. He is a contributor to Morocco World News.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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