By Richard Walker
Talk in French homes, and in the streets of Paris, as well as the country’s other major urban centers, is not of the Covid pandemic, but whether the French military would be justified in launching a coup to settle the nation’s growing instability.
The prospect of a military coup is nothing new to the French. Throughout French history, and more lately in 1961, French generals decided that the civilian leadership was incapable of dealing with the country’s most pressing issues. Those issues are now centered around immigration, the daily threat from Islamic extremists, and the lawless- ness in many urban sprawls where Islamic communities refuse to be policed. There is also growing violence and anger on the left and from anarchists and neo-Bolsheviks.
This mix of instability has been rocking France for years, but the Islamic element of the threat has been growing in the last decade. The expansion of massive housing complexes in the suburbs that are dominated and controlled by Mideast and North African migrants has struck fear into the hearts of many French people.
It therefore came as no surprise that, on April 21, when a letter surfaced—signed by 1,000 members of the French military and dozens of retired generals—calling for a coup to replace the civilian government in order to put an end to the chaos afflicting the nation. The letter specifically warned that “the hour is grave and France is in peril.”
The authors of the letter talked about the “disintegration” of the republic and singled out the threat from non-Christian immigrants. It also warned that “it is no longer the time to procrastinate, otherwise tomorrow civil war will put an end to this growing chaos and death—for which you will be responsible—with numbers in the thousands,”
For some observers, the call to arms was reminiscent of the attempt on April 21, 1961 to over- throw the Fourth Republic led by President Charles De Gaulle. That coup happened as De Gaulle accepted French defeat in Algeria which had been one of the most notable French colonies in Africa. The coup plotters took over Algerian centers and landed paratroopers, some from the French Foreign Legion, on the French mainland. The coup ended when the French military arrested all the plotters.
But, while some in the media, as well as the government of Emmanuel Macron and the French army’s top brass, have been quick to denounce and even dismiss this latest talk of a coup, polls waned that there was support among the public for military intervention. Approximately 58% of those polled backed the signatories of the letter which was subsequently signed by an additional 8,000 soldiers. One poll found that 78% of respondents believed France was in jeopardy, and over 80% expected France to face even more instability and violence. Most worrying for the French government was that 49% of those polled felt the French military would be right to take action without the approval of the civilian authorities.
France’s top general, Francois Lecointre, promised that serving members of the military who signed the letter would be punished, but clear heads think that such a move would further in- flame the situation and anger many in the ranks of France’s military. Retired officer Jean Pierre Fabre- Bernadac told the Times of London that “ethnic hordes and political correctness” were ruining France and he planned to create a powerful organization to confront the problem.
Some French commentators agree that France is sitting on a political time bomb and, with a general election scheduled for 2022, tensions will likely get higher. Some signatories to the letter argue that people interested in a race war who hate the police exploit rallies, and the police are used unfairly by the authorities against the yellow vest protesters seeking to have a fairer system. Most see the rise of a vocal Islamic community dominating the suburbs as a major threat to the French republic, arguing that Muslims refuse to assimilate and want to establish their own Sharia laws and practices.
Underpinning much of the debate in French homes is what it means nowadays to be French and whether Muslims see themselves as French. Presently, France has 2,300 mosques with several hundred more planned to cater to nearly 6 million Muslims. It is estimated that the French Muslims could represent 10% of the country’s population within a decade and, by 2050, could be 20% of the population. As it stands, France has the largest Muslim population of any nation in Europe.
France’s far right parties welcomed the talk of military intervention. Support for the letter from Marine Le Pen, the inspirational leader of the National Rally Party—Rassemblement National— could boost her chances of defeating Macron in next year’s elections.
Between now and then, however, the constant threat of terrorism, and the rioting that has dominated the political debate in France, is likely to continue. For the European Union, instability in France comes at a difficult time, what with several nations having trouble containing the Covid-19 pandemic. But Europe knows all about coups. The last one happened in Spain in 1981 and Greece has seen its share of them, too.
Richard Walker is the pen name of a former New York City news producer.