The Guardian newspaper published an analysis by English historian of French culture and biographer, Andrew Hussey, entitled “In the suburbs of Paris, many feel that the slogan of freedom, equality, fraternity doesn’t apply to them”.
About three in the morning on Friday, Hussey was awakened by what sounded like gunfire, and from the back windows of his apartment in southern Paris, he could see the back-and-forth between the protesters and the police.
He adds that he spent the evening following news coverage of the violent riots that broke out spontaneously across France.
He saw familiar scenes of cars, buildings on fire and heavily armed police – images familiar to anyone who has lived through the past few years of angry protest in France.
Hussey says that what worried him most about these protests and riots was the sheer scale, as the violence wasn’t limited to the outskirts of major cities, but was everywhere, including in elegant towns.
He adds that after midnight, things got worse, and the next day he wandered around the neighborhood in which he lives, and found burnt cars, smashed motorcycles, and stormed and destroyed shops.
Hussey spoke to two police officers who were part of a team patrolling the area on bicycles, and asked them about the incident that sparked the riots, which was the shooting of a police officer towards 17-year-old Nael Marzouk at a traffic point in the Paris suburb of Nanterre last Tuesday.
“You have to understand when you’re going to some of these suburbs,” said one of the officers… You have to be constantly alert, and be ready to attack at any time… It looks like a war zone”.
Not far from where he spoke to the two police officers, he says, he spoke to Bashir Makrani, who lives in an apartment in a poor gray tower block overlooking a small garden.
“It’s war… It’s a war against us, the people who live in places like this… I am now 40 years old, and I have a master’s degree and I am the head of a family, but all my life I have been discriminated against and humiliated, always by the police… People can take no more,” Bashir said.
Hussey says that amid all this chaos, it was noticeable that rioters attacked not only police stations, but also municipal buildings, tax offices, schools, and any public institution of the French Republic.
The anger is focused on everything that the French Republic represents, and its democratic motto “Freedom, Equality and Fraternity”.
The reason for this is that a large part of the marginalized population in the suburbs feel that this slogan and this model of the democratic state doesn’t apply to them, and it is letting them down.
Hussey believes that French President Emmanuel Macron faces severe challenges in the coming days, and the priority will be to restore order with the least number of victims.
Hussey concluded his analysis by saying that this is the time for the French government to start thinking about whether the French Republic in its current form still fulfills its mission in the twenty-first century.