Eric Zemmour, the French TV pundit who has been sanctioned for inciting racial hatred and partly styles himself on anti-establishment figures like Donald Trump, finally announced what many people long suspected: he will run for president in April’s election.
r Zemmour made the announcement in a YouTube video set to classical music yesterday.
Seated at a desk in front of an old-style microphone, a set up that sought to echo General Charles de Gaulle’s June 18, 1940 call for a rebellion against German occupation, Mr Zemmour said he wanted to avoid “the disappearance of our civilisation”.
At first glance, the 63-year-old stands no chance of winning a presidential contest in a country where rivals have long banded together to prevent a far-right candidate from clinching the highest office. He’s also been losing steam in some polls amid a series of mishaps that include a trip to London that didn’t go entirely to plan and the publication of a decidedly unpresidential photo in which he gives a woman the middle finger.
Yet French elections are notoriously full of surprises. He could regain momentum, meaning it would no longer be a given that President Emmanuel Macron will face off with nationalist leader Marine Le Pen and almost certainly win comfortably, just like in 2017. Mr Zemmour could end up in the second round instead of her. Or, he could split the far-right vote enough to allow a centre-right contender to qualify for the run-off, upsetting Mr Macron’s chances of returning to the Elysée.
Either way, Mr Zemmour’s rise has revealed a society deeply divided between “those who care about delinquency, immigration and defending laïcité (France’s unique brand of secularism) and those who care about fighting discrimination, climate change or purchasing power”, says Victoria Geraut, a Sciences Po researcher who works for the Jean Jaures Foundation think tank.
The rift won’t close any time soon even if his candidacy flounders, according to Ms Geraut. “The groups that back him and who are spreading his ideas will continue to exist, and spread their ideas on immigration or terrorism.”
Mr Zemmour was brought up in a Jewish household in the cities of Montreuil, Paris and also nearby Drancy. At the time, the latter was home to citizens who came to France from Algeria during the war, like his parents, as well as Spanish and Italian migrants. His father was a pharmacist, his mother a housewife.
Despite his background, he often makes comments many regard as anti-Semitic, questioning for example some basic facts of the Holocaust in France. He criticises feminism, lauds virility, and has been accused of sexual harassment, a charge he denies.
Last week, a French magazine claimed he had gotten his 28-year-old de facto campaign manager, Sarah Knafo, pregnant. His lawyer, Olivier Pardo, lashed out on Twitter, saying the article was contrary to journalism ethics and an invasion of Mr Zemmour’s private life.
On a recent visit to Drancy, Mr Zemmour said his former neighbourhood had been tainted by the arrival of Muslim migrants, whose children he has described as murderers, rapists and thieves pushing France toward civil war.
He has argued that Islam isn’t compatible with the Republic and that immigrants must embrace local customs, even if it means rejecting their own. He says he’s proof the country’s system of assimilation works.
In yesterday’s video, Mr Zemmour exalted a mostly fantasised version of what he called the France of people like Jeanne d’Arc, Louis XIV and Victor Hugo, a France “with churches in its villages”.
Visibly seeking to stoke fears about immigration and gender equality, he called on people “who don’t feel like they are at home anymore” to vote for him, saying it would help them “make ends meet”.
He also bashed the elite – from academics to journalists and union leaders – of which he himself is part and called for “taking the power away from the hands of minorities that have terrorised the majority” and accelerated the country’s decline.