What will Macron's mandate mean for the Middle East?

What will Macron's mandate mean for the Middle East?
Analysis: Macron has made an impressive start, winning an overwhelming majority in parliament. What might his presidency have in store for French Arabs, and France's foreign policy? asks Bachar El-Halabi
5 min read
20 June, 2017
Macron became France's youngest president, at just 39 [AFP]

France has been in election mode since November 2016 when the first presidential primary took place. Seven months later, the undisputed winner of both presidential and legislative elections, is the former investment banker and civil servant, Emmanuel Macron.

Last Sunday evening, the French president's party (La République En Marche, LREM ) and its ally the Democratic Movement (MoDem), won an overwhelming majority of 350 seats in the 577-strong French parliament.

Founded just last year, Macron's party (LRM) will have enough MPs on its own (308) in the National Assembly to free it of any dependencies in parliament.

As concluded after the results of the first round of the French legislatives, the historically mainstream De Gaullist Republican party and its allies will serve as the main opposition group in the National Assembly - the lower house of parliament - with 137 seats.

Potential opposition

Macron's fluid post-ideological strategy of widening and consolidating his political base has helped him blow the competition away thus far, and he will be able to call the shots when it comes to his liberal reformist platform.

The president enjoys a luxury very few of his predecessors did, though his recent sweep of the legislatives will do little to quell public opposition.

When Macron came to power, he promised to fight political sleaze

In addition, in the last 48 hours alone, all three ministers of the MoDem party have left his administration as the party is facing an inquiry into claims that it used EU funds to pay party workers. 

When Macron came to power, he promised to fight political sleaze. Another of Macron's close allies, Richard Ferrand, stepped down amid unrelated allegations he had used insider information to secure a lucrative property deal for his wife while he was head of mutual health insurance fund.

But the major obstacle in Macron's path isn't likely to be an institutionalised opposition, rather one that might form in the streets when he proceeds with implementing his reforms.

  Read more: The Algerians who voted for Le Pen

With a turnout at less than 45 percent of registered voters, marking it the lowest for the second round of a parliamentary election in the history of France's Fifth Republic, Macron faces a huge responsibility to try and convince those who remained indifferent about him and his platform.

Arabs in France

For Arabs in France, a Macron presidency and an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly appears to be a positive indicator.

In a speech during an iftar meal that Macron attended yesterday with the leaders of the Muslim community in Paris. He stressed his vision for combatting all forms of radicalism, and asked the Muslim community to fight against all sorts of hate and isolationism.

  Read more: Macron says Assad removal no longer priority for France

A centrist, pro-European, pro-immigration, open borders president who has the backing of the parliament, he looks set to embark on a quest to simplify France's ancient labour code.

Macron's strategy to shift the French labour market on to a more flexible footing will be central for boosting growth, keeping populism in check in the long term, and will offer people with a migrant background better access to employment.

Syria and Morocco

France's policy in Syria in Morocco looks set to differ from that of previous administrations. The French president seems keen to reestablish France as a decision maker, or at least a partner on the negotiations table with regards to a political solution in Syria.

Just a day after hosting the Russian president - a key backer of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad - in Versailles, Macron affirmed his support for Syria's opposition in a meeting with its chief coordinator Riad Hijab and a broader delegation from the Riyadh-based High Negotiations Committee (HNC). 

Macron said that he saw no legitimate successor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

But in a recent interview with eight European newspapers, Macron said that he saw no legitimate successor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and that France no longer considered his departure a pre-condition to resolving the six-year conflict.

In a blow to the Syrian people, who have suffered Assad's murderous regime for more than five years now, he added that, "Assad is an enemy of the Syrian people, but not of France". 

Macron reiterated his commitment to political transition, and emphasised that his priority in Syria remains to fight against 'terrorist groups'.

Macron looks eager to revitalise France's role in North Africa through reaffirming the strong ties with the Moroccan kingdom. The recent trip he made to Morocco, which is his first designated overseas trip, is similar to Jacques Chirac's choice as a new president in 1995.

Macron looks eager to revitalise France's role in North Africa

Macron believes that bringing back political life to France's foreign policy requires close coordination with the Moroccan monarch, which will also open up the door for him to the rest of Africa.

After making some efforts to condemn his country's colonial past, the French president appears to be ready to move forward, by building close ties with a country that has presented itself as modern and moderate Islamic nation.

Palestine and BDS

Macron has so far remained consistent in his position regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He backs a two-state solution, and believes that unilaterally recognising Palestine would cause instability and harm France's relations with Israel, something he is keen to avoid.

In the run-up to the French legislatives, Macron didn't show much resilience in the face of the powerful Israel lobbies (CRIF and LICRA) in France. He was forced to drop two of LREM's candidates, William Tchamaha and TV producer Christian Gerin, after complaints and pressure from the Israeli lobbies.

Tchamaha was accused of making "anti-Zionist" comments when he once tweeted: "A state outside the law that despises the law. Boycott Israeli products and [apply] an economic embargo!" Christian Gerin also once called for boycott by tweeting, "The only solution: BDS".

Macron, who is firm in his stance against any efforts to boycott Israel and considers BDS to be anti-Semitic, will be able to rely on a French legislation from 2003 stipulating that the promotion of boycotting of countries or their citizens is classified as hate speech and is illegal.

Bachar El-Halabi is currently pursuing a second MA in political science at the L'École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. He also holds an LLM in International Law, and Bachelors in Engineering and Political Science from AUB.

Follow him on Twitter: @BacharZhalabi

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.