Long stories short
- Israeli raids and air strikes on Jenin killed at least five Palestinians.
- Orkney’s council leader said the Scottish islands would consider becoming a self-governing territory of Norway.
- The Weiner Zeitung, the world’s oldest newspaper, published its last print edition.
A 17 year-old who was riding in the passenger seat of Nahel Merzouk’s rented Mercedes AMG last Tuesday is expected to turn himself into Paris police today. He’ll tell a story starkly at odds with the one police themselves have told about Merzouk’s death in the shooting that prompted France’s worst rioting in nearly 20 years.
So what? How police handle this new wrinkle, and how France reacts, could determine whether the unrest returns or fades; and whether or not Nahel’s death triggers a fundamental rethink of the ground rules of the Fifth Republic.
The worst of the violence could be past, but the stakes are high:
- President Macron is trying to rise above the fury of the Left over police racism and brutality and of the Right over what has looked in news bulletins like a national descent into chaos.
- France’s Muslims, of whom Nahel was one, feel simultaneously assailed by police, anti-immigrant nationalists and a secularism that wants to ban all public signs of religion, including headscarves.
- France’s history commits it to a pursuit of equality and fraternity that has seldom looked more forlorn.
The passenger, who hasn’t been named, told Le Parisien Nahel was hit in the head with the butt of the officer’s gun, then warned he’d get a bullet in the head if he didn’t cooperate. The friend says Nahek was stunned, panicked and took his foot off the brake, forgetting the car was an automatic. He was then shot in the chest.
The officer said through his lawyer he aimed at Nahel’s leg in self-defence but his arm was jerked up by the sudden movement of the car.
The president. Macron was quick last week to call the shooting unacceptable and inexcusable.
The youth. A wave of anger directed at riot and regular police who killed 13 people in similar incidents last year alone morphed into something more like anarchy.
As of Saturday night more than 200 supermarkets and 250 bank branches had been vandalised or set alight in five nights of rioting from Nanterre in northern Paris – where Nahel grew up – to Marseille, Lyon, Grenoble and the French Indian Ocean island of La Réunion.
Tens of thousands of police have made thousands of arrests including 80 last night. Like Nahel, most of those detained have been young – average age 17. Insurers put the cost of the damage at €100 million and counting.
Two police unions issued a statement calling the rioters “pests”. The conservative Républicains accused Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the socialist former presidential candidate, of goading them on. Nahel’s grandmother said yesterday: “I want it all to stop.”
Sliding doors. France is at an inflection point. The past week has resembled the early days of a state of emergency declared by President Chirac in 2005 to tackle riots after two Muslim boys fleeing from police were electrocuted in a substation where they hid. Those riots lasted three weeks.
Either these ones could go on, fuelled by resentment over unkept promises to update decrepit housing stock in the banlieues that serve as ghettos for the poor; and by a broader failure to address French racial inequality because of the fanciful assertion – knitted into the French identity since 1789 – that it does not exist.
Or the wave could pass. Paris and Marseille have been progressively calmer for the past two nights. Macron didn’t help himself by attending an Elton John concert as the city burned last week, but he isn’t a lightning rod for these riots as he was for the Gilets Jaunes of 2018 and the pensions protests earlier this year.
To note: youth unemployment has fallen steadily on his watch, from 26 to 16 per cent, and income inequality as measured by the Gini scale is substantially lower than in the UK or US.
To watch: social media platforms’ response as Team Macron makes the case that they helped spread the looting by failing to take down content that seemed to encourage it. Approached for comment by Bloomberg, Snapchat said it had zero tolerance for incitement to violence or hatred. TikTok and Meta didn’t respond. Twitter sent a poop emoji.
Also, in the nibs
Photograph Philippe Lopez/AFP via Getty Images
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