Mohammed Ben Abbes of the Muslim Brotherhood party has become the first Muslim to be elected President of France, with a crushing victory over the National Front’s Marine Le Pen.
The eyes of the world will now be fixed on how the young and charismatic leader will attempt to force through a number of policies across a divided country. Ben Abbes, 42, takes control of a nation gripped by even more widespread unemployment, an issue that broadened the Brotherhood’s reach far beyond strictly observant Muslims. The victory follows on from the shocks of the primary elections two weeks prior; an event that has turned the French political landscape upside down.
Le Pen qualified for the final run-off with 34.1 per cent of the vote, a widely predicted figure reflecting opinion polls. Results showed the Socialists, led by Manuel Valls, and the Muslim Brotherhood running at neck and neck, with a late count revealing Ben Abbes’s defeat of Valls by 22.3 per cent of the vote to the Socialist’s 21.9 per cent.
However, both parties were able to recognise a common political enemy in the far-right anti-EU Le Pen, and after a period of secret negotiations became public, Valls and Ben Abbes revealed a truce in the hope of denying Le Pen the presidency.
Ben Abbes has sought to bridge potential sectarian divides across the country and assuage fears of enforced conversions to Islam, by arguing that children’s education should “go beyond the mere transmission of knowledge, to include spiritual instruction in their own traditions…it [is] time to broaden the idea of republican schooling, to bring it into harmony with the great spiritual traditions-Muslim, Christian or Jewish of our country”.
The conciliatory tone and gestures towards the Socialist Party drew a striking contrast to that of an increasingly volatile and erratic Le Pen, who called upon a giant march of Front National supporters at the Champs-Elysees. The move was criticised for its use of language, the word “insurrection” understandably drawing its own fair share of codemnation, with the long silent figure of ex-president Francois Hollande driven to comment.
In response to the mounting violent disruptions to polling stations across the country, the centre-right and the Socialists formed a coalition, a ‘broad republican front’, and publicly backed the Muslim Brotherhood. The move is likely to see Francois Bayrou named as Ben Abbes’s prime minister in his first major governmental appointment.
With victory secured, and by a landslide margin, Ben Abbes shall set about drawing up ambitious plans for Europe, education and employment across the country after a stunning and dramatic couple of weeks in the Fifth Republic.