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In The News

French City Outskirts Ablaze, Again: What's Different From 2005

Small, mobile and organized groups of young people full of violence and hatred for the police: an emerging movement a far cry from the "banlieues" riots in 2005.

Photo of a man throwing a rock at police forces during a protest in Nanterre on June 29

Protests in Nanterre, near Paris, on June 29

Cécile Cornudet


PARIS — In recent years, social unrest in France has taken on new forms, and colors, almost relegating violence in the urban outskirts to the background. "Red caps", "yellow jackets" and "black blocs" made the headlines, while the banlieues have seemed almost quiet since the 2005 riots sparked by the deaths of two teenagers who were hiding from the police. Sure, since then there have been plenty of clashes, but no riots, even during the strict lockdown in 2020.

But the powder keg was still there, and an all-too-familiar spark lit the fuse: police violence against a young man from the urban periphery. On Tuesday, an officer shot dead Nahel M., an unarmed 17-year-old of North African descent at a traffic stop north of Paris. Unrest erupted, with no signs of abating: According to the French interior ministry, 667 arrests have been made across France so far, as violence continues in Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Pau, Toulouse and Lille. Rioters faced off with police, as buildings and vehicles were torched and stores looted.

But some things have changed since 2005. Images posted on social networks, for instance, acted as an accelerant. "It all took off very quickly and very powerfully", noted a ministerial adviser. A single video of the incident — showing officers shooting Nahel M., in his car at point blank — has been seen and shared millions of times, spreading anger and fanning fury.

Anti-police sentiment, too, has been on the rise. In the past ten years, police-youth relations have degenerated further. Any notion of respect is now long gone, only hatred remains. Police officers are seen as rival gangs, and clash with over-armed youth.

Betting on extreme repression

In recent years, the violence has become more structured. Groups of 30 to 50 people, coordinating through their phones, find weapons, gather in one place, pick a target, set it on fire, pick another one a quarter of an hour later, and so on.

Everything can become a target, as long as its destruction is spectacular.

They are mobile, fast and elusive. In 2005, standoffs saw the two sides pitted against each other for hours at a time. This is no longer the case — now it's more "catch me if you can."

Any place will do. Not just in disenfranchised outskirts, but also in quiet suburbs and Parisian neighborhoods. Everything can become a target, as long as its destruction is spectacular: symbols of the state, of course, but also modes of transport, schools and social services.

Photo of a crowd displaying signs that read "Justice for Nahel" in Nanterre on June 29

Protest in Nanterre on June 29 after the police shot down Nahel M., 17

Aurelien Morissard/Xinhua/ZUMA

Exceptional situation, exceptional response

After the first night of violence — on the morning after Nahel’s death — the authorities' reaction was very similar to the public's, pointing fingers at the police officer. But now that tough stance has switched from the police officer to the destructive youth.

This, the government thought, is an exceptional situation that requires an exceptional response. French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin thus decided to deploy 40,000 police officers as well as elite, specialized tactical police units (BRI, Raid and GIGN) and air support.

Buses and trams were banned after 9 pm, curfews established in several areas: the powers that be are pulling out all the stops to quell the movement as quickly as possible. As one advisor put it, "It's all coming down to tonight."

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Lebanon On The Brink: Where External And Internal Threats Collide

A ghost state, an economy in ruins ... Lebanon has still not recovered from the explosion at the port of Beirut a little over three years ago. With war looming on its southern border, the country teeters near total collapse.

Photo of protesters during a rally organized by family members of victims killed in the 2020 blast in Beirut port, in front of the Justice Palace earlier this year.

Demonstration organized by family members of victims killed in the 2020 blast in Beirut port, in front of the Justice Palace earlier this year.

Nicolas Barré

BEIRUT — “Go to Place de l’Etoile, you'll find me there.” At the appointed time that morning, the square where the Lebanese Parliament is located is deserted. The silence of an abandoned city reigns, like in a Hitchcock scene, broken only by the raspy meows of two furious cats. Since the explosion at the port of Beirut on August 8, 2020, the surroundings of the building have been the image of a ghostly power. Vacant.

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On the facades of elegant buildings reminiscent of a Lebanon glowing with activity, the windows without panes are like open vents revealing only darkness inside, with electricity long cut off. On the corner, the Häagen-Dazs window is a pile of glass. A mess of overturned chairs suggests the hasty departure of customers, who haven't returned for three years.

“Look, there’s no one here! Our political class is barricading itself, it is afraid of the people!," declares Melhem Khalaf. This member of Parliament from Beirut receives people seated at a small table that he set up himself on the sidewalk, a stone's throw from the steps of Parliament.

It looks like another movie scene. At the end of the lifeless artery, one of the Lebanese army's roadblocks filters the rare entries into this protected enclave in the heart of the capital.

Khalaf is one of the dozen deputies elected during the May 2022 legislative elections without being affiliated with one of the religious communities that have long hung over Lebanese political life. With a group of lawyers, this president of the national bar association is fighting so that the investigation into the port explosion, so disturbing for Hezbollah, the militia party in control of the area, will one day be properly carried out.

Who still believes in justice, in politics, in the rule of law in this Lebanon shattered by decades of civil war and crisis?

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