On November 13th, 2015, Paris endured terrorist attacks in certain districts, killing 130 civilians and injuring 350. Two days later, the president Francois Hollande proclaimed a state of emergency, leading to a series of warrantless house searches and enforced house arrests. Such a state normally only lasts for twelve days. Being so far away from my hometown, I was already shocked to realize that the streets I have walked on, danced on and sat on, did not represent the same safe space to a lot of inhabitants. Through telephone conversational waves, I have heard of friends feeling frustrated to drink on terraces or to listen to music during their daily subway rides. The proclamation of the emergency state enhanced my shock even more. I was losing touch with the stability I always associated with my home.
On another note, the attacks revived memories of what France used to be, with its accessible freedom and laissez-vivre. A France where the people drink for hours on end on the banks of the river, where the people bike around in the narrow streets, where every terrace is filled up as soon as the sun settles itself in the summer days.
At the moment, the people are trying to grasp their own concept of patriotism. Following the attacks, the country has seen an unusual selling record of flags. The thought of putting a flag on a balcony or a door in any city was inconceivable before. However, now the inhabitants are proud to display their flags and they are rather discernable within the city.
A large poll of people remained in position for the state of emergency and aligned with the view that the country was in danger. Many officials feared that the terrorists can blend in with the homeless and develop their habits of sleeping in the subway and the like in order to carry out attacks. Terrorism does not concern every citizen or resident of France though. With the state of emergency, the police and the authorities are given more of a voice, which they’ve used to interrupt a number of drifts and peaceful protests.
I wasn’t the only one though to feel frustrated about the prolongation of the state. The last weekend of January, thousands of people marched on the streets of several French cities asking for immediate action to end the state of emergency. The people took on the streets of Paris, Nice, Strasbourg, Toulouse, Bayonne, Nimes, Montpellier, and Limoges; however, on February 9th, 2016, the state of emergency was extended to May 26th.
The Sixteenth article of the Constitution gives the president “extraordinary powers” in exceptional situations. Certain restrictions include that any measure taken must be informed to the nation through a message, and the national assembly may not be dissolved during the exercise of emergency powers.
A similar state was declared previously in 2005 after the riots in the suburbs in which many cars, bus stops, and the like were burned or invaded. The state of emergency gives exceptional powers to authorities, including the right to set curfews, limit the movement of people, forbid mass gatherings even when they don’t apply to the context of a protest, and establish secure zones where people can be monitored and close public spaces such as theatres, bars, museums and other meeting places. Indeed, the right of association is taken. In 2005, the state allowed curfews on certain parts of the suburban housing estates but not all of the measures were actually put into practice.
This time, the state of emergency becomes more problematic because of the migrant waves that been passing through Europe for the past few months. The state holds the power to expel people who have been condemned for common law matters, or people who do not have the right of residency on the territory. It comes at a time during which the country resurrects the question of “Who is French?” and what it entails. Indeed, part of the government’s plan with the new surveillance state is to revoke the French citizenship of dual nationals for those accused of terrorist or suspicious motives. This action is viewed with criticism given the thin line of being considered racist. Revoking the French citizenship means judging who has a right to be more French than others.
This comes at an unfortunate time as the migrant crisis increases each day. The refugee camp crisis in Calais is an example. The authorities announced the destruction of the camp within the past weeks. Given that there was miscommunication with the refugees, the decision of the authorities of the region created an outcry. There wasn’t enough supervision and surveillance in the area.
As Youssef Boussomah, member of the Indigenes de la Republique party, said, “the state is allowing itself to take absolutely catastrophic decisions for the life and future of liberty of France”. Seeing soldiers walking around the streets where I have wondered around so many times remains odd. Noticing the changing looks of the people remains odd. The idea of a curfew remains odd. I am afraid of my France of liberties and question the motives of the political authorities who seem to use the state of emergency for their own agenda.