How France’s Right Wing Is Exploiting The World Cup To Attack Immigrants

French-Algerian soccer fans celebrate with the Algerian flag. CREDIT: AP
French-Algerian soccer fans celebrate with the Algerian flag. CREDIT: AP

A French town on the nation’s Mediterranean coastline is banning the display of foreign flags for the rest of the World Cup following clashes between police and soccer fans of Algerian heritage, a move that has set off a string of anti-immigrant comments from France’s right wing.

After Algeria triumphed over South Korea and Russia in matches last week, some French citizens of Algerian heritage celebrating the victories clashed with police, leading to over 100 arrests. In response, the mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, issued a decree banning the “ostentatious display of foreign flags” until the tournament wraps up in mid-July. “Since the start of the World Cup we have sadly seen intolerable behavior that severely disrupts public peace,” Estrosi explained.

While the temporary ban only affects the coastal city, the far-right leader of France’s National Front party, Marine Le Pen, seized on the recent instances of rioting and looting following Algeria’s victories to call for dual nationality to be revoked, arguing that the unrest signaled “the total failure of immigration policies in our country.”

“You should pick: are you Algerian or French, Moroccan or French, but you cannot be both,” she added. Le Pen has called for an end to dual nationality before, which allows French citizens of Algerian heritage to hold citizenship in both countries. In 2010, she argued that the program betrayed “republican values.” Her National Front party took first place in France’s elections to choose representatives in the European Parliament last month, and has long advocated for a staunchly anti-immigrant policies.

French government minister Harlem Désir criticized Le Pen for her “attempt to play one off against the other,” and pointed out that the rioters constitute a tiny fraction of the more than 2 million French citizens who make France’s largest immigrant group. “I would like to see that we do not mix up little groups and the majority who conduct themselves in a peaceful manner,” he said. The anti-racism group SOS Racisme agreed, issuing a statement that said it was “as dangerous as it is concerning” that Le Pen is exploiting isolated incidents of unrest to advance her political agenda.

Algeria endured 132 years of colonial rule by France, and only won its independence after a bloody civil war in which over one million Algerians were killed. While many people of Algerian descent have lived in France for generations, public figures like Le Pen continue to talk about them as an “enemy within” that undermine French cultural identity. Additionally, French Algerians are disproportionately poor due to decades living as subjects rather than citizens within France, which barred them from accessing a wide range of economic opportunities that might have allowed upwards class mobility.

If both France and Algeria win their matches this week, they will go on to face each other in the quarter-finals, a possible face-off that authorities worry could ignite new unrest.