INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Marseille Spared Urban Unrest During Recent Riots: Why?

Published: Tue 29 Nov 2005 11:15 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 MARSEILLE 000102
SIPDIS
STATE FOR EUR/WE (KATHY ALLEGRONE, SUSAN BALL), INL, DRL
PARIS FOR ECON, POL, PD FOR PAO
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ECON FR
SUBJECT: MARSEILLE SPARED URBAN UNREST DURING RECENT RIOTS: WHY?
1. Summary: Multiethnic and multiracial Marseille, home to
about
200,000 Muslims, and one of the poorest cities in France, was
largely
spared the unrest that shook France in November. Why?
Precisely
because Marseille is a poor, multi-racial city, where the poor
live in
the center of town and not in the suburbs. Marseille's
municipality
and civil society are also un-French in that they acknowledge
the
existence of religious and ethnic communities, and have put
together
mechanisms to interact with them. The result is a city that has
a
remarkable ability to absorb immigrants and handle poverty. It
is of
course not paradise. This region is after all the home to many
strongholds of the racist Front National Party. However, the
"Marseille exception" is real, and will fuel debate about the
"French
Integration Model" in the coming months. End Summary.
2. GEOGRAPHY MATTERS. OR: THERE IS A REASON IT IS CALLED "THE
PANIER"
One of the oldest districts of Marseille is called the Panier,
or
"basket", because it is hemmed in by the sea on one side, and
the hills
that form Marseille's outer limits on the other. Waves of
immigrants
over the years have poured into this "basket", producing a
mixture of
race and heritage rarely found in French city centers. Once
mainly
Corsican, now heavily North African, and recently home to a
growing
Chinatown, the Panier is just one of many similar neighborhoods
in
Marseille. This port city has for centuries been a destination
for
immigrants and asylum seekers. Hence you don't find in
Marseille the
disaffected suburban populations feeling outcast from the city
center.
Numerous immigrants interviewed about the lack of riots cited
this
sense of geographic belonging in their answers. As one woman
from
North Africa told the Washington Post, ""We have our troubles,
but I
can go to the center of the city without thinking I am entering
enemy
territory. We belong to Marseille and Marseille belongs to us."
3. COMMUNITIES ARE ACKNOWLEDGED
As several recent articles have noted, Marseille is very
un-French in
that it freely acknowledges the many religious-based communities
that
make up the tissue of the city, and have developed municipal and
civic
mechanisms to interact with them. A typical example is
"Marseille-
Esperance" a municipal innovation created in the 1990s. It is a
consultative council of religious leaders representing the major
religions in Marseille that meets with the Mayor on an ad hoc
basis and
receives some office space from the city. The importance of
this
organization is as a symbol of unity and belonging, and it has
played a
role in maintaining social peace during times of tension.
4. COMMUNITIES ARE ORGANIZED
On November 17 CG attended a "dinner of sharing" offered by the
Muslim
association CORAI (Committee for Islamic Thought and Action) for
close
to 1,000 representatives of the local government and civil
society. It
was held in a banquet hall across the street from the Velodrome,
where
Olympique Marseille plays, and bears witness to the most
organized
soccer fan base in France. This evokes the thick web of local
associations that lace through the poor quarters of Marseille.
Associations such as "Jeunes Errants"; "Tolerance Esclavage
Zero";
"Femmes d'ici et d'ailleurs"; "Ni Putes, ni soumises" and
"Observatoire pour la Non-violence", are all very active on the
ground
and confirm that they worked hard to prevent violence. The
President
of the "Observatoire pour la Non-violence" described the concept
of
what he calls the "House of Marseille" saying that the youth of
poor neighborhoods feel like Marseille is their home, and thus
don't
feel the desire to despoil it. However, others, such as "Ni
Putes, ni
soumises" caution that the situation is still explosive, and in
many
cases is held in check not by the police, but by the leaders of
the
parallel economy, the celebrated "caids" of Marseille.
5. WE ARE ALL IN THE SAME BOAT
Marseille is still and has always been a poor city.
Unemployment is
higher than the national average, and 5 percent of the
population
receives the RMI (long term unemployment benefits). Hence
traditions
of solidarity are strong here. As one sociologist was quoted as
saying
in the local paper, "We share everything in Marseille: Poverty,
OM
(Olympic Marseille soccer team) and the beach." The rise of
Marseille
as a trendy city, with the arrival of the TGV and the
Euromeditereanee
redevelopment project has not yet changed the strong traditions
of
solidarity that help new immigrants make their way.
6. WE KNOW HOW TO KEEP THE LID ON
To a certain degree, Marseille was spared because it has a long
history
of dealing with delinquent behavior, and has a surveillance
network in
place that works. For example, during the height of the riots,
police
were able to stop an attempt to pillage a Marseille shopping
mall
because they had prior notice, and were deployed in strength
when the
bandits arrived. The Prefect de Police, Bernard Squarcini, has
a
background in intelligence, and puts a lot of emphasis on good
intelligence so that trouble can be anticipated. He told
Ambassador
Stapleton during a recent meeting that because the local police
maintain good contacts, he was able to deploy his forces in such
a way
as to stop trouble before it started. It is also true that the
parallel economy run out of some of the poorer housing projects
has an
interest in maintaining order as well, and has traditionally
been
tolerated to a degree not found in the North. Local association
contacts thought this was a large factor in the lack of
violence.
Comment: Given the results of Squarcini's methods, it is not
surprising that he was recently asked by Interior Minister
Sarkozy to
return to Paris. For the moment, he is resisting these calls.
However, it sounds like Squarcini has been using the community
policing
methods that the Minister of Interior has been criticized for
neglecting.
7. CAN FRANCE LEARN FROM MARSEILLE?
Many will point to Marseille in the coming weeks as the "French
Model
of Integration" is debated. Whether or not parts of the
Marseille
experience can be exported to other parts of France is certainly
open
to question. The things that make Marseille different are also
the
things people often cite when the say Marseille is in some way
not very
French. However, at the very least, the emphasis Marseille
places on
conscious interaction with religious and ethnic communities
suggests
that there is a way for France to modify the unitary, "we are
all
French" model of integration without betraying the ideals of
French
society.
BREEDEN
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