France’s “Manif pour tous” (Demonstration for all) – the movement that spearheaded mass demonstrations to protest President François Hollande’s gay marriage law in 2013 – is gearing up for round two. A mass rally is scheduled to take place in Paris on Sunday, February 2 to protest the Socialist government’s so-called “anti-family” stance, i.e., the recent liberalization of abortion laws and upcoming parliamentary debates to legislate medically assisted procreation and surrogacy for gay couples. Manif members are also fired up about a polemic – albeit unfounded – rumor that the government is pushing for the introduction of “gender theory” in elementary schools.
The rally falls one week after the “Day of Anger”, which drew some 17,000 participants – or, according to its anonymous organizers, 160,000 – to Paris wielding a kitchen sink full of grievances: Hollande’s fiscal policy, stagnating unemployment, gay marriage, and state restrictions on freedom of speech. (The recent skirmish between the Elysée and controversial comic M’Bala M’Bala Dieudonné, whose one-man show was banned for its anti-Semitic content, is fueling the latter complaint.) The diverse crowd included members of the far-right Front National (FN) party, Dieudonné supporters, Catholic activists and members of the Manif, all united by one prevailing sentiment: “Hollande out.”
Now, the Manif is preparing its own rally. But this time around, the movement is looking a lot less unified, thanks to the encroachment of radicalized elements like the Day of Anger group. Or so attests erstwhile Manif leader, Frigide Barjot, who distanced herself from her former organization on Friday. In an open letter published by French periodical Le Monde, Barjot called on fellow Christians to opt for ‘dialogue and debate’ over street protests and to avoid the temptation of the “counter-culture” – a not-too-subtle jab at last week’s virulent protests, which, thanks to anti-Semitic slogans and violent clashes that left 19 police officers injured, have done little to further the cause of right wing groups, discrediting them instead.
The divisions between the Manif and the smaller Day of Anger movement, which are often grouped together, at least in the government’s eyes, reflects a larger challenge among France’s far right. Notably the Front National, which has been struggling to suppress its most radical elements in an attempt to whitewash the party’s image and enter the political mainstream. The makeover has been largely successful – thanks to party leader Marine Le Pen’s efforts – but the FN has suffered setbacks as of late, experiencing a series of high-profile defections because of the party’s radical politics.
Good news for Hollande, whose Socialist party has been struggling to counter the FN’s recent gains. Now, one year after the unexpected – and embarrassing – eruption of public anger over gay marriage laws, the Elysée is heading into battle armed with pen – the president has called for “vigilance” of “extremist, racist movements” – and sword, with some 2,500 police officers to be deployed in the capital. It remains to be seen if the Manif, plagued by disorganization and infighting, will be so well prepared.