The leader competing with his daughter: A French coffee with Jean-Marie Le Pen

Ahmed Al-Moslemany
Sunday 16 Feb 2020

n 2018, the French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen published his memoirs under the title “Mémoires: fils de la nation” (‘Memoirs: Son of the Nation’). Le Pen, who was born in 1928, was celebrating his 90th birthday when the book’s first edition ran out of stock on its first day of sale.

Le Pen attacked the French leader Charles De Gaulle because he shook his hand when he was young without paying attention, then made France lose Algeria when he was an adult.

Le Pen is the number one political noise maker in France. He has lost about ten legal cases. The last case he lost concerned denying the existence of gas chambers in which Hitler burned the Jews. When he was asked by the press whether he still held the same opinion, he replied: “Yes, they are a detail of the war, unless they want to say that World War II was a detail of the gas chambers!”

The matter wasn’t related to the Jews only. In the same year, he lost another case regarding his attack on the Roma Gypsies. He said they are smelly and they are rash-inducing among the French. Then he said: “It is enough to visit a Roma Gypsies camp in order to realise this from the sense of smell.”

Le Pen ran for the French presidential elections against Jacques Chirac and lost in the run-off. He went through a battle with his daughter, Marine Le Pen, and half a battle against his granddaughter, Marion Le Pen. Marine overthrew her father from the party’s leadership and Marion substituted him in her grandfather's constituency.

The grandmother of the xenophobic Marine Le Pen lived in Alexandria, Egypt, for 20 years. As for her maternal grandmother, she was Egyptian, who was born  and lived in Assiut Governorate.  In spite of her father’s fame, her mother wasn’t well-known. However, the Russian site Sputnik mentioned that indecent images of her mother appeared in an American magazine in 1987 after her divorce from her father as a counter-attack on her ex-husband, who said: “The only thing that women succeed in is house chores and cooking.”

Years ago, I visited the right-wing leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in Paris. The visit was in an ancient palace located in an aristocratic district on the outskirts of the French capital. Marine was present with her father. We had several cups of French coffee, ate some thin baked goods and spoke for hours on a number of issues.

The translator, Nadra El-Dib, exerted huge effort in this respect; from extended discussions, branched dialogues and moving from the salon to the palace’s balcony to another salon during the visit.

During President Emmanuel Macron’s term, France is facing huge challenges. Some see that many roads are leading to Marine Le Pen and that although she was the runner-up in the last elections maybe she will be the next French president.

Ms Le Pen didn’t talk much in that meeting, but she said that she agreed with her father in almost all his views. She seemed friendlier than she is in reality and more moderate than in her public appearances. However, her subsequent rise to the party’s leadership revealed her outrageous vision and sensational viewpoints.

Today, Marine Le Pen enjoys the approval of Presidents Trump and Putin, who exchanged with her their praise. This is deemed by some as an American and Russian consensus on throwing France into the unknown.

Marine carries more than 90 percent of her father’s thoughts, but she is luckier than him, for she benefits from domestic problems and the spectre of external forces.

Years before, I found Jean-Marie Le Pen optimistic, and that he was on his way to the Élysée Palace after the end of Sarkozy’s presidency. I said to Jean-Marie Le Pen: 'You are against the immigrants and against Sarkozy, who is also against the immigrants. You are against the Jews and against the Muslims. You speak of France’s freedom but you have fought against our country during the Tripartite Aggression and fought against Algeria and opposed its independence ... What is the intellectual project you embrace amid all these contradictions?' Le Pen spoke for a long time and I had to listen in the hope that I might understand facets of what’s going in France and the world.

First: the state not the nation. Le Pen said: “I am against the EU as it is being formed right now and as it is seeks to be an entity built from the ruins of states. I am for the state and against globalisation. I don’t want the world to be a small village in which all the people are similar. Every nation has the right to exist with its own specificity, which constitutes this world’s wealth. When I come to Cairo, I don’t go there to find Naples and when I go to Naples I don’t want to find the Orient there. I like the world’s diversity. This is the safeguard for security and beauty altogether.

Globalisation also is a materialistic theory and it is reductionist. This is a defect. For a human being isn’t just a product or a consumer. Humans are far greater than this. This was my standpoint early on, for I voted against the European Economic Community in 1957. The Community advocates said that it was just a stage for the sake of establishing the 'United

States of Europe.' This is a detestable project. Thus, I opposed this reductionism of the rich characteristics of the European history in one entity. Life isn’t just economy and trade ... Life is far greater than this. That is what the EU or the globalisation supporters can’t comprehend."

Second: I love my daughters more than my nieces. I said to Mr Le Pen: 'The matter isn’t globalisation or anything else. You are accused of xenophobia.' He replied: "We have a slogan in the National Front (FN): I love my daughters more than my nieces and my nieces more than my uncles’ daughters and my uncles’ daughters more than my neighbours. However, this doesn’t mean that I don’t love my neighbours. The same is applied to international politics."

"The number of human beings is increasing enormously, for in one century they grew from one billion to seven billion people. We are going to have an unavoidable conflict. A global catastrophe: famine, epidemic or a great war. Immigrating to the rich countries is its destruction. These peoples have to live a dignified life on their own lands. If we will allow things to go this way, everybody will be engaged into a fierce conflict … over bread crumbs or a drink of water!"

Third: A multipolar world is the solution. I said to Mr Le Pen: 'I have seen a picture on the wall recording your meeting with US President Ronald Reagan. Your relations with Washington seem to be good.' Le Pen said: "I am not biased towards American policy. I am with the emergence of other super powers and resuming the world’s balance."

"America today is in a state of tension. It didn’t witness an attack on its lands before 9/11. We are talking about 3,000 people killed in a single day. This has never happened. It happened here in Europe, it was the average of those killed in the European cities in a single day during World War II. In Marseilles alone, 5,000 people were killed in one day. I understand the American scare, but this shouldn’t be exploited in launching attacks against others."

Fourth: France became restricted in one continent. Le Pen said: "France has abruptly forsaken the Muslim peoples who were loyal to it ... This wasn’t a beautiful page in our country’s history. My opinion was that Algeria is French. France is located in two continents, Europe and Africa, and the Algerians are full French citizens. The French government didn’t handle the Algeria issue in an appropriate way."

I realised that Le Pen’s grasp of the Algeria issue was limited and superficial. Algeria’s independence wasn’t a grant from France, nor Charles De Gaulle relinquished it, but was due to a great independence war that Algeria went through and a total of more than seven million of its sons became martyrs. The One Million Martyrs Revolution describes the last revolution only. But during the entire conflict is the revolution of seven million martyrs.

Fifth: Washington deliberately misled Saddam Hussein. Le Pen said: "Saddam Hussein’s regime was a dictatorship, but it isn’t the only dictatorship in the world. We deal with similar kinds of governments."

Unlike what former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov told me when I met him in Malta, Mr Le Pen told me: “The West pushed Iraq to wage a war against Iran and it also pushed it to invade Kuwait. The US Ambassador in Baghdad was the one who said to Saddam that the Americans won’t interfere in the Middle East. This was deliberate and intentional misinformation."

Iraq was destroyed through two weapons: the siege weapon and the war weapon. I’ve formed with my wife a society to support the Iraqi people against the siege.

I said to Le Pen: 'You have met Saddam Hussein, did you hear in Baghdad about Weapons of Mass Destruction?' He replied: “Yes, I have visited Iraq and mediated for the release of French and foreign hostages. I have been handed 60 Europeans on Iraqi Airways destined to their countries. At that point, personal contact was established between us."

Le Pen sipped some of the French coffee, and then said: "Saddam Hussein didn’t possess any Weapons of Mass Destruction. I would like to say a word which nobody in all politics directed towards the Middle East utters: it is oil."

Sixth: A Palestinian state should be established. Le Pen sees that Palestinians should have a state for they are the first people to inhabit those lands and justice stipulates this. Israel must be confined to the 1967 borders, settlement activity stopped, and the Palestinian people should have their rights, and the first of these is an independent state.

Seventh: Vietnam was speaking French, and now it speaks English. I asked the French politician about his role in the Indochina War.

Indochina used to comprise Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and the First Indochina War in which France was engaged and was defeated in 1954 and the Second Indochina War in which America was engaged and withdrew in 1975. Both countries suffered from the scourges of these wars tremendously.

Le Pen said: "Our war in Indochina was an ideological war. We tried to prevent it from falling into the hands of Communism after we gave its five countries independence. I was an officer in the army and we fought there in order to save Vietnam and Cambodia from Communism."

"Americans were more brutal than us in their war there. What’s striking is that they didn’t blame the Americans and after their culture was French they have acquired American culture and are speaking English!"

Eighth: Japan is fragile and France is under American protection. Le Pen surprised me by saying: "Japan is a fragile state and will be more fragile if a big crisis takes place or oil prices went up. Japan isn’t among the superpowers in the world of tomorrow. As for France, Sarkozy is an actor, not a president. He behaves for the sake of the media and not for the sake of the state. He has absolutely become biased towards America and made France live under American protection."

When the discussion reached Egypt, I told him: 'We Egyptians don’t like you and we haven’t forgotten that you have fought against our country during the Tripartite Aggression.' Le Pen said: "I was the commander of a paratrooper brigade. We went to Port Fouad. I didn’t fight but I found myself in the midst of a place full of Egyptian corpses — both military and civilian. We buried them in mass graves, but according to Islamic Sharia. I’ve pulled their shoes and buried them towards the Qiblah. My mission continued as such. It was a difficult mission because the numbers of the dead were big."

Le Pen’s reply was very shameful. I replied and he didn’t want to enter a spar with me. He sidestepped my reply, then he said: "I would like to visit Egypt. I know the greatness of its civilisation and what it presented to human civilisation. But nobody has ever invited me to visit it. Tell them in Cairo I want to visit Egypt. I am waiting for an invitation. Any invitation and I’ll come.”

Jean-Marie Le Pen has fallen outside the future, for it is impossible for the old politician to achieve now what he couldn’t achieve earlier. There is no leadership, no party, no screen and no parliament. The daughter took everything.

But the thoughts of Le Pen, the father, which were viewed in disdain before, have become now a main current in European thought. The far-right parties aren’t the exception but rather the most important phenomena in current European politics.

The far-right in Europe moved from the margins to the mainstream; moved from small forums and limited spaces to wide geography and several capitals.

Le Pen was an outcast extremist, but his school kept running, nonstop, and some of its symbols occupied posts of authority and decision making. Is it the old echo of Jean Marie Le Pen, or the voice of a new Europe? 

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