WASHINGTON, Dec. 20 (UPI) -- France is facing a political crisis so acute that it risks a fate "somewhere between that of Lebanon or Argentina," a distinguished French sociologist claimed Monday.
"The state of emergency that was imposed to deal with last month's riots is to be continued, but it cannot resolve the triple crisis that France now confronts," Xavier Guilhou, an author and corporate consultant, told the Hudson Institute in Washington at a seminar on the significance of the French riots and of Islam in Europe.
"The country faces a socio-economic crisis that can no longer be eased by the government going further into debt. The public debt, including state-funded pension liabilities, already stands at 120 percent of GDP, and will reach as much as 200 percent of GDP by 2015. The top limit of debt and of taxation has now been reached and perhaps exceeded," Guilhou began.
"The second challenge is that France faces a crisis of identity unprecedented in our history, with the second and third generation of immigrants rejecting French society and its values, while hundreds of no-go zones now exist in France where the law does not go," he added. "Violence and insecurity are mot limited to these no-go zones, but also seep across into public transport, into our schools and streets in a general crisis of insecurity.
"The socio-economic crisis squeezes the French middle class from above, while the security crisis squeezes them from below," Guilhou added. "The usual response to this would be through politics, but France faces a simultaneous political crisis in which no political party or leader has a coherent response. The country reminds me of Yugoslavia at the end of the Tito era."
Guilhou's somber comments were reflected by other speakers at the seminar, including Dr Robert Leiken of the Nixon Center, and an expert on Islam in Europe, who suggested that "France has no way out - without breaking decisively with its current social and economic structure."
Leiken and Guilhou each argued that France's highly-regulated labor market inhibited job creation, while high taxation and social insurance taxes inhibited job creation by small businesses. The result was stubbornly high levels of unemployment, particularly for immigrant youth, while aggressive policing sharpened the antagonism between French authority and its immigrants, who amount to almost 10 percent of the population.
"A major factor in the French riots was a fight between the police and drug gangs based in the cites, the high-rise housing estates," Leiken said. "Three-quarters of those arrested in the riots were already known to the police. Islam and Muslim organizations had little to do with it. French intelligence, the Renseignements Generaux, in their post-riot report noted that the more devout the neighborhood in observance of Islam, the fewer the riots.
"It was also striking that the conventional Muslim organizations were unable to stop the riots or to influence the young rioters. But the extremist Jihadists, who despise the conventional Muslim groups as sell-outs, may be able to recruit many of the hundreds of those arrested who are now in prison. Two-thirds of the French prison population is now Muslim," Leiken added.
The Hudson Institute describes itself as "a non-partisan policy research organization dedicated to innovative research and analysis that promotes global security, prosperity, and freedom," with a distinct preference for free market and free enterprise ideals. Priding itself on innovative and unconventional thinking, its seminars often explore controversial issues in an outspoken way. But the seminar on the French riots was remarkable, even by Hudson Institute standards, for the bluntness of the analysis on the French crisis.
"This is the end of the French political system that has prevailed since de Gaulle came to power and established the Fifth Republic in 1958," said Guilhou. "The middle classes are becoming impoverished, and they fear for the future of their children."
"The system has run its course, and I expect a general implosion of the system leading to something between the Argentine economic crash and political crisis of 2001 when the government was thrown out of power, and the Lebanese situation. We can expect populist reflexes to emerge in the middle class, leading to that traditional French recourse in a crisis, the election of a new Bonapartism," Guilhou added.
A diplomat from the French Embassy rose during the question and answers session to challenge the gloom and alarmism of the panel, and cited the measures taken by the government to improve the education, training and job prospects for the immigrant youth.