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10 Years After The 2005 Riots In France, Are The Suburbs Still Angry?

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 29/10/2015 Sara Elkamel

Over the course of three weeks in the fall 2005, several neighborhoods in the suburbs of Paris and other major cities erupted in violence. The wave of riots started after Zyed Benna, 17, and Bouna Traoré, 15, were  fatally electrocuted in a power station in  Clichy-sous-Bois  while being chased by the police. Muhittin Altun, their 17-year-old friend, was severely injured.

The incident mobilized existing frustrations surrounding unemployment, poverty and discrimination within suburban areas where there is a long history of marginalization for many immigrants. The riots pushed French authorities to declare a state of emergency that lasted until Jan. 4, 2006, and allowed them to impose curfews and ban public gatherings. 

In the decade that has passed since this tragic event and the protests it inspired, the social and e conomic crisis in suburban areas has continued to spread. A series of smaller-scale clashes and riots erupting throughout the years, including in Villiers-le-Bel , Grenoble and  Amiens-Nord .

On Monday, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and 17 other ministers  visited Mureaux , another neighborhood in the suburbs of Paris. The visit, which coincided with the 10th anniversary of the riots in Clichy-sous-Bois, was meant to follow up on a " population policy"  Valls launched earlier this year to address the segregation in French society.  

A decade after these riots, do residents of these suburban neighborhoods still feel like social outcasts? Do they still lack a sense of socio-economic security?

"The real task is to understand this anger we’re talking about," said Mehdi Bigaderne,  deputy mayor of Clichy-sous-Bois.  Bigaderne is also co-founder of ACLEFEU,  a community activist group founded after the 2005 riots. "The anger and the riots were born following a tragic event that illustrated the prevalent sense of injustice."

"It is important to note that what happened in 2005 is connected to the death, under terrible conditions, of two young people," said Olivier Klein, the mayor of Clichy-sous-Bois. "The country’s lack of compassion when it happened was the catalyst for the riots."

The country’s lack of compassion when it happened was the catalyst for the riots. Clichy-sous-Bois Mayor Olivier Klein

Violence in these neighborhoods hasn’t escalated to such extremes in the past 10 years. But that doesn’t mean that people are no longer angry --  far from it .

"Anger, linked to social violence, insecurity and economic conditions is indeed still present. We always hear about it from people working on the ground in those areas," Bigaderne said.

The last decade has seen many changes in these suburban areas, but many have been negative, said Sylvie Tissot, a professor of political science at Université Paris 8. 

"Socio-economic factors have worsened," Tissot said. "This is the case across France, but it has hit those precarious communities hardest."

There has also been an emergence of a "new form of racism" targeting "the Muslim population or Muslim culture," she said.

T he unemployment rate in France recently hit a record high; in March, it was at 10.6 percent , according to Europe’s statistics agency Eurostat. Unemployment in the suburbs is estimated to be  double that of the national average .

Klein recognizes that "the crisis is hitting the residents of the working-class neighborhoods the hardest, which effectively makes things more intense, and makes the anger more present." Yet he maintains that there has been some progress.

"I can't say that nothing has changed in 10 years. But they’re mostly only physical changes," he said. "For example, a program for urban renewal was launched, and several public services were instated."

I can't say that nothing has changed in 10 years. But they’re mostly only physical changes. Olivier Klein

Small changes are not enough, Bigaderne said.

"Certainly, in Clichy-sous-Bois, there has been a beautiful city renovation project, but making the city beautiful is not enough to help people," he said. 

"To put the same population in new homes does not solve the problem of unemployment, for example, even if the living conditions restore some dignity," he continued. " The needs of the residents, and the social crisis in which they find themselves, are still there. And the feeling of abandonment is still just as intense."

One problem, though, is that the residents can be impatient, Klein said.

"The residents know that we are working to improve things, but they want to live better today, not in 10 years. And it is a legitimate expectation," he said. "We will have won the day we succeed in implementing public policy in a shorter amount of time."

For example, he explained, a tramway that will make the city more accessible is being built. The tram site was selected in 2004, but construction just started and it won't be in service until 2018. An Employment Agency Office also opened recently, but the city council suggested it years ago.

There has been little response to the on a national level to some of these concerns, but Tissot said she has noticed less blatant discrimination from government officials. 

"I do not know if the election of Francois Hollande played a role in appeasing the anger, but it must be noted that we no longer hear insulting phrases," Tissot said. "We don't hear the word 'racaille' [French for 'riffraff' or 'scum'], even though we do hear other equally shocking words about Romani people."

"But it's not enough to satisfy the residents of the working-class neighborhoods," she said.

In order to express outrage, it's important to feel legitimized and trusted, she added.

"This is often not the case when one suffers from exclusion," she said.

Not only should there be representative voices that capture this despair, but they should come from these very neighborhoods. Sylvie Tissot

Still, there is cause for concern. The media does not capture the distress of the residents or shed light on positive initiatives.

"The day before the attacks [on Charlie Hebdo], we had organized a party to celebrate the young graduates in the city," Djelloul Atig, an elected official from Grigny, told HuffPost France in January. "There was one journalist for every 200 young people. Since the attacks, there are 200 journalists for every misdemeanor."

Another issue is limited representation. How can these residents make themselves heard when they don't have a megaphone?

"It is true that there is a lack of leadership," Bigaderne said. "What is important, is that the working-class neighborhoods get organized, and that’s how the national coordination of 'Pas sans nous'  ['Not without us'] came about. It was a matter of emphasizing the power of residents to act. This group must be recognized and given legitimacy, in the same way that trade unions are the legitimate representatives during a corporate conflict."

"Not only should there be representative voices that capture this despair, but they should come from these very neighborhoods," Tissot said. "The French political class is still very opaque.”

But having representative voices isn't enough if nothing changes, Bigaderne said.

"To listen to our grievances is not enough. We expect actions," he said. "I think that things are moving in the right direction, but we expect actions to meet our needs." 

This story originally appeared on HuffPost France and has been translated into English and edited for clarity. 

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