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French weekly magazines review 29 July 2018

Revue de presse des hebdomadaires
Revue de presse des hebdomadaires DR

"Benallagate" and more "Benallagate". The French weeklies dig deep into the continuing scandal, delivering comprehensive coverage filled with mischief and genuine concern; less about the bad behaviour of the sacked presidential bodyguard than the behaviour of President Macron himself and his staff at the Elysée Palace.

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Most of the serious French magazines do well this week what they are supposed to; dig out the details, colour and reveal anecdotes behind the headlines, and make sense of what has happened, is happening and is likely to happen next.

Compared with the 280-character tweets which nowadays seem to be enough news coverage for some, they are like lunch in a goodish restaurant instead of a gobbled sandwich at your desk.

Needless to say, the week's top story is what we're calling "Benallagate". In case you've been really really busy and missed the blow by blow coverage since Le Monde broke the story ten days ago, I'll remind you. Alexandre Benalla, a former bodyguard of French President Emmanuel Macron, was filmed beating protesters at a demonstration in Paris on May Day. Which, to say the least, was not his job. The fuss that followed is mostly about an alleged cover up by the Elysée Palace.

The covers of some of this week’s mags are darkly amusing while, at the same time, making it clear that this is more than a storm in a fine china teacup.

Behind the headlines "Les Barbouzes - the Return" and "Scandal at the Elysée", left-leaning Marianne pictures the leading actors in this drama; President Macron, Benalla and Interior Minister Gérard Collomb.

To non-French readers the reference will be obscure. In France it triggers memories of two 1960s movies; one about spies, the other about gangsters, both black comedies. More disturbing is that "les Barbouzes" was the nickname given to bearded thugs and hit men secretly recruited by the French government in the early 1960s to thwart efforts by some in the French military to prevent the independence of Algeria.

President Macron is pictured as a dog-collared priest. The suggestion is that he is not as squeaky clean as he'd have us believe.

Inside, Marianne says that by "declaring himself solely responsible for the Benalla affair, the President of the Republic is trying to extinguish the fire at the Elysée Palace. For the first time since the May 2017 election, the implacable Macronian political machine is stalled and revealing its weaknesses."

Benalla Republic?

"Of course," Marianne adds, "we dare not compare 2018 to those bloody years when French people were killing each other. But, let's face it, the show of power in the Benalla affair is a parody of film noir. With, in the main role, an "assistant to the chief of staff" who, at 26, imagines himself in OSS 117." That's a more recent comic spy movie. France adores the movies.

Joking aside, Marianne says that Macron's declared "new movement" has not broken with the tendency, seen under his predecessor François Holland, to govern with a clique of devoted followers. Quite the opposite, it says.

The magazine say the scandal shows his "isolation" and that a storm is raging around what it calls his "clan".

The cover of right-wing L'Express is less complicated. A caricature of Benalla, big, beefy and bearded, wearing a badge with the words "POLICE or something like that." The wire from his earpiece, the kind sported by bodyguards, ends in a noose around the neck of Macron, child-sized and wearing short trousers.

"Macron on the grill," the headline declares.

L'Express delivers page after page of detail; Benalla's training for the gendarmerie, his previous jobs protecting politicians, his "omnipresence" beside the president, his "sumptuous" grace and favour apartment.

The magazine quotes a friend as saying it "turned his head. He was too young to tumble into the heart of power." Which sounds rather lenient to those who’ve seen footage of his battering demonstrators.

In truth, he is no longer at centre stage. Benallagate is now a stick with which to beat the young French president, a wealthy former banker, whom critics accuse of arrogance and behaving like a 21st century monarch.

Express columnist Anne Rosencher lists what she calls "Emmanuel Macron's serious mistakes". Her conclusion: "It must be believed that beneath the arrogance is hubris, from which disasters are born. Will this alert have taught the lesson well enough?" she asks. Hubris is excessive pride and self-confidence which, as classic Greek drama teaches us, ends in tragedy.

Left-leaning L'Obs almost misses the boat. Its main cover story is "The book which changed my life", with contributions from a dozen French celebrities. A worthy enough enterprise, long in the making I suppose and inexpensive.

They do scramble a small front page teaser on Benallagate entitled "The Journey of a Rambo". In Benalla's dreams, perhaps. He's rather more porky than Sylvester Stallone.

"Cloaked with privileges, the 'first bodyguard of the Republic' is today the origin of Macron's most serious crisis," says L'Obs. "Drunk with power?" the magazine wonders. "A sense of impunity?" Probably. Indeed, L'Obs itself might have contributed to this. Benalla loomed large in a feature on bodyguards the paper ran in April this year.

Our old acquaintance hubris strikes again.

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