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France is on the Verge of … What?

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Is France Ripe for an Authoritarian Regime?” What is remarkable about that Op Ed piece in the conservative Le Figaro newspaper, is that it was written not in the wake of today’s horrific terrorist attacks in Paris—but the day before.

As I write, it is still unclear how many have been killed in the French capital—the reported total has reached at least 140–but there is no question that the massacre could have a devastating impact on France’s already very shaky democratic institutions.

According to the Le Figaro, when asked by IFOP, a respected French poling agency, if they would accept a non-democratic form of government to bring necessary reforms to France, 67% of the French said they would opt for a government of non-elected technocrats. 40% percent said they would back a non-elected authoritarian regime.

Again, that survey was carried out the day before the bloody carnage in Paris. People may have poured out into the streets in an impressive show of unity earlier this year in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings, but that moment of attempted racial harmony was brief and the situation has been fraying ever since.

There is no question to my mind that in the wake of these Friday the 13th horrors in Paris, the great majority of French would back the most Draconian of measures (just as Americans reacted following 9/11). France has the largest Muslim population of any country in Europe, and the danger of a fatal fracture—driven by hatred and suspicion and fear—is very, very real.

The next moves are up to President François Hollande, which is not at all reassuring.

Since he took office, he has been totally incapable of coping with France’s huge and varied problems.  He is one of the most unpopular French president’s ever.

And now he faces his greatest challenge.

For France, and its peoples, these are very perilous times.

BARRY LANDO is a former producer for 60 Minutes. He is the author of The Watchman’s File. He can be reached at: barrylando@gmail.com or through his website.

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