Muslim immigrants will find it more difficult to obtain French citizenship from now on.

New citizenship rules that entered into effect on January 1, 2012 will require all applicants to pass exams on French culture and history and also to prove that their French language skills are equivalent to those of a 15-year-old native speaker. Moreover, candidates seeking French citizenship will be required to pledge allegiance to "French values."

The new measures -- drawn up by Interior Minister Claude Guéant -- are part of a concerted effort by the French government to push back against the Islamization of France.

Muslim applicants make up the majority of the 100,000 people who are naturalized as French citizens each year; there is also rising frustration that the country's estimated 6.5 million Muslims are not integrating into French society.

Guéant has said that immigrants who refuse to assimilate should be denied French citizenship.

According to Guéant, a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling UMP party, the citizenship process should be "a solemn occasion between the host nation and the applicant" and that immigrants should be integrated through language and "an adherence to the principals, values and symbols of our democracy."

From now on, applicants for French citizenship will also be required to sign a new charter establishing their rights and responsibilities. Drafted by France's High Council for Integration (HCI), the charter reads: "Becoming French is not a mere administrative step. It is a decision that requires a lot of thought … applicants will no longer be able to claim allegiance to another country while on French soil." The new rules, however, will not affect dual nationality, which will still be allowed.

Separately, Guéant also announced a proposal to require non-French children born in France who would normally be automatically naturalized at the age of 18 to formally apply for citizenship.

In addition, Guéant announced plans to reduce the number of legal immigrants coming to France annually from 200,000 to 180,000 and has called for those convicted of a felony to be expelled from the country.

The new citizenship requirements form part of a larger government effort to reverse decades of multicultural policies that have encouraged the establishment of a parallel Muslim society in France.

In February 2011, Sarkozy denounced multiculturalism as a failure and said Muslims must assimilate into the French culture if they want to be welcomed in France. In a live-broadcast interview with French Channel One television, Sarkozy said: "I do not want a society where communities coexist side by side … France will not welcome people who do not agree to melt into a single community. We have been too busy with the identity of those who arrived and not enough with the identity of the country that accepted them."

In April 2011, the French government implemented a "burqa ban" which prohibits the wearing of Islamic body-covering burqas and face-covering niqabs in all public spaces in France.

With certain exceptions, anyone in France covering her face on the street and in parks, on public transportation, in public institutions such as train stations and town halls, and in shops, restaurants and movie theaters, will be subject to a fine of €150 ($215).

More severe penalties are in store for those found guilty of forcing others to cover their faces by means of "threats, violence and constraint, abuse of authority or power for reason of their gender." Clearly aimed at Muslim fathers, husbands or religious leaders, anyone found guilty of forcing a woman to wear an Islamic veil against her will is subject to a fine of €30,000 ($43,000) and one year in jail, or €60,000 ($86,000) and up to two years in jail if the case involves a minor.

Sarkozy has said the burqa is "a new form of enslavement that will not be welcome in the French Republic." And French people seem to agree. According to a recent survey published by the Washington-based Pew Global Attitudes Project, French people back the ban by a margin of more than four to one: Approximately 82% of people polled approved of a ban, while 17% disapproved.

Also in April, the UMP party organized a debate on the compatibility of Islam with the rules of the secular French Republic. The three-hour roundtable discussion called "Secularism: To Live Better Together" was held at the upscale hotel Pullman Paris Montparnasse in the presence of some 500 religious leaders, legislators and journalists.

Organized by UMP leader Jean-François Copé, attendees discussed 26 ideas aimed at preserving France's secular character, enshrined in a 1905 law separating church and state. Participants discussed issues such as halal food being served in public schools and Muslim street prayers.

Other proposals aired at the event included: banning the wearing of religious symbols such as Muslim headscarves by daycare personnel; preventing Muslim mothers from wearing headscarves when accompanying children on school field trips; and preventing parents from withdrawing their children from mandatory subjects, including physical education and biology.

In September 2011, the French government enacted a new law prohibiting Muslims from praying in the streets. The ban was in direct response to growing public anger in France over the phenomenon of Muslim street prayers.

Every Friday, thousands of Muslims from Paris to Marseille and elsewhere close off streets and sidewalks -- thereby closing down local businesses and trapping non-Muslim residents in their homes and offices -- to accommodate overflowing crowds for midday prayers.

The weekly spectacles have been documented by dozens of videos posted on Youtube.com (here, here, here) and have provoked a mixture of anger, frustration and disbelief, but local officials have been reluctant to intervene for fear of sparking riots.

The issue of illegal street prayers was catapulted to the top of the French national political agenda in December 2010, when Marine Le Pen, the charismatic leader of the far-right National Front party, denounced them as an "occupation without tanks or soldiers."

According to a survey by Ifop for the France-Soir newspaper, nearly 40% of French voters agree with Len Pen's views that Muslim prayer in the streets resembles an occupation. Other polls show that voters view Le Pen, who has criss-crossed the country arguing that France has been invaded by Muslims and betrayed by its elite, as the candidate best suited to fix the problem of Muslim immigration.

Sarkozy, whose popularity is at record lows just four months before the presidential election set for April 22, seems determined not to allow Le Pen to monopolize the issue of Islam in France.

Nevertheless, opinion polls show Sarkozy trailing his main contender, the Socialist candidate François Hollande. An OpinionWay-Fiducial poll published by the newspaper Le Parisien on December 20 shows Hollande with 27% of voter support against 24% for Sarkozy and 16% for Le Pen.

If elected president, Hollande -- a committed multiculturalist who has accused Sarkozy of fear-mongering -- would almost certainly reverse some, if not all, of the Sarkozy's Muslim immigration-related policies.

The inevitable conclusion is that efforts to stem the rising tide of Islam in France are tenuous at best.

Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Relations at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.

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