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French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to the media in Brussels, Belgium, on July 18.JOHANNA GERON/Reuters

In mid-April, after weeks of sometimes violent protests over his government’s pension-reform proposals, President Emmanuel Macron promised French citizens a reprieve from the chaos in the streets by unveiling a plan to ease the anger within his divided country.

In a televised address from the Élysée Palace, Mr. Macron promised to focus his government’s attention on bread-and-butter concerns such as the cost of living, security and health care, after pushing through an unpopular proposal to raise the retirement age to 64 from 62. He vowed that, by Bastille Day, most French people would begin to see improvements in all areas. “We have before us 100 days of healing, unity, ambition and actions in the service of France,” he said.

Things did not go as planned. Except for the usual military parade along the Champs Élysées, with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as this year’s guest of honour, and official fireworks in Paris, the July 14 national holiday was a sombre affair in most of France. Mr. Macron did not even deliver a speech; most of the country was in no mood for one.

Celebrations were cancelled in many municipalities and the possession of fireworks by ordinary citizens was banned by decree in the wake of five nights of rioting that rocked the country following the June 27 police shooting of a 17-year-old boy in a multiethnic Paris suburb. The shooting, captured on cellphone video, set off an inferno of anger among racialized youth, who have long complained of police brutality and discrimination within French society. More than 500 cities and towns saw violence and/or vandalism.

The reaction of the French political class to the worst rioting since 2005, when two youths were electrocuted while fleeing police in a different Paris suburb, only made things worse. For politicians on the far right, the cause of the riots boiled down to immigration. For those on the far left, the riots were an understandable response to state oppression of the French underclass.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who oversees public security, attempted to counter both those narratives. He cited police data showing that almost all of the rioters arrested were French citizens, including many with popular French names such as Kevin and Mattéo. He also praised the “courageous work” of police officers, hundreds of whom were injured during the riots.

In the days before the riots erupted, many French media were reporting that Mr. Macron was preparing to replace Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne with Mr. Darmanin, a former member of the centre-right Les Républicains (LR) party and protégé of former president Nicolas Sarkozy. Unsatisfied with Ms. Borne’s handling of the pension reform file – she was unable to get enough LR members of the National Assembly to vote for the initiative – Mr. Macron apparently believed that appointing the ambitious Mr. Darmanin as prime minister would make it easier to woo LR députés on future votes.

The rumours of Mr. Darmanin’s promotion sparked a mini-revolt among centre-left members of Mr. Macron’s own Renaissance party. Once the riots erupted, the idea of promoting Mr. Darmanin – a law-and-order politician and overall polarizing figure – was dropped. On Monday, French media reported that Mr. Macron intended to keep the technocratic Ms. Borne as Prime Minister amid a cabinet shuffle scheduled for this week.

The shuffle is being billed by the Élysée as a postriots reset for Mr. Macron and his government. But it is more likely to represent business as usual for a President who increasingly risks becoming a lame duck. His centrist coalition of former Socialists and Républicains is strained by its own contradictions. Several ministers, including Mr. Darmanin, are already setting their sights on the 2027 presidential race, which, as it now stands, looks like National Rally leader Marine Le Pen’s to lose. The riots only increased that likelihood; most French voters favour a police crackdown on the rioters.

Few politicians have anything concrete to offer the residents most affected by the rioting.

The billions of euros spent since 2005 by successive governments on social housing and other infrastructure improvements in the low-income suburbs, or banlieues, on the periphery of French cities has done little to dissipate the sense of alienation of the people who live in them. Mr. Macron himself put his finger on the problem when, in a 2020 speech, he bemoaned France’s “ghettoization” resulting from an explicit policy of previous governments of “concentrating populations according to their origins and social milieu.”

This de facto segregation is now such an entrenched facet of French society that the recent riots may not be the last ones of Mr. Macron’s presidency. Shuffling his cabinet will do nothing to alleviate the grievances of those who feel condemned to drab lives in drab suburbs by a Republic that applies its lofty ideals of liberté, égalité and fraternité so asymmetrically.

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