A man in a crowd grabbed Nicolas Sarkozy by the shoulder on Thursday and nearly knocked him to the ground before being tackled by security officers and detained.
The incident occurred as the French president shook hands with a crowd in the town of Brax, south-west France.
The assailant, a 32-year-old Frenchman who lives in the Lot-et-Garonne region and works in the theatre business, was not armed, according to police.
Images broadcast on French television showed Sarkozy reaching over a metal barricade to greet onlookers when an arm grabs his suit roughly by the shoulder and pulls it towards the crowd. The president started to lose his balance and fall, then immediately recoiled and righted himself. Security officers pulled the assailant to the ground. His office would not immediately comment on the incident.
Sarkozy is an outspoken and divisive figure whose poll ratings have been low for months. He is expected to run for re-election next year.
He occasionally gets heckled by critics: in one incident, in 2008, a man was caught on video telling Sarkozy not to touch him as the president walked through a crowd. The man accused him of “dirtying me” and Sarkozy retorted with an insult that mildly translates as “get out of here, you total jerk”.
Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, survived an assassination attempt in 2002, during a military parade for the Bastille Day national holiday. A far-right activist, Maxime Brunerie, was convicted of attempted murder after he pulled a rifle from a guitar case and shot at the president. Chirac was unhurt.