Arabs, Africans and Muslims in the French Elections

Posted in Europe | 06-Feb-07 | Author: Hichem Karoui

French Interior minister and right-wing candidate in the upcoming French presidential election Nicolas Sarkozy.

Different candidates to the French Presidency seek to lure the French ethnic minorities suffering from marginalisation and living in bad conditions. Perhaps one of the main goals that the rivals in these elections try to achieve consists in convincing the French of Arab and African origin to heavily participate by casting their votes.

But the other goal is convincing the French voters in general that the economic, social and cultural gap dividing the French citizens can be bridged in a bid to build a better future for all French people.

Though Mr Chirac said that he would consider the idea of running for the Presidency again, his candidacy appeared unlikely because of age and his low popularity after 12 years in office. A recent opinion poll has shown that 80% of the French say ‘no’ to his candidacy, which actually opened the way for Mr Nicolas Sarkozy, the current Interior Minister, who has a considerable base in the French Right.

Sarkozy has recently been subject to strong criticism, especially from the French Arabs. Some say that when the minister calls people “mobs”, that would not be good for anyone because we can’t help assuming that it is directed exclusively at us. They refer to Sarkozy’s description of the young people involved in riots in the fall of 2005.

Mr Azouz Begag, Minister of Equal Opportunities in the present government, is one of the most vocal critics of Sarkozy. He spoke frankly on TV, saying that no one can speak in this way about the youth of the suburbs and then later ask why there is violence. It is clear that Mr Begag lays the responsibility of the suburban violence all over the country on Sarkozy.

An opinion poll showed that 49% of the French subjects interviewed expressed their fear of the French Minister of Interior. Sarkozy even refused to show up in a dinner party organised in Paris attended by over 300 participants from Arab and African origins; for fear of being rebuked, he charged one of his senior aides to attend the party.

However, being eager to enter the Elysee, Sarkozy started to focus on basic issues preoccupying voters from Arab and African origin such as equal opportunities and getting jobs. In fact, he tries to change the negative image into a better one where he is able to reconcile different groups of the French society.

Finally, it could be useful to mention in this context that a few years ago migration and integration were part of the electoral campaigns of the major parties. But this time the French raise questions about the failure of integration and the extent to which France can accommodate more foreigners.

While opening up to other ethnic minorities in French society emerged as a main issue in the political discourse of Segolène Royal, the Socialist Party’s candidate, it was also present on the agenda of Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front.

Hichem Karoui is WSN Editor France.

Translated from Arabic by Al Arab staff (London).