New generation of French of North African origin impacting French politics
New generation of French of North African origin impacting French politics

Seeking to discredit his opponent during the Presidential race in France, outgoing President Nicholas Sarkozy stated on April 27, 2012 that François Hollande has received support from 700 Muslim clerics operating in France. Blinded by a bad attitude vis-a-vis North Africans and Sub-Sahara Africans in general, bordering xenophobia, Sarkozy may have lost precisely because he alienated a substantial minority block that is becoming key to French politics, somewhat akin to the Hispanic vote in US elections.

Sarkozy statements on the matter and his dirty politics eventually backfired. Largely because French of North Africans origin have been energized to place a Socialist in the Élysée Palace. Yet, North Africans come in various political persuasions. They can even be on the extreme as was the case of Farid Smahi, a politician of Algerian parents who was a member of the rightist radical extremist party of the National Front. Indeed there are many French of North African origin who are standing against a certain culture in their country of origin that force them to take extreme positions. Arabization, the dangerous rise of conservatism, the prominence of Islamic politics, lack of rights for the Berbers and other minorities, gender inequality and bad governments are among the factors that led to these extreme positions. Many of them also happen to be the children of what is known here as “Harkis,” Algerians who have fought alongside with the French against the independence of Algeria. During his campaign to regain his seat, Sarkozy went on a charm offensive to lure the Harki vote. He stated in many occasions that the Harkis have not been treated fairly for their services to France, a situation that needed to be corrected. It is unclear how the Harkis voted, but they represent a half million votes worth of a charm offensive from the right.

But most French of North African decent tend to support the Socialist Party. This is largely due to the fact that most of them tend to live in working class neighborhoods outside of the big cities that lean to the left. A media commentator suggested that it is the case in particular in the Paris region, the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur in southern France, and in the Rhône-Alpes in the east. These are regions that are heavily invested by labor unions, natural allies of the Socialists. And so over the years, the Socialist Party in France has become a sort of safe heaven for French-North Africans seeking political office or leadership positions in politics. The Moroccan Najet Vallaud-Belkacem has been François Hollande’s spokesperson. The Algerian Malek Boutih is another person to watch. He has held a senior-level position at the Socialist Party making him a key player in the Hollande offensive. Moroccan Mohamed Oussedik is also a rising star, starting as a laborer and now well positioned to lead the formidable CGT labor union.

While Sarkozy continued to divide the French on religious and ethnic grounds, vilifying the North Africans in particular, he worked hard to muddy the water precisely to combat any allegation of racism. His cabinet has a handful of very vocal and media-savvy North Africans including former Justice Minister Rachida Dati, today a member of the European Parliament representing Sarkozy’s party the UMP. Another Sarkozy protégé was Fadela Amara, an Algerian who held the position of State Secretary (Junior Minister) in charge of urban issues. But many in France say that such appointments were simply meant to confuse and shield Sarkozy against accusations of ethnic and religious divisiveness. Such strategy continues even as Sarkozy is defeated. His party is fielding the daughter of an Algerian Harki, Salima Saa as a candidate for the legislative elections of June 2012. Ms. Saa is competing for a seat to represent Roubaix, a region in total control by the Socialists. Ms. Saa was almost hired as Sarkozy’s campaign spokesperson.

As Francois Hollande takes over the reign of power in France, he has surrounded himself with a number of politically aggressive French of North African origin. Generally young, being born in the 1960s and 70s, this group of political operatives are worth watching because they could become what will reignite France’s relations to North Africa. But just like Salima Saa, Rachida Dati, Fadela Amara and the flamboyant Farid Smahi, North Africans in France are given the chance to belong to whatever political persuasion they endorse, and that shows that diversity in France, a country often criticized precisely because of a perceived lack of diversity is on the right track.

Here are some of them:

Influencing Francois Hollande on the Socialist Front

Operatives on the right: