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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Pris sur le vif Sois beur et tais-toi!

by Jean-Paul Piérot

2007 Presidential Campaign: Humiliated, the "Beur" Minister Defects ... to the Right

Translated Friday 30 March 2007, by Isabelle Métral

The lesson under Villepin and Sarkozy was bitter enough. But why on earth did Azouz Begag join the team in the first place? And why must he now bind himself to Bayrou, Villepin’s "centre-right " (right-wing)challenger?

The team he joined was a nest of vipers. His entry into Villepin’s government in 2005 surprised many, even beyond the circle of his friends. That he, a Beur (1), son of Algerian immigrants who grew up on a rundown suburban estate near Lyon and made a name for himself as economist and "banlieue" novelist, should sit at cabinet meetings next to Sarkozy, the master of posh Neuilly who rubs shoulders with the greatest barons of French industry was truly baffling.

Leaving aside the man’s personal ambition - despite the discredit currently attached to politics, ministerial posts are prestigious still - Azouz Begag may be credited with sincerely believing he could make himself heard in this exclusive executive set, and that his mission (Equal Chances for All) had been given him sincerely. He had faith in Chirac and Villepin.

Yet neither defended him against the snubs and affronts he came up against or rather swallowed. In fact he did not realize - or not until it was too late - that his appointment was merely a publicity stunt: "say cheese and shut up." That was the real mission the UMP (the party in power) assigned to him.

Then came Sarkozy’s notorious act before reporters’ cameras in La Courneuve (a suburb to the north of Paris), when he loudly committed himself to "cleansing the cités of the rabble ...with a Kärcher high pressure cleaner." (2) The Minister for Equal Chances could no longer hold his peace. Mild and measured though the protest was, from then on life for him became hell; having once fallen out of favour, he was humiliated and sidelined, treated like a nonentity.

The final lashing was given in a radio programme on a popular public station after he had announced he would not back Sarkozy and eventually (and misguidedly) come out in support of François Bayrou the third front-runner. "I just can’t think what value Mr Begag has added to this Government," carped François Fillon, Sarkozy’s sullen-faced eminence grise.
May Azouz Begag make wiser choices in the future! May he not wander off again and fall in with rough guys like these... But he can rest assured on one point at least: try as we may, we just cannot think what value Mr Fillon and the laws bearing his name on pensions and education have added to this government.

(1) Colloquial (but not derogative) name for French people whose parents or grandparents originally came from the Maghreb.

(2) The memorable, offensive phrases he used on that occasion "nettoyer au karcher" and "racaille" rubbed salt into the wounds of the deprived population in French suburbs, not long before the violent resentment that had been building up erupted in the Autumn of 2005.


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