Three ministers of Moroccan origin in new French cabinet
Casablanca - Three ministers of Moroccan origin have joined French Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ reshuffled cabinet.
After Najat Vallaud-Belkacem and Myriam El Khomri, Audrey Azoulay was appointed France’s Minister of Culture and Communication in the government reshuffle on February 11th, 15 months ahead of presidential elections.
“The appointment of the three female ministers of Moroccan origin shows Moroccans’ capacities when they achieve the objectives they set,” political analyst Salah Elouadie said.
“It’s clear the French PM nominated them for their qualities. It’s a message for ambitious immigrants that it’s possible to hold top governmental positions if they believe in themselves.”
Azoulay, who is a Moroccan Jew, is the daughter of Moroccan King Mohammed VI’s adviser Andre Azoulay and author Katia Brami. Born in Essaouira in 1972, Azoulay is a graduate of the Paris Institute of Political Studies and the National School of Administration.
She started her political career as magistrate of the Court of Auditors. In 2000, she joined the Culture Ministry’s media management team, where she was in charge of the audiovisual sector. In 2011, she served as assistant director of the National Film Centre where she attracted the attention of French President François Hollande, who appointed her his cultural adviser in 2014.
The nomination of the three female ministers could be a political card played by the socialist government to lure the votes of both the Muslim and Jewish communities in the forthcoming presidential election, especially at a time when Islamophobia is on the rise in France after the deadly Paris terrorist attacks last November.
“It is possible that the socialist government is trying to gain more popularity among these communities,” Elouadie said. “But the main thing here is that the experience and skills were key to these appointments.”
Myriam El Khomri is the second French-Moroccan to hold a ministerial function in Paris. Born in 1978 in Rabat to a French mother and a Moroccan father, Khomri spent her childhood in Tangier. Her family moved to France when she was 9.
In a portrait that was dedicated to her in 2009 by the magazine Jeune Afrique, she said: “My mother taught me to rely on myself.” She financed her own studies to obtain a DESS degree in political administration from the University of Paris (Sorbonne) and joined the team of Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe in 2001 and became project manager for academic affairs, prevention, safety and toxicomania in the 18th arrondissement of Paris.
In 2008, she was elected deputy mayor of Paris and was in charge of child protection. In 2014, Khomri was appointed secretary of state for urban policy and in 2015 she was named minister of labour, employment, vocational training and social dialogue.
Her appointment was highly important as she was tasked with reducing unemployment, an objective that Hollande set among his top priorities as he seeks to boost his re-election chances in 2017.
The first French-Moroccan to be appointed in the French socialist government was Najat Vallaud- Belkacem. Born in 1977 in Beni Chiker in the Rif region, the education minister is a Hollande loyalist after having long been very close to Segolene Royal. In 1982, she moved with her mother and older sister to join her father in France.
She has gradually risen through the ranks since the arrival of Hollande as president. She first served as minister of Women’s Rights and spokeswoman for the former government of prime minister Jean- Marc Ayrault. In 2014, she served as minister for Women’s Rights, City, Youth and Sports in the Valls government.
Almost five months later, she became the first female education minister in French history in the first government reshuffle under Valls.
This is the first time that three women of the same national origin are part of the French government, which may further consolidate ties between Paris and Rabat.
France has a long and difficult relationship with its own Muslim immigrant population, especially those from North Africa.
The French government recently said it would explore options to strip the citizenship of dual-nationals convicted of terrorism. This announcement is likely to increase the controversy since several of the militants who took part in Charlie Hebdo and Paris attacks in 2015 were French-born citizens.
France is trying to fight terrorism on its own turf while also integrating immigrants from the Muslim world.
“Valls’ diversified government might also be a stepping stone to a successful integration of Muslim and Jewish immigrants in society,” said Elouadie
The appointment of Azoulay as minister of Culture has reportedly angered Algeria.
Said Bouteflika, brother and special adviser to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, deplored a manoeuvre of Morocco’s “lobbying” in a French media scene that he considers “infested” with politicians, journalists and stars of Moroccan origin, according to the Mondafrique news website.